Only joint adequately funded and coordinated efforts can change for the better the lives of 70 million people of Central Asia living in the Aral sea basin, according to a new book titled “The Aral sea: Water for Sustainable Development in Central Asia”, written by 57 experts from 14 countries and the United Nations, reports EurekAlert.
The total area of the Aral sea basin, which includes six countries – Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan – is more than 1.7 million square kilometers. This is about half of the territory of India.
The annual flow of the two main rivers – the Amu Darya and Syr Darya – feeding the sea in the late 1950s was 115 cubic kilometers, and the sea itself occupied an area the size of Ireland, or 68,000 square kilometers. Now these rivers discharge into the sea only about 10% of what fed the Aral sea until the 1960s, and the surface of the sea has decreased by more than 80%.
Today, the region’s water systems are in transition from outdated and obsolete technologies to modern infrastructure.
Within the basin there is one of the largest and most sophisticated water facilities on Earth – the Karakum canal in Turkmenistan with a length of more than 1400 kilometers. And the Rogun dam, which is under construction in Tajikistan with a design height of 335 meters, may soon become the highest dam in the world.
More than 80 reservoirs scattered accross the Aral basin have an individual capacity of more than 10 million cubic meters. Hydraulic structures in the Aral sea zone together produce about 36,097 MWh of electricity.
In addition, the population of the region is one of the world’s largest water users with an average annual water withdrawal of about 2,200 cubic meters per capita, with almost 90 % of the water used for irrigation. Agriculture in these countries contributes from 10 to 45% of GDP with employment in the industry from 20 to 50% of the rural population.
In short, all these figures speak loudly about the vital importance of “blue resources” in the Aral sea region and Central Asia, where the well-being and stable development of a small household or an entire economic sector literally depends on the availability of access to fresh water.
The book “The Aral sea: Water for sustainable development in Central Asia” voices several significant observations and offers a number of recommendations, which, according to the authors, could be a useful guide for future political and economic decisions:
- Forecasts of economic progress and demographic growth point to the approaching drastic surge in water demand, which will necessitate greater cooperation.
- The meteorological and hydrological monitoring in the Aral sea basin needs to be expanded in order to support sound water management.
- Observations of snow cover and glaciers play a key role in determining water availability and predicting water-related risks. In this regard, it is necessary to accelerate the formation of an extensive monitoring network in the region and to strengthen the regional exchange of data on water resources.
- Land and water degradation are a major obstacle to sustainable development in the basin. Land degradation alone is estimated to cost the region about $ 3 billion annually or about 1% of the total GDP of the six basin countries.
- Construction of large dams and hydroelectric power plants underway in the region, which, under joint management, will improve the reliability of water availability for the agriculture, electricity and domestic use.
- The countries of the Aral sea basin should move towards closer cooperation in order to achieve common interests, avoiding negative competition for resources.
Along with Central Asian experts, academics and geosciences researchers from Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States co-authored the book on Aral and water issues in Central Asia. Such a geographically impressive list of authors indicates that the Aral crisis and the search for ways to overcome the catastrophe is constantly in the focus of the wider international community.
Turkmenistan, being an active participant in the process of settlement of the Aral sea problem, consistently promotes the idea of creating a Special UN Program for the countries of the Aral sea region. In particular, this initiative was fixed in a separate paragraph in the UN General Assembly Resolution “Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Fund for saving the Aral sea” adopted in May this year. The document calls UN specialized agencies and international financial institutions for the development of closer partnerships with IFsAS.