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close this bookCentral Eurasian Water Crisis: Caspian, Aral, and Dead Seas (UNU, 1998, 203 pages)
close this folderPart V: International organizations and inland seas
close this folder12. 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
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentInternational water bodies require integrated management
View the documentThe need for international efforts and a role for international organizations
View the documentThe UNU: Accomplishments to promote sound management of international waters
View the documentAssistance given by UNEP and the World Bank to the Aral Sea programme
View the documentProgramme for the Caspian Sea basin as an international effort
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences

Assistance given by UNEP and the World Bank to the Aral Sea programme

The Aral Sea basin covers an area of over 690,000 km2, which is shared by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Small portions of its headwaters are located in Afghanistan, Iran, and China. The basin contains the two largest rivers of Central Asia - the Amudarya and the Syrdarya. These rivers are fed by the snowmelt and glaciers from the mountains. The Amudarya's sources are mostly located in Tajikistan, with a few watercourses originating in north-eastern Afghanistan. The Syrdarya originates mainly in Kyrgyzstan. It runs across small portions of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and through the Kazakh provinces of Chimkent and Kzyl-Orda (World Bank, 1994d).

In 1960 the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest inland lake in the world. Since then, however, its area and volume have decreased significantly to sixth place. This resulted from the fact that the river inflows from the Amudarya and Syrdarya have greatly diminished as a direct result of water withdrawals for newly developed irrigated farmlands both within and outside the catchment. By 1989 the sealevel had fallen by 14.3 m and the surface area had shrunk from 68,000 km2 to 37,000 km2. The salinity of the Sea had increased to eight times its 1960 level. The major environmental problems now observed in the Aral Sea basin include: the reduction of the Sea, the destruction of its aquatic ecosystem, the degradation of soil quality in many parts of the basin, pollution of surface water and groundwater of the delta areas, depressed economic activity owing to the collapse of the Aral fishery and related small industries, and adverse health impacts on the population because of the lack of safe potable water and food.

Inefficient irrigation practices coupled with heavy chemical applications, cultivation of cotton and rice, and inappropriate development policies are among the important causes. The Soviet policy for the region in the 1950s and 1960s called for the expansion of irrigated agriculture in the Amudarya and Syrdarya basins in order to promote cotton production, so that the Soviet Union could become self-sufficient in this commodity. The area devoted to paddy-rice production was also extended, despite the fact that the region is so close to the northernmost agro-climatic limit of rice cultivation. The primitive irrigation techniques applied induced massive leakage and evaporation, which led to the waterlogging and salinization of the irrigated fields.

Recognizing the crucial need to save the disappearing Aral Sea and the need to provide an overall perspective of the Aral region, the former Soviet Union, in 1989, asked UNEP to work on the environmental issues of the Aral Sea basin. UNEP has been working on the environmental management of international river and lake basins within the framework of its EMINWA (Environmentally sound Management of INland WAters) since 1985 (David et al., 1988). The EMINWA programme is designed to encourage and assist governments to integrate environmental considerations into their management and development of inland water resources, with a view to reconciling conflicting interests and ensuring the harmonious regional development of water resources - harmonious with regard to the water-related environment throughout entire water systems. The most important aim of the EMINWA programme is to introduce this synthetic approach to the management and development of freshwater resources on a basinwide scale and to promote sustainable development in entire inland water systems. The first priority is to help countries that share common river/lake/aquifer basins to develop their water resources in a sustainable manner and to use them without conflict. UNEP had assisted basin countries of the Zambezi River basin (David, 1988) and of the Lake Chad basin before it was asked by the former Soviet Union to work on the Aral Sea basin.

As a result of meetings of the working group of experts and field visits, a report ("Diagnostic Study for the Development of an Action Plan for the Aral Sea") was issued by UNEP in September 1992. The objectives of the Diagnostic Study were, within the framework of the EMINWA programme of UNEP, (a) to define specific environmental problems and their impacts in the present and the foreseeable future, and to help basin countries to formulate programmes for the incorporation of environmental concerns into the management of water resources, and (b) to increase the awareness of various governmental institutions involved in socio-economic development activities about their potential impacts within the basin, and to encourage potential donor countries to contribute to the implementation of the projects (David et al., 1988).

The Diagnostic Study presented a comprehensive analysis of the causes of the Aral Sea crisis, but did not recommend a specific action plan. It provided, however, a basis for elaboration and analysis of the strategies for further activities for mitigating the consequences of the ecological disaster. Upon completion of the Diagnostic Study by UNEP, the World Bank took over the role of coordinator of Aral Sea activities among basin countries, donor countries, and international organizations. In response to requests for assistance from the five "Aral Sea republics," a World Bank mission visited the region in late September 1992. After a review of existing reports, field visits, and discussions with the ministries and local officials of the region, the mission presented an aide-mémoire recommending four major thrusts to address the Aral crisis: (a) stabilizing the environment of the Sea; (b) rehabilitating the disaster zone around the Sea; (c) undertaking comprehensive management of the international waters; and (d) building regional institutions to plan and implement the above programmes (World Bank, 1994e).

The World Bank, in collaboration with UNEP and the UNDP, organized an international seminar in Washington D.C. in April 1993 to mobilize the support of donor countries and international agencies for the proposed programme to address the crisis. Ministerial-level representatives of the five Aral Sea basin states presented their respective heads of states' message requesting international support for the programme and confirmed their strong commitment to cooperate in order to address the Aral Sea crisis. The donors supported a Central Asian proposal to establish a "Fund" and provided a substantial grant to finance the start of work on the first phase of the programme.

The "Aral Sea Program - Phase 1" was subsequently formulated by the Executive Committee of the newly established Central Asian Republics' Interstate Council for Addressing the Aral Sea Crisis, with assistance from the World Bank, UNEP, and the UNDP. The Program has four main objectives: (a) to stabilize the environment of the Aral Sea Basin; (b) to rehabilitate the disaster zone around the Sea; (c) to improve the management of the international waters of the Aral Sea basin; and (d) to build the capacity of the regional institutions to plan and implement the above programmes. The Phase 1 Program included 19 projects designated to achieve the objectives stated above. In broad terms, 3 projects were intended to initiate the first steps to improve conditions in the disaster zone, 7 projects were intended to improve conditions in the disaster zone, and 9 projects were centred on managing the water resources of the basin. In addition to 19 projects, the Program included a separate project for building the capacity of the regional institutions to plan and implement the Program.

Based on the fact that the basin countries of the Aral Sea (a) agreed upon the Program, and (b) decided to establish a river basin organization, some donor countries have developed their projects along with the Program. This suggests that the assistance given by international organizations has proved quite effective in accomplishing some of these achievements, which might not otherwise have been attained in such a short time-frame.