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Russian, Central Asian leaders asked to push ahead with canal to help Aral Sea crisis
Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Russian, Central Asian Leaders Asked To Push Ahead With Canal To Help Aral Crisis

BBC, April 10, 2002

An international forum on the Aral Sea problem has asked the Russian and Central Asian leaders to resume talks on building a canal from Siberian rivers to Central Asian rivers, in order to alleviate the Aral crisis. The forum, held in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, said that it was crucial to combine efforts to deal with the worsening crisis, the Uzbek National News Agency web site reported on 10 April. The construction of the canal will create an economic bridge between Russia's central region with Central Asia, enabling large-scale social and economic cooperation to develop, the agency said. The following is an excerpt from the report entitled "International cooperation in resolving the problems of the Aral Sea area is an imperative".

The water crisis in the Aral Sea area, which has escalated, especially in the past two years, has considerably compounded the social, economic and environmental situation in Central Asia. An environmental forum entitled "International cooperation in resolving the problems of the Aral Sea area is an imperative", held in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, has focused on finding ways to improve the situation. It was organized at the initiative of the ECOSAN international environmental and health foundation and with the help of a Russian centre in Uzbekistan. The event was attended by heads of state and public organizations, well-known scientists in environmental preservation and water specialists from Uzbekistan and Russia, cultural figures, representatives of the diplomatic corps and international organizations.

An international conference, chaired by the ECOSAN head, Yusuf Shodimetov, was held as part of the forum. The root cause of the Aral crisis is that in the Central Asian region there is an overall deficit in water resources which is widening because of rapid demographic growth, a state adviser to the Uzbek president, Ismoil Jorabekov, told the conference. The state is taking economic and social measures directed towards overcoming the aftermath of this crisis, which are bearing results. However, the way to resolve the problem fundamentally is only by eliminating its causes, that is, to supply Central Asian rivers with donor water resources.

In the opinion of those who attended the conference, the most realistic and economical idea is to supply water to the region from the Siberian Rivers Ob and Irtysh. A similar project was first put forward in the 1960s-1980s. The development of the project involved about 150 planning and scientific research institutes in former Soviet republics. This project was given thorough consideration by leading scientists and specialists, but, during perestroika, a major campaign was conducted to discredit it.

Today, when the water situation in the region is deteriorating, it is crucial to combine efforts to develop new attitudes to solve it. Under present-day circumstances, the implementation of the project needs a fundamentally new organizational and economic basis determined by the changed geopolitical situation. The Siberia-Central Asia canal should be built not only with the efforts of interested countries, but also with widely-attracted foreign investments and private funds. A proposal has been put forward to set up a special international consortium to this end.

Both sides - the Central Asian countries and Russia - are interested in seeing the project implemented, the conference noted. The construction of the Siberian canal will make it possible to create an economic bridge linking Russia's central region with ours. This will contribute to the development of large-scale social and economic cooperation. This will also provide an opportunity for littoral countries of the Aral Sea to overcome the deficit in water resources, develop arable areas, create employment, which means that agriculture will pick up. Water from the Siberian rivers is good for growing environmentally healthy vegetables, fruits and leguminous crops.

After discussions, the environmental forum took a decision in which they ask the Russian and Central Asian heads of state and government to resume talks on drawing up and adopting a decision for the project to build the Siberia-Central Asia canal to carry on.


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