Central Asia rallies together to tackle water crisis




November 9, 2009, Victor Winner



BISHKEK (TCA) -- Representatives from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), met in Bishkek last month to discuss the deteriorating state of Central Asia's water supply. This education on water quality has been needed for a long time, said Farrukh Shaazizov, scientist at the Institute for Water Issues, a department of Uzbekistan's Academy of Sciences. Research on water issues needs to be conducted, as does effective water usage, and protection of water resources, especially given Central Asia's severe environmental problems in sea and river basins.

In particular, trans-boundary rivers in
Uzbekistan, such as the Zaravshan, Sokh, Syr-Darya, and Isfaramsai contain high percentages of copper, zinc, lead and cadmium.

According to Saginmurod Samiyev, Director of the Hydro-Meteorological Agency, three major rivers in
Tajikistan the Amu-Darya, Syr-Darya, and Vakhsh are of particular concern. Man-made and natural factors have had a negative impact on the water purity. The Syr-Darya's salinity of 1,500-1,700 mg/liter is way above average, as is the Yavansuu river's up to 1,500 mg/liter.

”The main problem is polluted rivers, especially those located near uranium mines, and the increasing number of petroleum products that end up in
Issyk-Kul Lake,” said Lyudmila Nyshanbayeva, head of monitoring in Jalalabad's Environmental Protection Department. The maximum concentration limit exceeds the norm by 7.2 times. The reason for that is an increased number of scooters, and motor boats.

Iskander Tursunov, Kazgidromet's head, noted that “While all Central Asian countries use rivers for irrigation, the highest level of man-made pollution comes from

The Syr-Darya is polluted with agricultural chemicals, mainly sulfates. The
Ili River in Kazakhstan has high levels of nitrogen-based compounds. The Ili along with the Karatal, Aksu, and Lepsa bring their polluted waters to Kazakhstan's Lake Balkhash, which is already being polluted by the mining and metallurgical works in the area. Today, copper levels in Lake Balkhash are in some places up to 30 times above the norm.

Caspian Sea is polluted with oil products from former oil wells nearby. These are not being monitored and are increasingly leaky. The risk is augmented by the fact that the wells are located on coastal shelves. Huge flares from gas plants are contributing to air pollution, while the combustion waste-products accumulate on the water. Kazakh oil has a high content of sulfur and paraffin; since the Soviet times, large piles of sulfur have accumulated on the Caspian's shores. These are growing everyday.

”Because post-Soviet Central Asia finds it financially difficult to provide laboratories with qualified scientists and proper equipment, the International Center for Environmental Technology Transfer (ICETT) for the past five years has been helping to preserve the ecology, offering free training in Japan to Central Asian specialists on water monitoring,” said Etsuko Minamikawa, a manager at ICETT.

Today, 24 specialists from
Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, who attended an ICETT training course, are successfully implementing their new-found knowledge back in their own countries.