During the presidency of Uzbekistan in the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) (2013-2016), a third action plan to assist countries in the Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP-3) was implemented, monitoring the progress of which was carried out by the Executive Committee of IFAS jointly with the IFAS Agency for management of projects in the Aral Sea Basin and Global Environment Facility (GEF IFAS) and its subsidiaries, founder states of the Fund, regional and international organizations and donors.
Monitoring results have showed a significant increase in the financial contribution not only by the founding states of the Fund, but also international organizations and donors in comparison with the two previous programs of action to assist countries in the Aral Sea basin. Indicative of this is that within the framework of ASBP-3, out of 501 national projects worth $15.04 billion in Uzbekistan 295 projects worth $6.05 billion have been implemented, 125 projects worth $7.3 billion are in the implementation phase, and 81 projects amounting to $1.7 billion are at the launch stage.
These projects are aimed at construction and reconstruction of medical, educational and sports facilities, residential houses in rural areas, roads and railway lines, bridges, power lines, irrigation systems and other hydraulic works. In addition, they have covered land improvement and implementation of the principles of integrated water resources management and modern technologies of water conservation, providing the population with quality drinking water, forest plantations on the dried bоttom of the Aral Sea and the mountainous terrain, the creation of local water bodies, development of the legal framework and institutional systems, and much more.
Over the past three years of Uzbekistan’s presidency in the Fund, the Executive Committee of IFAS, including with the participation of GEF Agency of IFAS, has organized more than 200 meetings, negotiations, forums and consultations. Cooperation has been established with reputable international financial institutions and development agencies, including in particular the UN agencies like UNDP, UNECE, UN FAO, UNEP, UNICEF, WHO, ESCAP, UNESCO, UNRCCA, the World Bank, ADB, IDB, international cooperation agencies of Germany, Switzerland, Republic of Korea, the United States, Turkey, Japan, other international organizations and donors to attract their attention and efforts to the implementation of practical actions to improve the environmental, socio-economic and water situation in the Aral Sea basin.
In this context, a vivid example was the forum that received worldwide publicity, namely, the international conference entitled “Development of Cooperation in the Aral Sea Region to Mitigate the Consequences of Environmental Catastrophe”, organized at the initiative of the President of IFAS, the first President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, on 28-29 October 2014 in Urgench. The conference sought to help intensify international cooperation and mobilize resources of the donor community for the implementation of practical actions aimed at improving the situation in the Aral Sea region.
As a result of the grand event, a number of documents was signed with international and foreign governmental financial institutions, donor countries and reached an agreement on the implementation of national and regional projects worth 3 billion U.S. dollars in the Aral Sea Basin, with the contribution of preferential long-term loans totaling $1.9 billion and provision of technical assistance funds and grants in the amount of $200 million.
In the meantime, the GEF Agency of IFAS as an international organization actively cooperates with the international community in the implementation of joint projects and programs in the Aral Sea basin. One of such schemes is the one entitled “Application of Integrated Water Resources Management and Smart Water Technology through the Introduction of Information and Communication Technologies in Uzbekistan”, realized in collaboration with the Korean Corporation for Water Resources (K-Water). The project is at the stage of implementation, as a result of its completion a national information system for monitoring water resources in Uzbekistan will be established.
At the moment, dynamic efforts are underway with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to raise funds of the Green Climate Fund and Global Environment Facility for comprehensive examination and restoration of degraded lands of the drained Aral Sea.
In addition, a project to study wetlands in the Aral Sea region to overcome the negative consequences of the catastrophe, GEF Agency of IFAS actively cooperates with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), in conjunction with which the ornithological research on wetlands of the southern Aral Sea was carried out in 2014-2016.
It should also be noted that negotiations are in progress with other international financial donors to continue monitoring the biodiversity of wetlands in the Aral Sea region in 2017.
The data obtained in the study will be used in the process of inclusion of the Sudochye system of lakes in the List of Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar List).
Works undertaken is expected to facilitate the improvement in the socio-economic and ecological situation in the Aral Sea area and the Aral Sea basin in general.
Further implementation of the works carried out started in the period of the presidency of the Republic of Uzbekistan will continue by the GEF Agency of IFAS, which was created by the decision of the President of IFAS, the first President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov on May 12, 1998, for the implementation of projects, programs and emergency aid to the population of the Aral Sea basin.
At the same time, it becomes obvious that the enormity of the challenges to be addressed requires effective coordination and the pooling of resources at bоth the regional and international levels.
In view of the abovementioned, the GEF Agency of IFAS calls on the world community to mobilize efforts and resources for the implementation of specific programs and projects in the Aral Sea basin in order to mitigate the negative effects of the environmental disaster caused by the drying up of the Aral Sea.
In accordance with the decision of the heads of founding states of IFAS, chairmanship in the Fund for the next three years was assumed by the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2013.
Under the decision (№ 1-854) of the first President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the President of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, IFAS Executive Committee was established in Tashkent on August 2, 2013.
During the chairmanship of the Republic of Uzbekistan, IFAS activity aimed at the implementation of programs and projects in the Aral Sea basin, particularly the Program of Action of the Aral Sea Basin Countries for 2011-2015 (ASBP-3), as well as other programs worked out by the Republic of Uzbekistan to eliminate the consequences of the Aral Sea drying and prevent disaster in the Aral Sea ecosystems, approved by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and circulated as an official document of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly.
IFAS continues to remain a unique regional platform for the realization of these efforts.
Murod MELIEV, manager for cooperation with international organizations of GEF agency at the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea