UN Special Resolution on the Aral Sea Region passed on initiative of Uzbekistan

On May 18, during the plenary meeting of the 75th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, a special resolution was unanimously adopted on declaring the Aral Sea region a zone of environmental innovations and technologies; thereby supporting an initiative of the President of Uzbekistan regarding development of the Aral Sea region.  

The Resolution adopted by the General Assembly:

- declares its support for regional events and initiatives aimed at improving the environmental, social, economic and demographic situation in the Aral Sea region;

- encourages scientific and research advisory activities in the interests of further restoration and improvement of the environment and the quality life of the population;

- emphasizes the importance of intensifying regional cooperation to overcome the consequences of the Aral Sea crisis and stabilize the ecological situation in the region;

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- calls on all stakeholders to conduct joint interdisciplinary research, develop and introduce environmentally friendly technologies, promote sustainable inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth.

 

Allow me to provide some context to better understand this Resolution:

The drying up of the Aral Sea, which was the fourth largest lake in the world until the 1960s, is one of the biggest environmental catastrophes caused by human activity due to the unsustainable management and use of water resources during the Soviet era. As a result, today the area of the Aral Sea has declined to less than 10% of its original size in the 1960s.

The environmental, climatic, socio-economic and humanitarian consequences that are felt to this very day pose a direct threat to the sustainable development of Uzbekistan and the countries of the Aral Sea region. Some of these consequences include land degradation and desertification, pollution and salinization of water and land resources, a shortage of drinking water, depletion of flora and fauna and deterioration of health and livelihoods of the local population, particularly in the Republic of Karakalpakstan. The total direct and indirect social and economic losses caused by the environmental disaster in the Aral Sea Region amount to almost USD 150 million per year.

 

Yearly, more than 100 million tons of dust and toxic salts rise into the atmosphere from the dried seabed of the Aral Sea annually travelling a distance of up to 1,000 km. As a result, we are also witnessing a gradual increase in the intensity and frequency of natural phenomena such as droughts as well as sand and salt storms.

Over three quarters of the inhabitants of the Aral Sea Region were at one point involved in the production, processing and transportation of fish. The once fertile deltas of the Amudarya and the Syrdarya (the two rivers feeding the Aral Sea) provided significant employment opportunities in the livestock and agricultural sectors. Over time, as the sea has receded, the employment opportunities caused by the loss of fishing and transportation industries have forced young people to leave for other regions of the country and abroad to find jobs.

Since the early years of its independence, and especially during President Sh. Mirziyoyev’s presidency, Uzbekistan has actively engaged the international community in solving the Aral Sea related problems. On September 19 2017, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, speaking at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, emphasized the need for a collective approach to this problem under the auspices of the UN, taking into account the interests of all countries in the region. While full restoration of the Aral Sea is not feasible, its negative consequences can and must be mitigated. The most important task at present is to reduce the destructive impact of the Aral Sea crisis on the environment and the livelihoods of the millions of people living in the region, as well as to mitigate or prevent the aggravation of further deterioration of the climate-related impacts. “The Sea is Gone, the People are Not”: this is the guiding principle of Uzbekistan’s approach to the Aral Sea problem.

 

At Uzbekistan’s initiative, the UN Multilateral Trust Fund for the Development of the Aral Sea Region was established in 2018. This Trust Fund provides a unified platform for all involved stakeholders and is tasked to enable close cooperation between development partners, international financial institutions, civil society, and also bilateral and multilateral donors. The aim is to develop and implement effective measures towards mitigation of the negative environmental and socio-economic consequences of the Aral Sea crisis, as well as to promote joint efforts to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

 

In a short period of time, the Trust Fund managed to mobilize donor contributions from the Governments of Uzbekistan, Norway, Finland, Republic of Korea, Japan, UAE, and the European Union. In addition, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and KfW Bank (Germany) are actively cooperating with the Trust Fund.

Within the framework of the two Calls for Proposals, the implementation of several projects has aimed to improve the quality of perinatal care services, provide access to drinking water, expand income generation opportunities, and support afforestation methods.

Also in 2018, the President issued a decree “On the establishment of the International Innovation Center for the Aral Sea Basin under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. The main objectives of the Center are, among others, to improve the productivity of agro-ecosystems on the dried and saline bottom of the Aral Sea; to carry out experimental pilot projects in order to test new crops and shrubs which could be resistant to soil salinity and dry conditions, and in the process, to attract innovative technologies and leading best practices from other countries.

One particular project of the Center that is worth highlighting is called “My Garden in the Aral Sea”; a crowdfunding platform to raise funds for planting trees using the latest water-conservation technologies, where anyone can donate (for instance, through their website - https://aralforest.org/ - one USD for a drought-resistant tree or USD 3.50 for an ornamental tree). Experts have selected varieties of trees that are resistant to the climatic conditions of the region, including ash, elm, catalpa, willow, saxaul, circassia, and kadam. The ambitious goal of this project is to have 100,000 trees planted by the end of this year.

 

Building on the aforementioned initiatives, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev suggested at least year’s 75th session of the UN General Assembly, to adopt a Special Resolution of the UN General Assembly declaring the Aral Sea region an area of ecological innovation and technologies, which yesterday became a reality.

The rationale and purpose of declaring the Aral Sea Region an area of ecological innovation and technologies is to turn the region from one identified with an ecological, environmental and human crisis into a zone of sustainable socio-economic development based on environmental and ecological innovation, with an emphasis on a green and circular economy approach.

The innovative approach of the Government of Uzbekistan towards the Aral Sea is not only limited to the adoption of the latest technology and innovations. It also includes institutional innovations - including greater state decentralization, engaging the private sector creatively thorough Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), the inclusion and involvement of non-traditional sectors (tourism, culture, civil society, etc), and practical application of circular economy concepts.

 

To conclude, it is expected that the adoption of this resolution will rise environmental awareness regionally around the world about the Aral Sea disaster, and that it will spearhead action by all relevant stakeholders – both state and non-state actors – in the form of technology and knowledge transfer, and to enable innovative solutions to partly offset the negative effects of the drying up of the Aral Sea, for the benefit of the people of the Aral Sea region.

Alberto TURKSTRA, Project Manager, Diplomatic World Institute