At the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly President of the Republic of Uzbekistan H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev noted “I would like to once again draw attention to one of the most acute environmental problems of our time – the Aral Sea catastrophe. Overcoming the consequences of the desiccation of the Sea today requires active consolidation of international efforts”.
The Central Election Commission has designated December 22, 2019 as the Election Day for deputies of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan and deputies of local Kengashes.
On September 20, 2019, the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan launched election campaign in the country.
This year, parliamentary elections and to the local Kengashes of people’s deputies will be held for the first time on the basis of the new Election Code.
For the first time, five political parties will nominate their candidates – Milliy Tiklanish Democratic Party, People’s Democratic Party, Movement of Entrepreneurs and Businesspeople – the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, Social Democratic Party Adolat and the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan.
According to the Election Code, political parties have the right to nominate not 135, but 150 candidates from all constituencies in the upcoming elections to the Legislative Chamber.
More than 20 million voters will participate in the elections, of which more than two million young people will take part in voting for the first time.
It is noteworthy that this year the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan will take part in the elections for the first time. Boriy Alihanov – Chairman of the Central Executive Council of the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan.
On January 8, 2019, the Constituent Congress of the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan was held in Tashkent, the Program, Charter and symbols of the party were approved, its governing bodies were elected. On January 22, 2019, the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan was registered at the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Uzbekistan. February 27 – March 4 held conferences on the establishment of territorial party organizations of the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, regions and in the city of Tashkent.
The most important task of the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan will be the revitalization of government bodies, environmental organizations, enterprises and institutions to ensure compliance with applicable laws and the implementation of programs and strategies on environmental protection, public health and the rational use of natural resources and environmental safety in general.
The Ecological Party of Uzbekistan will increase the responsibility of enterprises and organizations, officials and individuals to ensure environmental protection, rational use of natural resources, as well as for committed environmental offenses and other damage to the environment and public health.
At the same time, special attention will be focused on mitigating the consequences of the Aral ecological disaster for the population and the environment of Aral Sea, as well as improving the natural environment in other ecologically unfavorable regions of the country.
The Aral Sea problem also is a priority for the Government of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Aral Sea was fourth largest inland lake in the world. In 1964 the Sea area was 68,9 th. km2. The Aral Sea played an important role in the development of the region’s economy, its productive sectors, in ensuring employment of the population, and in the formation of a sustainable social infrastructure. Fertile lands of the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers’ delta, as well as highly productive pastures provided jobs to tens of thousands of people in the field of livestock, poultry, and growing crops.
Problems of the Aral Sea arose and took on alarming scales in the 60s of the XX century as a result of extreme regulation of the major transboundary rivers of the region – the Syrdarya and the Amudarya.
During this period, the needs of the region’s economy in water increased from 60 to 120 cubic km per year, 90% of which was used for irrigation. Thus, from 1960 to 1990, the area of the irrigated land in Central Asia increased from 4.5 million to 7.5 million hectares.
Significant population growth, the scale of urbanization and intensive development of lands, construction of large hydrotechnical and irrigation facilities on the water-streams of the Aral Sea basin, without taking into account environmental consequences, were main factors of the Aral Sea’s drying out.
In the late 1980s, as a result of the water level lowering, the Aral Sea was divided into the Big Aral Sea (on the territory of the Republic of Uzbekistan) and the Northern / Small Aral Sea (on the territory of Kazakhstan). Since 2001, the Big Aral Sea has been divided into the Eastern Aral and Western Aral Sea due to further water level lowering.
The drying out of the Aral Sea has caused a complex set of environmental, socio-economic and demographic problems of a global nature in the Aral Sea region and resulted in the following negative consequences:
The Aral Sea region was considered one with a wide variety of flora and fauna, 38 species of fish and a number of species of animals, listed in the Red Book of Uzbekistan (Bukhara deer, Jeyran, Ustyurt mountain ram), inhabited the region, the number of saigas reached 1 million heads, the floral composition was 638 species of higher plants.
The Aral Sea served as a climate-regulating basin and used to mitigate the sharp weather fluctuations throughout the region, which had a favorable effect on the living conditions of the population, agricultural production and the ecological situation. The air masses invading the region during winter warmed up, and in summer cooled down over the sea.
