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  Home News and events General environmental news Environmental Deal Fails to Win Broad Support
Environmental Deal Fails to Win Broad Support

29-Nov-06 A new convention that seeks to underpin sustainable development with environmental protection in Central Asia is going to be hard to put into practice because two big regional states – Kazakstan and Uzbekistan – have refused to sign up.

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan signed a sub-regional framework convention on water and the environment at a meeting on sustainable development held in Ashgabat on November 25.

Although regional governments have been holding consultations on the agreement for two years now, neither Kazakstan nor Uzbekistan would sign the document, arguing that it had not been agreed by their relevant government departments. NBCentralAsia commentators suggested the real reason for their reluctance was that they did not want to sign up to clauses that would commit them to accepting liability for environmental damage.

Japarkul Bekkulova, strategy and policy chief at Kyrgyzstan’s State Agency for Forestry and Environmental Protection, said one of the main obstacles to a wider agreement was a difference of opinion between those countries located downstream on the main Central Asian rivers, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, and the two upstream countries, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, over which of them would be liable, and to what extent, for the contamination of rivers.

“The downstream states don’t want to shoulder a responsibility they feel belongs to other countries that contaminate ‘their’ water,” Bekkulova told NBCentralAsia. “They’re insisting that the upstream countries which supply them with water should be answerable for its quality.”

Kalia Moldogazieva, a ecologist with the Bishkek-based group Tree of Life, suggests that Kazakstan and Uzbekistan should in fact be responsible for the water they use, given that their consumption is harmful to the ecosystem around the Aral Sea.

“It is obvious that since Uzbekistan and Kazakstan draw off water for agricultural irrigation from the arterial rivers that feed the Aral basin, they must also shoulder their share of the responsibility for preserving Central Asian water resources and addressing the problem of ecosystem degradation,” said Moldogazieva.

Another reason why some countries resisted signing the convention was that it would also oblige them to work on improving soil quality. NBCentralAsia analysts say that if Kazakstan and Uzbekistan signed the agreement, they would be committed to reviving degraded lands around the Aral Sea. This would require them to reduce planting of cotton and wheat on these lands, and suffer the ensuing economic losses.

“It is not in Uzbekistan’s interests to reduce sowing of cotton since it is a leading exporter, while Kazakstan, the region’s main exporter of wheat, similarly cannot reduce the area under that crop,” said NBCentralAsia analyst Mars Sariev.

NBCentralAsia’s analysts are critical of the approach taken in the convention: it deals with environmental issues in a compartmentalised manner rather than looking at whole ecosystems.

Nor is there any mechanism for creating the laws and funding needed to make the convention work. “Any programme, even the smallest one, needs money,” said Mels Eleusizov, the leader of Kazakstan’s environmental association Tabigat. “There’s currently no funding available, and none for this [convention] either…. It is completely unrealistic to try to solve a problem as big as the [dried-up] Aral Sea if there are no funds.”

Analysts say the lack of a common view on Central Asia’s environmental problems will make this new convention impossible to implement. These problems are transnational rather than national, and need to be tackled through joint efforts.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)
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