Today we can infrequently witness international disputes or even conflicts over the right to possess accessible fresh water resources * . Say, the Okavango river in the south of Africa is the only water source for Namibia and Botswana. In Namibia industry cannot work without it, while in Botswana, located in the estuary, a decrease of the flow level is fraught with negative effects on the unique ecological system and, thus, losses for the country's vital tourist sector. Alas, the two countries will not cooperate to resolve the problem. But actually, the conflicting parties ought to seek answers to the following questions: how to share a specific adjacent catch basin? Who should be liable for its contamination with industrial or other wastes?
This topic was discussed at the international workshop "Transborder Water Resources: Strategy of Protection and Ecological Stability" which was held in Novosibirsk Akademgorodok at the end of 2003. It was sponsored by the NATO Department of Science and Environment, the Federal Environment Protection Agency of Germany and the RAS Siberian Branch Institute of Water and Ecological Problems (IWEP).
In the three days of work 25 presentations were made which described the status of fresh water resources in different regions of the planet. This significant event was given a broad coverage in the feature by the IWEP Director Prof. Yuri Vinokurov published in the Science in Siberia.
First, he points out that fresh water resources are distributed over the earth surface very unevenly, and in some areas river discharge is insufficient to satisfy the needs of the local population. The global water crisis is the common international problem, but it is manifested most acutely in regions with underdeveloped structures of planning and managing the process.
The world situation and the status of the respective UN Environment Protection Program was reported by D. Smith (Kenya). Within the framework of the workshop
* See: I. Zektser, "There's No More Precious Mineral Than Water", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2002. - Ed.
topic he suggested to address regional security and ecological stability as the integral whole. That is more feasible, since, as pointed out by other speakers, the general concepts and approaches to planning and management of water resources to-day have proven their viability. They have been tried out on the rivers of Africa and can be taken as a model for Central Asia.
The cooperation of European countries in the rational use of fresh water and monitoring of Danube basin purity was described by I. Bendou (the International Commission for Danube, Austria). According to him, it is crucial to be willing to reach agreement. Not long ago the thirteen countries connected by the river made an agreement aimed at improving the present and arranging new joint water management schemes. The European Union annually allocates one million dollars to finance the Danube program, and as much comes from other sources. The adequate funding allows to resolve problems in the interests of all riparian countries: analyze water quantity and quality, evaluate the infrastructure monitoring system, provide the required services, identify the required levels of watermass purification, etc.
Other workshop participants spoke about similar problems too. The discussion has proved: the troubles are common. But at the same time many experts agreed that solutions offered by scientists of certain countries could not be mechanically applied to others. Each territory has unique historical, natural, climatic and economic conditions.
In conclusion the conferring scientists have come up with the general methodology for building scenarios of the management of trans-border water resources and their appraisal. In the opinion of Prof. Vinokurov, those documents should rely on economic calculations of the parties concerned.
To clarify the point, the Director of RAS SB IWEP quoted the example of the countries belonging to the catch area of the Siberian Irtysh river. Thus, its upper reaches, the Kara-Irtysh, are located in China generating about 9 cubic meters of water per year. Presently the local population takes out up to 1.5 cubic meters a year, and the projections run up to 5 cubic meters. The middle reaches are locked by the Bukhtarminskoye and Shulbinskoye water reservoirs of Kazakhstan. In case the Chinese live up to the forecasts, the both structures and, thus, many peoples in the Middle Asian state may be deprived of water supply. Finally, the lower reaches of Irtysh are situated on the territory of Omsk region of Russia. Even now it has problems with shipping and water quality.
The question is: what to do with disbalancement of interests? Incidentally, the matter was addressed in the workshop recommendations. They set out the tasks of developing social, economical and political mechanisms for the resolution of the problems of managing trans-border waters of any basin. They center upon agreements on reasonable utilization of any river discharge, creation of the common data bank on water quality and quantity, ecological, water management and protection information; development of a monitoring program.
The workshop also addressed long-term research plans in the area of monitoring and forecasting the status of water bodies. Incidentally, it appraised the Irtysh project jointly created by experts of Kazakhstan and the RAS Siberian Branch, and the Tripartite Program "Kazakhstan-China-Russia" to culminate in specific managerial proposals.
No less prominent tasks face the Central Asian lands where Amu Darya and Syr- Darya are the key fresh water supply sources. To prevent their depletion, transborder water management problems are to be resolved on the basis of rational balance between the irrigational needs and costs of hydropower generation. At the workshop specialists of Kyrgyzstan, Tadjikistan and Uzbekistan agreed on joint actions.
The author of the feature concludes by saying that disbalancement of interests presently manifests itself in any watercatch area. And any one of those should be regarded as the single organism in an effort to preserve it for next generations.
Nauka v Sibiri (Science in Siberia), 2003
Prepared by Yaroslav RENKAS
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