Beginning from 1961, the sea level began decreasing with an increasing speed of 20 to 80-90 cm per year. Over the past 50 years, the total flow of rivers into the Aral Sea has been reduced to an average of 12.7 cubic km, or almost 4.5 times. The area of the water surface of the sea reduced 8 times, the volume of the water mass decreased by more than 13 times. The water level, from an absolute mark of 53.4 m before 1960, fell to 29 m.
Intensification of the desertification process in the vast territory. The vast areas of salt fields formed on the dried-up part of the sea turning into a new desert “Aralkum” with an area of more than 5.5 million hectares, covering the territories of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Annually more than 75 million tons of dust and poisonous salts ascend from the Aral Sea. Dust trails coming up from the bottom of the Aral Sea reach 400 km in length and 40 km in width.
More than 75 percent of the total area of pastures of the Republic of Uzbekistan are located in Karakalpakstan, Navoi and Bukhara regions. Areas of degraded pastures in Karakalpakstan make up more than 83%, in the Bukhara region more than 59%, in Navoi region – more than 90%. From 1995 to 2011, pastures in the Republic of Karakalpakstan decreased by 620 thousand hectares, in Navoi region by 1,400 thousand hectares, in Bukhara region by 320 thousand hectares.
Pollution and salinization of water and land resources. The level of water salinity in the Aral Sea has increased by more than 13-25 times and exceeds the average level of mineralization of the Ocean by 7-11 times.
As a result of the effects of salts falling down during periods of dust storms, growth of irrigation water mineralization and increase of the groundwater levels, the quality of land resources has sharply decreased. This led to a decrease in crop yields (corn crops fell 3 times, rice 2 times, cotton 1.6 times and potatoes and vegetables 1.5-2.5 times).
According to the results of the survey conducted in August 2017 by the Institute of Social Researches in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, in some studied areas the level of salinity of lands exceeds 80.0%, and in Muynak district – 96.0%. The level of groundwater mineralization remains high (the level of groundwater is 1-2 meters per 64% of irrigated land). The half of the irrigated land has a low bonitet.
High evaporation at low levels of precipitations (90-120 mm / year) led to frequent irrigation (6-10 times) and flushing (2-4 times) on the saline soils. The highest norms of water consumption for irrigation are observed in Khorezm region, the Republic of Karakalpakstan and Bukhara region, which are almost 1.5-2 times higher than in Samarkand, Djizak and Syrdarya regions.
Depletion of the gene pool of flora and fauna. As a result of the drying out of the Aral Sea, 60 species of wild animals and plants vanished (Turanian tiger, Asian cheetah, Ustyurt ram, striped hyena, etc.), the number of endangered species increased (12 mammal species, 26 bird species and 11 plant species). Eleven species of fish, including rare species such as Aral spike, Aral salmon vanished, 13 species of commercial fish decreased in number resulting in degradation of the fishery business. Currently the coverage of rare and endangered flora and fauna species, as well as unique ecosystems with the state and biosphere reserves make up only 0.93%, which does not allow their preservation. Nowadays the total area of protected natural areas in the Aral Sea region is 95.5 thousand hectares, which include the Nizhne-Amudarya biosphere reserve, the Kyzylkum reserve, and Eco-center “Jeyran”.
Change of the Aral Sea region climate and landscape. A direct consequence of the Sea’s drying out was the dramatic climate change, felt not only in Central Asia, but also in other regions. The number of days with temperature over 40 degrees has doubled in the Aral Sea region since early 1960s. According to the estimates of international UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) experts on the climate situation for 2035-2050, the air temperature in the region might increase by 1.5-3 degrees. Climate change will lead to an increase in water losses by 10-15% due to evaporation from the water surface and by 10-20% due to increased transpiration by plants.
Noticeable trend towards increased seasonal drought is observed in Uzbekistan, which indicates the negative impact of the drying process of the Aral Sea on changes in the climatic conditions of the region.
The Aral Sea catastrophe exacerbated the continentality of the climate, intensifying the dryness and heat in summer, extending the cold and severe winters, and also led to the loss of landscape biodiversity, which included unique forms of shores, Ustyurt chinks, insular arid lowlands, foothill proluvial plains, erosion-solonchak hollows, eolian plains with massifs of ridge-cellular, hummocky, ridge-hummocky, flat, sand dunes.
