Urgent Need to Replace Competition with Cooperation in the Aral Sea Basin

The Aral Sea Basin, defined in red, straddles six countries in
Central Asia. See detailed map in full at http://bit.ly/2BQPpRm. Credit:
UNU-INWEH

By Stefanos Xenarios, Iskandar Abdullaev and Vladimir
Smakhtin
NUR-SULTAN CITY, Kazakhstan, Nov 7 2019 (IPS)

The water resources in Central Asia’s Aral Sea Basin support
the lives and livelihoods of about 70 million people — a
population greater than Thailand, France, or South Africa.

And unless well-funded and coordinated joint efforts are stepped
up, with competition replaced by cooperation, ongoing
over-withdrawals compounded by climate change will cause dangerous
water shortages in this huge, highly complex watershed spanning six
nations: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

That’s the key message of a new book co-authored by 57
regional and international experts from 14 countries and the United
Nations, who spent years examining a suite of challenges in the
Aral Sea Basin.

The new book assembles the views of nearly all major regional
and international experts on the great challenges faced in the Aral
Sea Basin. They include three co-authors from the UN University’s
Institute for Water, Environment and Health, in Hamilton,
Canada.

And almost half of the authors are based in Central Asia,
creating a unique blend of regional and international voices and
expertise on these critical issues.

The Basin’s two major rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya,
discharge now only about 10% of what flowed into the Aral Sea until
the 1960s, shrinking the sea by more than 80 percent — “one of
the world’s most severe and emblematic environmental
disasters.”

Freshwater is key to food, energy, environmental security and
social stability among the six Aral Basin countries. And given the
countries’ prospective economic and population growth, reliance
on water resources will increase, compelling cooperation in sharing
benefits and reducing costs.

Intensive, wasteful irrigated farming when the nations were part
of the Soviet Union was the main cause of the Aral Sea drying up
and irrigation continues to consume about 90 percent of the total
water withdrawal in the Basin, with agriculture contributing from
10 to 45 percent of GDP, and 20 to 50 percent of rural
employment.

Most irrigation, hydropower and other water-related
infrastructural systems and facilities are in transition, a blend
today of past and present. Unfortunately, the existing
observational meteorological and hydrological networks in the
Basin, which declined in the 1990s when the Soviet period ended,
are insufficient to support informed water management, and regional
water data sharing is suboptimal.

Degradation of land and water are among the major hindrances to
sustainable development in the region, with land degradation alone
estimated to cost about US$3 billion of losses in ecosystem
services annually.

There has been uneven progress across the countries on the
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and particularly Goal 6
(Clean Water and Sanitation), with contrasting progress also
between urban and rural populations within each nation, most
particularly Afghanistan.

The new book suggests a number of interventions and initiatives
to end and reverse deterioration of the Aral Basin. For example, if
existing large hydropower projects were managed in a collaborative
manner, they can bring all countries multiple benefits, including
improved reliability of supply and availability of water for
agriculture, domestic use and electricity generation.

Monitoring of snow and glaciers in high altitude mountain areas,
as well as permafrost, is essential for sound estimates of water
availability and water-related hazards. Such systems need to be
re-installed.

Also needed: institutions for decentralized management of
natural resources, such as water user associations to promote
cooperative, sustainable, intra-regional management between
upstream and downstream countries and integrated rural development
approaches.

Existing regional frameworks must either be reformed or replaced
by new mechanisms of cooperation in order to successfully translate
political will into highly effective, integrated regional water
management.

Reforming the water sector, however, goes well beyond new
policies and initiatives, updating the legislative framework, and
building new institutions. A key challenge is to achieve
continuous, strong, high-level political engagement throughout the
Basin countries, the active participation of stakeholders, and
technical and financial support.

The Aral Basin’s many water-related issues must be addressed
jointly by all involved states within the concept that water,
energy, and food issues represent a critical, interlinked nexus of
needs.

Major geopolitical and economic development interests are
placing increasing pressure on countries of the Basin to end
resource competition and find a way to closer cooperation and
effective pursuit of their shared interests.

The post
Urgent Need to Replace Competition with Cooperation in the Aral Sea
Basin
appeared first on Inter
Press Service
.

Excerpt:

Stefanos Xenarios is a Professor at Nazarbaev
University, Kazakhstan and co-editor-in-chief of the Central Asian
Journal of Water Research; Iskandar Abdullaev is
Deputy Director, CAREC Institute, China and Vladimir
Smakhtin
is Director, UN University Institute for Water,
Environment and Health, Canada and series editor of the Routledge
publishers’ Earthscan Series on Major River Basins of the World, in
which the Aral Sea Basin Book is the latest addition.

The post
Urgent Need to Replace Competition with Cooperation in the Aral Sea
Basin
appeared first on Inter
Press Service
.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Urgent Need to Replace Competition with Cooperation in the Aral Sea Basin