Vital Caspian Graphics



“I wanted to write a book as purely geographical in character, as dry and uncompromising as a travel report, and no more attractive than a rough-and-ready map sketched out with a lump of coal on a piece of packing paper.”

Konstantin Paustovsky
Story of a Life, vol 6,
The Restless Years

It is a real achievement that the five countries around the Caspian Sea have signed and ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea (Tehran Convention) and thus establish a framework to jointly address and solve environmental problems in and around the world’s largest body of inland water. Negotiating this agreement was a difficult task. The countries themselves, and the international community, have invested considerable energy and money in the various processes involved. This is not surprising, since the words “environment” and “protection” alone may stir up feelings in a region rich in oil and other natural resources of global relevance and vital for the region’s development.

Much work has yet to be done to keep the involvement of the parties going, not only those directly involved in negotiations, but also their constituencies, including the people around the Caspian Sea. For its part the international community must stay committed to these issues of global geopolitical concern. To reach a wider audience, the Caspian Environment Programme (CEP), in close cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal, is publishing these Vital Caspian Graphics. Our ambition is to provide a broad picture, in a concise and highly visual form, of issues relevant to the environment of the Caspian Sea and the surrounding area, including security, geopolitics and the exploration of natural resources. Though easy to look at and read, the graphics are nevertheless based on reliable scientific data and facts.

To supplement them we are re-publishing several newspaper articles relevant to the topics highlighted here. They do not reflect any official view of the publishing organisations, but they shed additional – subjective – light on the region’s concerns.

In the production process we have sought inspiration from writers such as Konstantin Paustovsky, who reached millions with his novel Kara Bogaz (1928) – however close to propaganda and anti-environmental its message may seem – or Frank Westerman’s more recent Ingenieurs van de ziel (2002), a lucid analysis of Soviet hydraulic engineering and its relation to literature (and vice versa). Their investigative drive, curiosity, and, no less importantly, presence in the area are an inspiration. Too often the work of international organisations is carried out well away from “the field”, and thus remains inaccessible to many. 

Just as our investigative efforts must stay closely connected to the ground, the results of our assessments must be brought back to the field, so that the information reaches those most immediately concerned. The maps and graphics presented here use a universal language, enabling them to reach out into the streets of Astrakhan and Aktau, into the textbooks of Azerbaijan and Iran. Information is a first step towards taking part and seizing the initiative to improve the situation, both for the inhabitants and their environment.

Otto Simonett, April 2006