The demographic situation in the region is characterized by a decrease in the birth rate and an increase in mortality which has led to a slowdown in population growth. Rural settlements with a population of less than 1,000 people make 73.8%. By the scale of external labor migration, the Republic of Karakalpakstan occupies leading positions in the country (from 5 to 10% of the employed population in each surveyed district), the bulk of which are seasonal workers. At the same time, more than half of migrants are young people part of the migrants return to their homeland with infectious diseases they acquire in recipient countries, others return with degraded professional capabilities and traditional socio-psychological habits (loss of professional knowledge, destruction of family values, acquisition of alien habits and lifestyles, etc.)
The biggest threat should be specifically noted, which along with the high migration of the population due to the deterioration of living conditions caused by the Aral Sea’s drying out, might lead to catastrophic consequences associated with the irretrievable disappearance of culture, traditions, spiritual and historical heritage of the regions’ folks.
WATER, HEALTH AND SANITATION
The most acute issue is the access of the population to high-quality drinking water. More than half of the population of the Aral Sea region, especially inhabitants of rural settlements, have to use insufficiently purified and highly mineralized water. According to official statistics, the provision of centralized water supply for apartments in the Republic of Karakalpakstan for 2006-2016 decreased from 71.3% to 66.6%. Rural areas have no centralized hot water supply (99.3%), while non-centralized systems do not function in all the households (27.5%).
Pollution of water and a large volume of dust and salt coming up from the bottom of the dried Aral Sea play a decisive role in high rates of deceases, general and infant mortality, as well as high rates of a number of somatic diseases: anemia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal disturbances, an increase in the level of respiratory diseases, blood diseases, cholelithiasis, cardiovascular and oncological diseases.
Over the last decade, the infant mortality rate in the Republic of Karakalpakstan has exceeded the same indicators for the Republic of Uzbekistan by 13%, maternal mortality by 17% on average. The death rate from tuberculosis in the Republic of Karakalpakstan remains the highest in the country (19.4 cases per 100,000 population) and almost three times higher than the average for Uzbekistan.
The incidence of acute intestinal infections in Karakalpakstan over the past decade was 188 per 100,000 population, which is 1.4 times higher than the average for the Republic of Uzbekistan. In the structure of respiratory apparatus, chronic bronchitis is 2.5-3 times higher than the average for the country.
Children are exposed to strong and rapidly negative impact, which poses a particular danger to the gene pool of the population of the Aral Sea region, and, consequently, the consequences will be irreversible. The content of dioxin in the blood of a pregnant women and the milk of nursing mothers in Karakalpakstan is 5 times higher than in Europe.
Agriculture dominates the structure of the economy, while the share of industry and services in the economy lags far behind the average republican indicators. The employment in the agricultural sector of the region makes up 33% of the total employment.
In the past, the Aral Sea was one of the richest fishing grounds in the world: the annual catch of fish in the reservoirs of the Aral Sea was 30-35 thousand tons. More than 80 percent of the inhabitants of the Aral Sea coast were engaged in the extraction, processing and transportation of fish and fish products. In particular, over a thousand people worked in the city of Muynak, where one of the largest fish canning factories operated.
In the port cities, an integrated infrastructure was created – shipyards, servicing ships, where up to 1,500 people were provided with jobs on a permanent basis. On the coast, there were children’s camps and rest homes, where thousands of children and adults came to rest every year.
The loss of the fishing and transport potential of the sea resulted in non-functioning of such industries as fish processing and ship repair, tens of thousands of people became unemployed.
Sustainable agricultural development in Karakalpakstan depends mainly on the state of land and water resources. According to official estimates, half of the irrigated land is below the average, and over the past decade, agricultural land shrank by 177.1 thousand hectares. In general, the reduction of pastures and the decline in land productivity, the reduction in the area of tugai vegetation, and the drying out of lakes have caused the loss of more than 100,000 jobs in various sectors of the economy in recent years.
The results of the survey conducted by the Institute for Social Researches revealed that despite the measures taken, the economic potential of the region, in particular the one of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, was ranked last in terms of its economic potential, agricultural production, and retail commodity turnover and penultimate in terms of its production of consumer goods. Thus, the total per capita income in Karakalpakstan is 1.4 times lower than the average for Uzbekistan. Karakalpakstan is ranked 12th among 14 regions of the country by volume of products and services indicators, the number of small businesses, and exports per capita, which features the level of entrepreneurship development.
All the surveyed areas are classified as territories with a relatively tense situation in the labor market. The unemployment rate in some areas reaches more than 10% (4.9% in the country), and youth unemployment averages 12.5%. The level of entrepreneurial activity remains low (lagging behind the average country indicators 1.5 times) due to unfavorable climatic conditions.
