When white turns to grey
By Charles van der
This week, a
large global seminar attended by high-brow, high-level
representatives of most countries around the globe is supposed to come
to an end.
session is expected to be attended by heads of state and heads of governments,
including most of those in charge of EU member states, the USA, China,
former Soviet republics and what formerly used to be known as the Third World. At that session,
cards shuffled in the run-up are supposed to be put on the table, resulting in
an updated version, ready to be put into implementation, of the Kyoto Agreement
on emissions of CO2 gases, held responsible for most of the global warming
currently in process.
Copenhagen seems a long way off the daily headaches of Central Asia's farmers and
their produce's consumers. For them, water is more important than protocols.
According to a recent report by the Eurasian Development Bank, the meltdown of
glaciers in the Tien Shan to the immediate south of Almaty, the Alatau to its
northeast, the Ala-Too south of Bishkek, and the Pamir-Alai
in eastern Tajikistan is set to increase the volumes of river water runoff by
up to three times within no more than a decade or so if the current process
persists. This will increase the frequency of mudflows by five times, and
things are due to get much worse if the development is accompanied by so-called
lake bursts. If, for instance, the Adygin basin
breaks through its barriers, mudflows are likely to become monthly routine, and
when the same happens to larger reservoirs such as Yaschinkul
and/or Isfairam, there will be mud avalanches lasting
for years without much disruption.
"Kyrgyzstan has 1,923 lakes with a total water surface of 6,840 square kilometers,"
the EDB report reads. "The largest lakes are Issyk-Kul, Son-Kul and Chatyr-Kul.
Freshwater reserves held by these lakes amount to an estimated 1,745 cubic kilometers.
Kyrgyzstan's main lakes account for more than 55 per cent of the total water
surface of all the lakes in Central Asia. In all, under present-day conditions Kyrgyzstan withholds between one-fifth and a quarter of the water its
landscape generates. Together with Tajikistan's supplies, this should leave downstream countries with enough
water to sustain their agricultural resources.
Apparently, it does not. And the squabbling in Copenhagen's
conference rooms has everything to do with it. As early as by the end of the
2030s Kazakhstan's arable territories will have to reckon with a loss of more than
10 per cent of its water supplies if the worst case scenario, which the EDB
took from a scale developed by a global warming think tank in the Special
Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), takes place. Under a more moderate
scenario, which takes the global implementation of the Kyoto Protocol into
account, losses will still be in the order of 6 per cent.
"If the increase in temperature reaches 2 to 3 degrees Celsius, the steppe
climate of the upper foothill zone of the Iliysky Alatau will transform into a desert climate," the EDB
warns in its report. "These areas, currently covered with grass and
bushes, will lose their loess cover and turn into wastelands. Virtually all
liquid precipitation is due to result in mud flows, and mudflow sediments will
cover the most productive soils in the plains under the mountain. A sharp
increase in solid runoff from rivers flowing into the Ili
will accelerate the silting process of the Kapchagay
reservoir, and change the hydrological conditions in the Ili's delta and Lake Balkhash. Farms subsisting on irrigation water will face serious problems,
as the water is going to be unfit for irrigation and irrigation systems will be
filled with debris."
The most astounding element in it all is that there is no overall lack of water
anywhere in sight for Central Asia in the near future and beyond -- greenhouse
effect or not. Even in the worst scenario included in the Kyoto documents,
meant to be updated during Copenhagen's event, the amount of supplies in the region remains basically the
same. Only the breakdown of its locations is due to change dramatically, much
of which can be controlled and rectified by human ingenuity -- in theory as
well as in practice. The main difference between the two lies in the difference
between incompetent and competent leadership and management. Waiting until the
global squabbling over quota ends is waiting for the end to come all the sooner
for it. If leaderships cannot do anything about it, it will be up to the
population to do something on a smaller scale. Local communities can look ahead
more clearly than boardroom folk -- for the simple reason that for the latter
theory counts more than practice, as opposed to those who are threatened with
drowning with a dry throat.