Central Asian Leaders Clash over Water At Aral Sea Summit

Views: 59

Joanna Lillis

 

asummit on the future of the shrinking Aral Sea ended in Almaty without making any tangible progress on resuscitating the endangered sea. If anything, the meeting succeeded only in stoking acrimony among participants on the water-use issue.

 

The presidents of the five Central Asian states gathered in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital of Almaty on April 28 for a summit of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, set up by the Central Asian leaders in 1993 and currently chaired by Kazakhstan. This was a rare five-way gathering for the region’s heads of state, whose relations are frequently characterized by political and personal contradictions. They came together to discuss ways to protect the Aral Sea which, despite improvements on the northern side in Kazakhstan, continues to shrink. The sea’s fate, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev said, “is recognized by the international community as a major disaster of the 20th century.”

 

The leaders had no difficulty agreeing on what is causing the sea to shrink — wasteful irrigation from its main feeder rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. They also agreed that the disappearing sea is posing health hazards to the estimated 40 million people living in the Aral Sea Basin. “The sea is dying before the eyes of the whole of mankind,” said Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s president. He added that Tashkent had spent $1 billion, including funds made available via international loans, on programs related to the sea and living conditions around it in the last decade.

 

Despite much talk of joint efforts, coordinated actions and rational use of water sources, the countries’ diverging interests once again prevented them from agreeing on a joint action plan. The upstream states of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are pursuing ambitious hydropower projects that downstream states say will affect the flow of cross-border rivers and leave them even shorter of water than they already are.

 

The upstream states say that the construction of hydropower stations — Kambarata in Kyrgyzstan and Rogun in Tajikistan — is required to solve acute energy shortages that leave the populations in the two respective states shivering in the dark in winter.

 

Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, offered a spirited defense of his country’s hydropower plans, citing figures that he said prove that upstream projects would not affect the flow of cross-border rivers. “Our state has to put special emphasis on hydropower,” said Bakiyev, who will be seeking reelection in July.

 

Bakiyev’s steadfastness on hydropower plans clearly irked Karimov, who has staunchly opposed plans to build Kambarata, for which Russia has pledged $1.7 billion in credits. http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/news/articles/eav021309.shtml “Third countries which would very much like to take part in this discussion are also pursuing their own aims,” Karimov noted in thinly veiled remarks that observers suggested were aimed at Moscow.

 

Karimov presented a united front at the summit with Turkmenistan’s president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, with both repeating previous calls for the involvement of an international body such as the United Nations in assessing the impact of regional hydropower projects. Berdymukhamedov also called for a unified regional energy system funded by international organizations, pledging that Turkmenistan would supply gas and electricity. Astana has been calling for a water and energy consortium to manage the fiercely disputed question of the use of the region’s natural resources, but diverging interests have, to date, hindered the Kazakhstani initiative.
Nazarbayev used the summit to confirm that — despite his country’s financial difficulties — Kazakhstan will push ahead with the second phase of a project that has partly rehabilitated the Northern Aral Sea (NAS), which split from the southern section in the 1980s. The NAS started filling up with water following the construction of a dike in 2005, and Kazakhstan’s government and the World Bank are currently examining a feasibility study for the second phase of the project. That will involve building another dike and a canal from the Syr Darya River to promote the further expansion of the northern part of the sea.

 

Prospects for the revival of the southern Aral remain bleak, Karimov acknowledged. “In Uzbekistan we realize unambiguously that to save the Aral Sea in the full sense of the word is practically impossible,” he said. Projects are needed to improve living conditions for people in the basin, he added.

 

The summit ended with controversy over the signing of a joint declaration after Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan expressed concern about a clause, and Tajikistan also voiced reservations.

The leaders eventually signed the document, pledging to boost the status of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea and hold a donors’ conference in Kazakhstan in 2010. The statement concluded with a confirmation of their “interest in drawing up a mutually acceptable mechanism for the overall use of water resources and the protection of the environment in Central Asia, taking into account the interests of all the region’s states.” However, in the current environment, such a mechanism does not look likely to emerge anytime soon.

 

Copyright (c) 2003 Open Society Institute. Reprinted with the permission of the Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019 USA, wwwEurasiaNet.org. or www.soros.org.

Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %
Previous post Shahin Abbasov s talk of a potential Nagorno-Karabakh deal gains momentum, Azerbaijan appears to be making serious overtures toward Russia in hopes that the Kremlin will push Armenia to make key concessions, analysts in Baku believe. As an incentive, Azerbaijan is playing one of its most strategic cards – cooperation in the natural gas sector. During a joint press conference with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on April 17, Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev stated that he does “not see any restriction” on possible sales of Azerbaijani gas to Russia. The assertion has been understood to include sales of gas from Stage 2 of the multilateral Shah Deniz project, which is expected to yield 14-16 billion cubic meters of gas per year. He also indicated that oil transportation via the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline could also increase. Baku had earlier avoided making any commitments about gas sales to Russia or the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline. President Medvedev, in turn, stated that the chances for reaching “a full-fledged” agreement on gas sales between Gazprom and the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR) are high. A recent agreement envisages the sale of gas produced by SOCAR alone. In a separate statement on April 17, the last day of Aliyev’s two-day visit to Moscow, Novruz Mammadov, head of the presidential administration’s Foreign Policy Department, elaborated more definitively. Gas sales to Russia or to Iran could be an alternative to the Western-backed Nabucco project, he told the Turan news agency. “If countries interested in Nabucco do not move, Azerbaijan has no option but to think about its interests,” Mammadov said. One Baku expert, however, states that Azerbaijan’s energy-sector promises were not solely intended to spur Nabucco’s sponsors into action. Elhan Shahinoglu, head of the Atlas Center for Political Research, believes that Aliyev may have received some assurances in Moscow about the potential withdrawal of Armenian forces from the five regions surrounding Karabakh. “Roughly speaking, in exchange for guarantees of gas supplies to Russia, Moscow could put pressure on Armenia in order to liberate the five occupied regions, i.e. to launch the step-by-step conflict resolution plan,” Shahinoglu said. Shahinoglu believes that such a development could be advantageous not only to Baku and Moscow, but also to Ankara and Yerevan. “Russia gets gas, Azerbaijan gets the territories, Armenia opens its border with Turkey. Ankara also gets progress in resolution of the Karabakh conflict, which allows it to normalize relations with Armenia without problems with Azerbaijan,” the expert said. In an April 18 interview with the Russian television channel Vesti, Aliyev indicated readiness to make one serious concession to Yerevan – signaling that Baku might be willing to live with a final settlement in which the Lachin corridor that links Karabakh proper to Armenia remains under Armenian control. “[W]e do not see problems here,” Aliyev said. “The issues with the Lachin corridor could be effectively solved in order to not cause anxiety for those who live in Nagorno-Karabakh and for the Azerbaijani population which will return there after the conflict’s resolution.” But Rauf Mirkadirov, political columnist for the Russian-language daily Zerkalo (Mirror), believes that “it is difficult to talk about real progress even after Aliyev’s visit to Moscow.” While interest from the United States and the European Union in resolving the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and establishing a corridor for gas from Central Asia to Europe may goad Moscow’s interests in brokering a conflict resolution, the terms may prove unpalatable for both Armenia and Azerbaijan, Mirkadirov said. “Moscow wants a resolution under its full control — in other words, with its peacekeepers in the conflict zone — while Azerbaijan and even Armenia are not ready for that,” he said. Former presidential foreign police aide Vafa Guluzade also believes that the chances for progress are slim. Without clarity on the ultimate question — Karabakh’s final status – statements by Aliyev, Medvedev and others “are just diplomatic words,” Guluzade argued. Nonetheless, those “words” show little sign of slacking off. In an April 17 interview with the Voice of America, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza stated that Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan are now examining “painful compromises” that have to be made before a breakthrough can occur. Nonetheless, Bryza, a noted optimist in the Karabakh peace process, believes that a “real” breakthrough is possible in the coming weeks. In an April 20 interview published by the Trend news agency, the presidential administration’s Mammadov stated that if Armenia “defines its position” at an expected May 7 meeting in Prague between Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, “a decision will be adopted.” Mammadov called on Moscow, which will be hosting an official visit by Sargsyan in late April, to “fulfill its historic mission” to resolve the 21-year conflict. According to Bryza, a special meeting of the US, French and Russian presidents on the Karabakh issue is possible this summer. Editor’s Note: Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku. He is also a board member of the Open Society Institute-Azerbaijan. Copyright (c) 2003 Open Society Institute. Reprinted with the permission of the Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019 USA, wwwEurasiaNet.org. or www.soros.org.
Next post Ethnic Russians Say, “There’s No Place Like Home”

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.