Ensuring food security in the Republic of Karakalpakstan has its own specific features related to the state of land and water resources, environmental challenges, the level of socio-economic development, access to transport, and the capacity of food markets. In general, for 60% of the households, the affordability of food products is low. In most districts, households have private backyard plots where they grow vegetables, fruits and melons and keep cattle. The products produced on household plots are mainly consumed by the households themselves and only one-tenth of it is sold.
There are problems associated with the lack of sustainable provision of electricity and fuel in the surveyed districts. The specificities of these districts require the development of alternative energy sources – solar and wind energy facilities. The rural population uses centralized natural gas, liquefied gas and fuel (coal) for heating and cooking. The Republic of Karakalpakstan and Uzbekistan have seen a decrease in the centralized supply of natural gas between 2006 and 2016. In particular, throughout Republic of Karakalpakstan, it dropped from 93.1% to 69.1%.
Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea region
The tragedy of the Aral Sea is one of the biggest in the recent history of global environmental disasters, which in its environmental, climatic, socio-economic and humanitarian consequences poses a direct threat to the region’s sustainable development, health, the gene pool and the future of the people living in there.
During the UN summit on Sustainable development in September 2015, in New York, the delegation of Uzbekistan initiated establishment of a special Trust Fund under the auspices of the United Nations for the Aral Sea and the Aral Sea region, which should become an integrated platform for the development of international cooperation and the mobilization of donor communities’ funds for the implementation of practical actions and comprehensive measures aimed at improving the environmental and socio-economic situation in the Aral Sea region.
The UN fully supported the initiative of the Republic of Uzbekistan, which was once again confirmed by the UN Secretary General, Mr. António Guterres, during his visit to the country in June, 2017. In this context, in 2017 the Joint Program “Building the resilience of communities affected by the Aral Sea disaster through the Multi-Partner Human Security Fund for the Aral Sea” was launched with the support of a number of UN agencies (UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNV).
The objectives of the Programme are:
- a) development of a unified Strategy on development assistance to the Republic of Karakalpakstan;
- b) creation of an institutional base for implementation of the unified strategy – establishment of the Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea region (MPHSTF).
The establishment of the MPHSTF under the aegis of UN is included in the list of priority directions of the State program on implementation of Actions’ Strategy on five priority directions of the Republic of Uzbekistan’s development for 2017-2021.
The MPHSTF for the Aral Sea region will assist the Government of Uzbekistan in mobilizing resources and coordination of international donors’ efforts in implementation of targeted programs and projects by applying best international practices and innovations.
The assistance will be carried out within the framework of the MPHSTF Unified Strategy, which is based on the needs identified in the disaster most hit areas in Karakalpakstan through an independent socio-economic survey conducted in those areas by the Institute for social researches in cooperation with UNDP.
Thus, the mission of the MPHSTF will be the following:
Development and implementation of the unified strategy for development assistance to the Aral Sea region in cooperation with development partners based on needs assessment of the region (demand) and the capacity of the donors (supply);
Intensification and raising the regional and international dialogue between donors and the Government of Uzbekistan on addressing the Aral Sea issues to a qualitatively new level, promote the interest and attention of development partners to the Aral Sea problem;
Mobilization and increasing of funds under the integrated platform and strengthening the coordination of activities among UN agencies;
Introduction of effective project selection and approval procedures that will allow donors to choose projects and/or ways of participation in the development process, depending on their own resources and financial potential. This will allow donors with limited financial potential to participate in the implementation of large-scale projects through a co-financing scheme. Certain donors may be engaged in individual projects, even if their own Strategy does not embrace the problems of the Aral Sea region;
Ensure the transparency of financial transactions and increase the confidence of development partners in relation to partner organizations in the Republic of Uzbekistan;
Build the capacity of national organizations in developing high quality project proposals and implementing development initiatives in accordance with international standards;
Conduct regular monitoring, evaluation and reporting at the MPHSTF and project levels in accordance with international and national requirements, procedures and legislation.
Establishment of the MPHSTF under the UN auspices is considered as an optimal solution for mobilization of donor resources under an integrated approach that will ensure a direct procedure for project formulation, its launch, implementation and completion, while ensuring transparency of procedures and accountability of all stakeholders with clear communication among donors, agencies and beneficiaries.
The activities within the MPHSTF and projects financed thereof will fully complement and continue the efforts of the Government directed towards the solution of the Aral Sea problems, applying program approach, involving a wide range of donors. This will be achieved by introducing the best global practices of ensuring transparency and impartiality in the MPTF management.
The Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea region will serve as a unique single platform for uniting international donors communities’ efforts and mobilization of their resources within the assistance framework to the Aral Sea region by implementing complex of measures directed towards improvement of the ecological and socio-economic situation in the Aral Sea region through the prism human security concept.
The Fund’s Program Strategy is built on the UN Human Security Concept, in turn based on ensuring that people are protected from serious and widespread risks and situations by empowering their resilience. In this context, it is the most optimal and effective mechanism for mitigating risks and overcoming the negative consequences of the environmental crisis of the Aral Sea.
Based on the features of the region, the main directions of the MHSPTF Strategy are to ensure environmental, economic, food, social and health securities.
In particular, within the framework environmental security, it is proposed to take measures on organization of comprehensive monitoring of the environment, ensuring protection and rational use of water and land resources through the introduction of innovative methods and technologies, reduction of the level of desertification and salt migration from the dried bottom of the Aral Sea, conservation and restoration of biological resources and ecosystems.
The provision of human economic security is provided through the implementation of activities aimed primarily at increasing the employment and income of the population in remote areas of the Republic of Karakalpakstan and Khorezm region, development of small businesses and private entrepreneurship, expanding access to banking and financial resources and markets and the use of new resource-saving and polymer technologies.
Food security will be supported through implementation of projects on promotion of sustainable agricultural development with expansion of production of ecologically clean food products adapted to current environmental and natural climatic conditions, improvement of the production resources in the agriculture, establishment of a scientific and practical base for introduction of new varieties and selection of crops with taking into account the land and water potential, introduction of innovative technologies in the field of rational land use and through implementation of measures on creation of conditions for the processing and storage of agricultural products.
In the area of ensuring social security of the population, it is planned to implement measures to expand access to the education system, primarily the development and placement of preschool institutions, taking into account the settlement system and environmental conditions, improving the zonal design and construction of social infrastructure objects taking into account climatic and environmental factors, the expansion of housing construction under new model projects that meet the climatic and environmental conditions of the region has been expanded use of alternative energy sources to improve the sustainability of electricity supply and heat supply of rural settlements.
In the sphere of providing conditions for improving public health, measures will be taken in such key areas as improving the quality and accessibility of drinking water, providing access to medicines (especially socially vulnerable populations and remote settlements), improving the quality and accessibility of health services, placement of branches of reputable foreign medical centers and institutes in the main areas of morbidity in the region, and etc.
On November 12, 2018, MPTF, UNDP, UNICEF, UNESCO, and UNODC signed an Agreement on the establishment of The Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea region in Uzbekistan under the auspices of the UN.
November 27, 2018, at the initiative of the Republic of Uzbekistan, a special high-level meeting on the presentation and launch of the Trust Fund for the Aral Sea region in Uzbekistan was held at the UN headquarters in New York.
Uzbekistan is making significant efforts to mitigate the impacts of the Aral crisis on the population of the Aral Sea region and on the whole Aral Sea basin.
As part of the activities of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), Uzbekistan actively participated in the implementation of three comprehensive international programs to assist the countries of the Aral Sea basin (ASBP-1, ASBP-2, ASBP-3).
On the territory of Uzbekistan, due to the contribution of the Republic to IFAS and attracted international investments, about 350 projects totaling more than 3.06 billion dollars were implemented.
In the recent years, at the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, major international conferences have been held:
– “Development of cooperation in the Aral Sea basin to mitigate the effects of the environmental catastrophe” (Urgench, October 28-29, 2014);
– “Joint actions to mitigate the consequences of the Aral disaster: new approaches, innovative solutions, investments” (Tashkent, June 8-9, 2018).
January 8, 2019: Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to support the activities of the Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea region under the auspices of the UN” and a Road Map to support the activities of the MPTF for the Aral Sea region were adopted.
A decision on co-financing of the Fund from the Uzbek side in the amount of 6.5 million US dollars was made.
Currently, the financial assistance of the world community continues, in particular:
– The Government of Norway has decided to allocate $1.2 million for the Trust Fund;
– on July 2019 The European Union allocates €5 million to finance projects in the Aral Sea region;
– The European Investment Bank will provide a loan for €100 million
for a program to modernize irrigation systems and restore saline lands in Karakalpakstan. These measures are expected to increase the flow of water from the Amudarya River to the Aral Sea.