On April 18, 2020, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Central Asia (IWPR CA) and CABAR.asia held an online expert discussion on major environmental issues in Uzbekistan.
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IWPR and CABAR.asia hosted an online discussion on Uzbekistan’s main environmental concerns regarding water, air, and urban planning.
In her welcoming speech, the editor of analytical materials on CABAR.asia Nargiza Muratalieva said that little value is attached to environmental issues in Central Asia. She added that the regional approach is necessary for addressing these issues. To this end, the representative office of IWPR in Central Asia holds online expert discussions in countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. Examining, analyzing, and addressing the environmental issues in Uzbekistan would be of benefit to other countries in the region.
The discussion was moderated by Farhod Tolipov, an expert from Uzbekistan and director of a non-governmental scientific institution Bilim Karvoni (Knowledge Caravan). He said that various social groups and the state share responsibility in protection and care for the environment. “The cooperation between experts, environmentalists, analysts, government agencies, NGOs and civil society on environmental issues is required more than in any other field since the environment unites us all”.
An expert at the Center for Applied Ecology under the National University of Uzbekistan (NUUz) Azamat Azizov presented a report on the country’s water resources:
“Besides being viable to all living organisms and playing an important climate and landscape role, water also determines the economic development of the country as the most important natural resource. Water consumption in Uzbekistan is growing, which implies the falling per capita water supply. That exacerbates the problem of Uzbekistan’s sustainable development”.
One of the water resource paradoxes is poor economic and legal relations in the distribution, consumption, and use of water; secondary water resources (marginal water, treated wastewater, drainage water, desalinated water, etc.) are also underused.
Wastewater management is urgent: with the Tashkent population of 3 million people, about 600 enterprises dispose of insufficiently treated wastewater. Three biological treatment plants can purify about 2 million m³ of wastewater per day with their 1960s technological advancement. The toxic effluent leads to poor cleaning and death of activated silt, the restoration of which requires several weeks.”
The expert concluded with the following:
- The extensive use of water resources in the country is unsustainable, whereas water scarcity serves as a deterrent for economic and social development.
- The state of surface and groundwater pollution is alarming.
- Climate change negatively affects water scarcity in the region.
- The efforts of state, private structures, and NGOs are not enough to jointly address the problems of water resources in the country.
- Water and environmental security should be included in the top priority list for the state.
One response to the situation, expert argues, is a shift to sustainable water use, including the use of non-traditional water sources (atmospheric moisture, marginal waters), the extensive use of water-saving technologies in agriculture, low-water and anhydrous technologies in the industry, and careful use at home.
Expert of the Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia (CAREC) Iskandar Abdullaev highlighted the activity of international actors in water resources management: “Water issues in Central Asia are always related to conservation. The Aral Sea crisis is a prime example of a careless attitude to the environment when it comes to the development of agriculture and the economy in the region. The Aral Sea issues enabled routes for international assistance in various development areas, even in sectors very far from the Aral Sea problem. Numerous meetings, conferences, and endless publications on the Aral Sea could not develop a political will and a clear vision to address the problem. The Central Asian countries, with the support of international counterparts, have certainly worked on the issue. Kazakhstan’s part of the Aral Sea was restored, while Uzbekistan has preserved the ecosystem of the Aral Sea reservoirs.
The current developments of a favorable political environment and economic prerequisites in Central Asia will help strengthen environmental cooperation. The countries have established bilateral commissions on water cooperation, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan began to cooperate closely on environmental issues, including water quality. The regional program for sustainable development was approved. A pragmatic approach to address water and environmental problems is being explored.
Another matter affecting water issues is climate change. The latter will only cause increased consumption and use of water resources, which might exacerbate water conflicts. The coronavirus pandemic, which already weighed heavily on the economic situation of the countries in the region, will bring additional burden.
The way to tackle the problem, we believe, is improving joint water-quality monitoring. Another thing is public participation in addressing water issues, i.e. the creation of basin councils comprised of environmentalists, NGO representatives. Finally, this is a regional approach to addressing water issues. Financing water-quality monitoring is costly but essential measures. Several readily available institutions dealing with water problems are already functioning. The role of the public in their activities, however, has not yet been put into effect. The more immediate problem remains the performance assessment of various institutions involved in solving water problems.”
