|Central Eurasian Water Crisis: Caspian, Aral, and Dead Seas (UNU, 1998, 203 pages)|
|Part V: International organizations and inland seas|
|12. The role of international organizations in the integrated management of international water bodies: The activities of the UNU, UNEP, and the World Bank in the Middle East|
The Caspian Sea is the largest closed basin lake in the world. The Sea is about 1,200 km long and about 310 km wide. Its coastline is approximately 7,000 km long. The area of the Sea is 386,400 km2, measured at 27.5 m below mean sealevel, and its drainage basin is 3.1 million km2. Five nations -Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan - share the catchment. The Caspian Sea possesses a variety of marine and coastal ecosystems. Several important economic activities in the Caspian have a bearing on the Caspian environment. These include stocks of sturgeon, on which many people in fisheries depend for a livelihood, and which are an important source of export revenue. Oil exploration and exploitation around the Caspian are also of major importance.
The level of the Caspian Sea over the past 100 years has exhibited a clearly expressed tendency towards lowering. In 1977, the level reached a record low mark of 29.0 m below mean sealevel (Rodionov, 1990). As the Sea declined, human activities such as farming shifted onto the newly exposed seabed. The Soviet government responded with engineering solutions, developing plans to bring water to the Sea from wetter parts of the Soviet Union (Glantz, 1995). Shortly after this record low, the water level of the Caspian began to rise. This rise has been unusual in terms of the rate of its acceleration and, more importantly, its uninterrupted duration (Rodionov, 1990). Environmental problems are mounting: coastal inundation because of sealevel rise, water pollution by raw sewage and oil production, fishing pressure and its impacts on fish populations (especially sturgeon, the main source of high-value caviar) (Glantz, 1995). The fall in lake level between 1927 and 1977 resulted in lakeward encroachment of all kinds of economic activity, not the least important of which has been those of the petroleum industry. These included oil exploration, oil field development, and pipeline construction. Shoreline changes necessitated the lakeward movement of facilities such as moorages, docks, embankments, etc., as the lake area decreased. The unexpected rise in the lake's level since 1977 has caused the inundation of everything built on the exposed lakebed during the course of the 50 years of lake-level decline (Shafer, 1994). The Caspian basin countries and their peoples face significant environmental and resource management issues and problems, many of which are interrelated. These issues and problems have not yet been analysed in a comprehensive and systematic manner.
During the past several years, the Caspian Sea coastal states have undertaken a number of initiatives with respect to the environmental protection of the Caspian Sea. In 1991, the basin countries organized the first multilateral conference on the environmental problems of the Caspian Sea, which called for international coordination of activities aimed at the protection of the marine environment and the establishment of an international monitoring system. At Almaty, Kazakhstan, in May 1994, the coastal countries held a regional meeting on the implications of climate change for the Caspian Sea region. In the "Declaration on Environmental Cooperation in the Caspian Sea" adopted by the five basin countries, the provisions of the draft Convention for the Conservation and Utilization of Bioresources of the Caspian Sea were reaffirmed (Meeting of the Representatives of the Caspian Sea, 1994). Concern was expressed about environmental degradation of the Caspian Sea basin, particularly in its coastal zone, and about marine biological resources. The states declared that:
1. Sealevel rise, irrational utilization of natural resources, and other adverse factors represent significant risks to the region of the Caspian Sea.
2. Urgent needs exist to define the status of the Caspian Sea and its big-resources, including specially protected reserve territories and water bodies.
3. The fastest implementation of coordinated measures on stabilization of the ecological situation will prevent further degradation of the ecosystem of the Caspian Sea and its coastal territories.
4. Coordination of international cooperation in research, management, economic incentives, and harmonization of legislation with the goal of conserving the biodiversity of the Caspian Sea and its coastal zone is the highest priority task of all Caspian states.
5. The Caspian Sea states affirm their desire to cooperate constructively in environmental management and actions aimed at sustainable and ongoing utilization of the biological resources of the Caspian Sea.
6. The Caspian Sea states will cooperate fully in the preparation and implementation of programmer of joint activities on protection of the environment which should establish the basis for rational utilization of natural resources and identify a priority sphere of activities.
7. The representatives of the Caspian Sea states call on the international community to support their joint efforts and provide assistance in the development of the environmental programme.
The meeting called for coordination among the basin countries and international organizations, and agreed to request that UNEP prepare an action plan on the protection and management of the environment of the Caspian Sea. UNEP, UNDP, and the World Bank have agreed to respond to recent policy commitments made by the governments of the basin countries concerning the Caspian environment by embarking on various steps to assist the governments in the preparation and implementation of a comprehensive and integrated environmental and resource management plan for the Caspian (called the Caspian initiative). The ultimate aim of the Caspian initiative would be to facilitate the integrated management and sustainable development of oceans and seas, including enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, and coastal and marine areas (including exclusive economic zones), and the protection, rational use, and development of their natural resources.
Discussion among basin countries of the Caspian Sea and international organizations is in its very early stages. It is, thus, still not known what sort of activities are to be included in a programme that could be developed for the Caspian Sea. However, if the previous successful case in the Aral Sea basin can be viewed as a precursor, similar steps could be taken toward the development of a (Caspian programme. A working group of experts, composed of representatives from basin countries, donor countries, international organizations, and NGOs, should be established. A diagnostic study could then be prepared by the working group, as a baseline for understanding the circumstances of the water body and its catchment. A draft programme or a draft action plan could be developed, based on the findings of a Caspian Sea diagnostic study. At the same time, donors' meetings could be organized to let potential donor countries and organizations know the nature of the issue(s) and possible ways and means for solution(s). The programme developed should be adopted by basin countries as a binding document. Riparian countries should also agree upon the implementation scheme for the adopted programme; this may include the establishment of a river/lake basin organization.