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close this bookCentral Eurasian Water Crisis: Caspian, Aral, and Dead Seas (UNU, 1998, 203 pages)
close this folderPart I: introduction
close this folder2. Central Eurasian water perspectives and arid land studies
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View the documentInternational cooperation for peaceful water management in critical areas

International cooperation for peaceful water management in critical areas

A new model of international cooperation is required for those critical areas in need of peaceful inter-state (i.e. trans-boundary) management of water resources. But who should be expected to take the initiative in this activity: international organizations, non-governmental organizations, national or local decision makers, the inhabitants, or some combination of them?

The environmental catastrophe in the Aral Sea basin has already received much attention from the international community. Turning interest and attention into concrete action, however, is no easy task. For example, the headquarters of Aral-related organizations have been busy receiving visitors who have come time and again to assess the crisis situation, but those visits have yielded very few results. The rehabilitation of the Aral Sea and its disaster zone needs very large investments. Given the increasing demands for scarce international funds, the international community must consider to what extent it should get involved. Good data about what is happening in the region require sustained monitoring of the physical aspects of ecological change, as well as the monitoring of socio-economic and cultural change.

As an ideal plan, the international community should consider establishing an international research centre in the region, whose first act should be to stop the exodus of able regional scientists to Moscow or abroad. Scholars outside the region often accept young researchers in their institutions and send bright students to the region. Japan, for example, has sent several missions either through government agencies or through non-governmental organizations, such as universities and the Global Infrastructure Fund.

Japan is very interested in Central Asia, and it now has a small reservoir of good researchers. Depending on those important human resources, Japan is very pleased to cooperate with international groups through the United Nations University (UNU), other international organizations, Japanese government authorities (such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Environment Agency, or the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture), and other concerned ministries or foundations. The international community is now fostering cooperation through ongoing bilateral projects.

As regards the Caspian Sea, the present environmental situation, relatively speaking, does not appear to be acute. The rising sealevel is causing destruction in the low-lying coastal areas, but scientific analyses of the decadal-scale fluctuations of the Caspian Sea level do exist. For this reason, research on rivers flowing into the sea may be necessary. Because of the huge area of the sea and the resources in it, inter-state cooperation may be difficult. Attempts to establish regional cooperation are very recent. Under these conditions, a different approach from the case of the Aral Sea needs to be pursued.

Encouragement of cooperation among riparian countries and international groups involved in the region is very necessary. Cooperative efforts among riparian countries for ground and space surveys using advanced technology will be necessary. Furthermore, macro and micro socio-economic studies on the people in the Caspian Sea region should also be undertaken cooperatively. The exchange of researchers should be expanded and a fellowship for the region would be very welcome.

In the case of the Dead Sea basin, including the Jordan Valley, a multinational framework is already being developed. International organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union, and big powers such as the United States, Japan, and Canada, are keenly interested in the rehabilitation of this contested zone. The improvement of water works, especially for potable water for local inhabitants, is a high priority. Databases on the water resources are well developed. However, it is a very complicated process to coordinate planning in an area of scattered Palestinian territories, the occupied West Bank under Israeli control, and Israeli territory.

As an example, from a public health point of view, Gaza faces an inadequate water network (potable or seepage), because it is under heavy population pressure. A giant engineering scheme could improve the situation in the future, but urgent funding is needed now to address the acute problems that the local inhabitants face today. We cannot wait for a complete regional political settlement. Furthermore, addressing pressing water supply problems today could help the peace process. Better living conditions and improved infrastructure for inhabitants might accelerate a peaceful settlement of inter-state political tension in the region. Action in the future is very obvious: keep the peace permanently. It is time to keep alive and complete the peace process.

The second introductory chapter in this part is by Professor Kira, whose paper on world lakes and their problems provides a framework for the presentation of environmental problems facing inland bodies of water.

Part II on the Aral Sea contains a paper discussing creeping environmental problems in the context of the Aral Sea basin, an essay on the socio-economic development prospects of the region in the light of its Soviet history for most of the twentieth century, and a set of satellite images showing changes in the Aral Sea region over time. These papers are supplemented by three voices from the region. These brief papers were drawn from comments during the Forum discussion session.

Part III contains two essays, one from a Russian perspective and the other from an Iranian perspective, on environmental problems in the Caspian Sea region. The Caspian Sea level has risen considerably since 1977, creating havoc in riparian countries whose low-lying areas have been inundated by the relatively rapid increase in sealevel.

Part IV focuses on the Middle East and the Jordan River watershed. There is considerable concern that countries in the Middle East will eventually engage in conflict, not over ideological or religious issues but because of water shortages in the region. The two contributions in this section not only describe some of the regional problems related to water but propose political as well as engineering solutions.

The final chapter addresses the role of international organizations in assisting riparian countries in their attempts to devise ways of equitably and sustainably managing the water resources associated with inland drainage basins and the rivers that feed them.