The representative of the State Ecology Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan Umid Abduzhalilov discussed the air quality in the country:
“According to Uzbekistan air protection law, the designated authorities control the ambient air quality. Toxic atmosphere emissions from stationary and mobile sources amount to 2449 thousand tons/year, whereas industry contributes 37% and the transport amounts to 63%.
According to initial reports, in 2019, the pollutant emissions, compared with 2018, decreased by 17 thousand tons or 0.7% in the whole country due to air protection activities.
Despite the country’s efforts to implement effective measures and mitigate the negative impact of industry and transport on the air quality, the country still faces many challenges that require an urgent response.
The challenges are:
- lack of a modern automated air quality monitoring system;
- the lack of an automated pollution monitoring system for emissions from stationary sources at large business entities;
- continued burning of hard and brown coal at large thermal power plants with low heating value and low quality;
- continued consumption of ozone-depleting substances as a refrigerant per established quotas;
- motor fuel produced in the republic does not meet the requirements of the high-quality Euro standard;
- operational vehicles.
To improve environmental security, cleaner innovative technologies need to be introduced and various priority environmental activities to be implemented. The Republic of Uzbekistan adopted the Environmental Protection Concept until 2030 that reflects the priorities for action in reducing the negative impact of industry and transport on the environment. In particular, the Concept introduces a ban starting on January 1, 2020, on the commissioning of new capacities for the production of motor fuel with the environmental class below Euro-4; a ban starting on January 1, 2022, on the release for free circulation, the operation, and sale of wheeled vehicles of “M” and “N” categories equipped with gas, gasoline and diesel engines, that do not meet standards of the environmental class below Euro-4.
Expert of the Center for Applied Ecology at NUUz, Ph.D. in Biology, Natalya Akinshina argued that the air pollution problem cannot be solved only by replacing fuel:
“At the very least, we need to think about increasing available modes of public transport by introducing tramways, among others”.
Green areas in Tashkent are currently in poor condition: the poor variety of plants used in the greening of the city; many old and diseased trees. Against the background of rising vehicle populations and extending the motorway network, there is a gradual reduction in the green areas of children’s and recreational facilities, streets, and boulevards. Economy spends mightily on the greening of the new territories, however, often due to improper selection of ornamental trees without consideration of environmental pollution and due to poor maintenance, most young plants die out.
Massive tree felling trees continues in all major cities, despite legislative texts that protect the vegetation in cities of Tashkent, Samarkand, Fergana, Urgench, Bukhara, Andijan … It has become a tradition to cut healthy trees everywhere. Since Uzbekistan lacks its own production forests, the wood usually goes to furniture factories”.
The major concerns, the expert argues, are the following: the lack of dendrologists in the khokimiyat amenities services; the destruction of urban irrigation networks; lack of plant protection services in the city. In conclusion, the expert rightly pointed out decision-making that goes without consultation with the public”.
Ecostandard expert Nina Koroleva accentuated major urban planning issues:
“The increase in human diseases is directly related to environmental diseases. The conflict lies in lacking sensitivity to the laws of nature and human interaction with nature. The balance between environmental integrity and economic growth suffers first in urban areas: lack of respect for water, green spaces, and soil. This all led to a deterioration in air quality, quality of groundwater that came to the surface, and finally to the climate change.
Of particular importance is law enforcement in highly populated settlements, where there are active chaotic development activities. The legislation provides for the drafting of a plan for the development activities before construction begins. Any project document includes, without fail, an environmental assessment section of the proposed activity, an assessment of the implementation risks, and environmental measures to hinder negative effects.
A Master Plan needs to be developed for large cities and settlements, including an environmental impact assessment, which contains an analysis of the prevailing environmental issues and allows evaluating the existing urban load. Design decisions regarding territorial development, functional zoning, architectural and planning organization, external and urban transport, street networks, engineering equipment, and engineering territory training – are all subject to environmental assessment. The first construction phase activities and the project’s technical and economic indicators must be assessed against environmental protection. The project should contain the results of environmental decisions that addressed the prevailing problems in that territory.
All measures are feasible and effective if territory residents would put their efforts and strong will to create a harmonious balance between humans and the environment. That, in its turn, will bring prosperity and health both to the environment and people”.