Tashkent, Uzbekistan (UzDaily.com) --
Distinguished participants of the Conference!
It gives an enormous satisfaction to welcome the delegations of the member-states of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, representatives of international organizations and financial institutions, governments of the donor countries, ecological organizations, diplomatic corps, respected scientists and high-profile experts who are participating in the International Conference "Development of Cooperation in the region of the Aral Sea to Mitigate Consequences of the Ecological Catastrophe".
The forum, which opens up today, is dedicated to discussing the issues related to one of the most complex problems for the region of Central Asia – the ecological catastrophe of the Aral Sea and the toughest consequences brought about by this tragedy for the gene pool and health of the population, its living standards, flora and fauna of the Aral Sea region.
Rather recently the important role belonged to the Aral Sea in terms of the development of economy of Central Asia, production of food, ensuring population’s employment and formation of a steady social infrastructure. The annual fish catch in the basins of the Aral Sea region used to make up 35 thousand tons. The fertile lands of the delta of Amudarya and Syrdarya, high-yield pastures and basins ensured jobs for millions of people in the sphere of cattle-breeding, poultry farming, fish breeding and production of agricultural crops.
However, thoughtless construction of the large-scale hydrotechnical facilities on the largest rivers of the region and overregulation of the natural watercourse of transboundary rivers of Amudarya and Syrdarya turned out to be one of the biggest planetary ecological catastrophes in the recent history. The Aral Sea – once unique, most beautiful and one of the largest inland basins of the world – has in fact during a lifetime of one generation found itself on the verge of full disappearance which turned out to be an unprecedented calamity and caused an irreparable damage to the life of local population, eco-system and biodiversity of the Aral Sea region.
For over the past 50 years the cumulative runoff of the rivers of Amudarya and Syrdarya into the Aral Sea decreased nearly 5 times, the volume of water mass of the Aral Sea was reduced more than 14 times and the level of its salinity increased almost 25 times which has led to nearly full extinction of fish and marine organisms that had earlier dwelt in the waters of the Aral Sea.
The locally growing vegetation and population of wildlife are rapidly diminishing in the Aral Sea region which was recently famous for its enormous biodiversity. 12 species of mammals, 26 types of birds and 11 types of plants are on the brink of full extinction. The new sand desert of Aralkum of more than 5,5 million hectares of area, which emerged on the place of basin, is steadily spreading to the entire Aral Sea region annually poisoning the atmosphere by about 100 million tons of dust and poisonous salts carried by sandstorms and hurricanes far beyond the Aral Sea region.
However, the bare listing of statistical figures are not able to describe the entire scale of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolded in the Aral Sea region and convey the feelings and aspirations of millions of people living here. The shortage of water resources and poor quality of potable water, degradation of lands, climatic changes, growth of population’s, and firstly, children’s diseases and the most complex set of related socio-economic and demographic problems – this is a severe reality which the population of adjacent regions of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is facing on daily basis.
Drying up of the Aral Sea brought about the dramatic changes in the climate of entire Central Asia which provoked the exacerbation of shortage of water resources, aggravation of seasonal droughts and length of the cruelest winters, rapid melting of the mountain glaciers of Pamir and Tien-Shan and worsening of the conditions of land farming in the countries of Central Asia.
To enormous regret, today it has become obvious that it is impossible to fully recover the Aral Sea.
The most important task for now is to reduce the baneful effect of the Aral crisis on environment and life of millions of people living in the Aral Sea region, including by implementing the deeply thought-out and targeted projects backed up by appropriate sources of funding.
In our opinion, the main reserves are in the following directions:
First, to preserve today’s fragile ecological balance of the Aral Sea region, struggle against desertification and improve the system of management, prudent and reasonable use of water resources;
Second, to create conditions for reproduction and preserving the gene pool and health of the population of the Aral Sea region, develop the social infrastructure, broad network of medical and educational institutions;
Third, to create necessary social and economic mechanisms and incentives to raise living standards of population, develop the base infrastructure and communications. I think that everybody will agree that we don’t have a right to let people living here to nurture the feelings of despair, and our duty is to create for them all conditions for a decent living, develop their own businesses, ensure new jobs and sources of income.
