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Greater cooperation on sharing water vital for peace in Central Asia – UN report

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(UN) – Boosting cooperation between countries sharing the waters of the Amu Darya, Central Asia’s longest river, could be key to future peace and security in the region, a new report launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

Environment and Security in the Amu Darya Basin (PDF)

Big hydropower projects planned upstream, demand for irrigated agriculture downstream and growing concern that climate change is shifting weather patterns are emerging as major natural resource challenges for the four main nations involved – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, according to the report, Environment and Security in the Amu Darya Basin.

The report says water resources in the region are already depleted by decades of often unsustainable development dating back to the Soviet era, when large-scale engineering projects diverted flows from the river into cotton, wheat and fodder farming in arid and desert regions.

Water levels in the southern part of the Aral Sea, which relies in part from water from the Amu Darya, have dropped by 26 metres and the shoreline there has now receded by several hundred kilometres. Pollution from mining, metals, petroleum and chemical activities along the river and air pollution in the form of dust and salt from dried out parts of the Aral Sea are challenges to human health.

“From a security perspective climate change, water, energy and agriculture constitute the main areas of interest for this report as they reveal the potential for increasing instability and even confrontation as more flows are impounded upstream reducing those water availability and quality downstream,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

The report says the ratification of the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes “would benefit the riparian countries by providing a common framework for the use of the Amu Darya River.”

Dialogue over a common framework for managing water and energy would “strengthen trust among States, and ultimately to common understanding and operational agreements,” it says and modernization of regional energy systems and electricity grids would “improve long-term access to energy.”

“The burden of maintaining water infrastructure shared among countries or valuable for several countries should be shared among the stakeholders,” it says.

“There should be consultation within and among countries on all that contributes to the cost of a fair, properly operated and balanced water system.”

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