Fourth, to preserve and recover the biodiversity of wildlife and vegetation, including by establishing the local water basins, preserve the unique flora and fauna of this region.
It is these key issues that remain in the focus of attention of the «Program of Measures on Eliminating the Consequences of Drying up of Aral and Averting the Catastrophe of the Ecological Systems in the Aral Sea Region» proposed by us from the high rostrum of the United Nations which was disseminated as an official document of the Sixty Eighth Session of the UN General Assembly.
This speaks about the fact that the world community considers the tragedy of the Aral Sea as a global ecological catastrophe and recognizes the high topicality to urgently react to the challenges of ecological and social security of the region’s population of many millions.
The support by the United Nations and other development partners extended to the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, established in 1993 by the UN and five Central Asian states, testifies about the aforementioned. During the past period, the IFAS implemented two programs for a total amount of over 2 billion dollars to render assistance to the countries of the Aral Sea basin supported by the international donor community.
In this regard, allow me to express gratitude to the institutions and partner countries which extended assistance in tackling the most acute problems faced by the states and population of the Aral Sea region. Among such active partners are the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the UN agencies, the Islamic Development Bank, the USAID, the European Union, as well as Japan, Korea, China, Germany, France, Switzerland, Kuwait and others.
Since 2013 the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea with the support of the United Nations, European Union, leading international organizations and financial institutions has been implementing the Third Assistance Program to the countries of the Aral Sea basin that includes over 300 projects for the implementation of which it is necessary to mobilize over 8,5 billion dollars.
At the same time, we must openly recognize that despite ongoing projects and programs a lot more needs to be done. The countries of the region do not fully possess the sufficient own funds or material and technical capacities to overcome the ecological, socio-economic and humanitarian consequences of the Aral catastrophe on the environment and life of people residing here. In this regard, it is obvious that without substantial assistance on the part of the United Nations, other international organizations and development partner states it is impossible to address this planetary problem.
The broad spectrum of grave consequences of the Aral tragedy requires formation of new multifaceted assistance program aimed at effective overcoming the multiple challenges faced by the population, economy, social sphere and environment of the Aral Sea region.
The key role in developing and implementing such a comprehensive assistance program to the Aral Sea region must belong, above all, to the international organizations – the United Nations, financial institutions such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and high-profile international ecological organizations. This will allow to attract resources of not only international organizations and financial institutions, but also capacities of friendly partner countries to implement this program.
Practically all IFAS member-states, as much as other countries of Central Asia are implementing their national programs of water saving, recovery and development of the Aral Sea region. The principles of integrated water resource management and modern water-saving technologies are being widely introduced; the measures are taken to diversify the agricultural production, and many others.
A special attention is paid to the quality and standards of life of people, development of housing, social and transport-communication infrastructure, construction of modern rural houses, secondary schools and vocational colleges, medical stations, construction and reconstruction of automobile roads in the Aral Sea region. The programs on improving the reclamation condition of lands are being implemented.
I am convinced that the targeted, multifaceted and systemic interaction between the states, UN structures, international financial and ecological organizations, which are not indifferent to the destiny of the Aral Sea region and its population, will allow to develop and implement the efficient programs and projects aimed at addressing the most acute problems in the Aral Sea region.
Dear participants of the International Conference!
Allow me to express to all of you our sincere gratitude for deep understanding of the large-scale catastrophic consequences of drying up of the Aral Sea and your tangible contribution to the cause of saving the ecosystem of the Aral Sea region.
I wish all participants of the conference a productive work, sound health and success in your noble endeavors.
President of the Republic of Uzbekistan,
Chairman of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea