Environment and Security: The case of Central Asia
Recent political developments in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have once again drawn the world s attention to the Ferghana valley. Being the most fertile, densely populated region in the whole of Central Asia, the valley is home for 10 million people living well below US$ 500 a year per capital gross national income, so that 60% of the population is defined as poor. The valley straddles three countries Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan which emerged as sovereign states after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Industrial activities present a challenge, in particular where pollution crosses borders such as e.g. between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Active mines and smelters are important sources of national and local revenue, many of them are however located near state borders and present a continuous source discontent. Closed industrial sites are badly managed, schools and houses sprawl into former industrial areas as at closed Uranium mine in Taboshar, Tajikistan. The legacy of Soviet-era Uranium mining is a region-wide source of public anxiety.
The role the environment plays in causing or resolving conflict is given increased attention in the world today. Facing it in this complex and dynamic part of Central Asia, four intergovernmental organisations are addressing the environment and security situation in the Ferghana valley as part of their the Environment and Security initiative. ENVSEC is a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in association with the Security through Science programme of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The in-depth assessment in the Ferghana valley, a one-year process carried out in close collaboration with the three countries, has identified several clusters of issues on the environment-security interface.
Already in the past natural resources have caused tensions and insecurity. Lack of water, its deterioration, rising groundwater, water logging and related problems cross borders and have caused disputes which easily acquire ethnic dimension. High demographic pressure on limited land resources coincides with a lack of jobs and economic prospects, contributing to public discontent witnessed recently by Osh and Jalal-Abad, two major Kyrgyz cities in the valley.
Natural disasters and climate change increasingly affect the environmental and thus security situation. A land-slide in April 2005 at Mailuu-Suu in Kyrgyzstan passing just next to a major area of Uranium waste storage is a fresh reminder of that.
The ENVSEC assessment takes links between environment and security as a starting point for developing cooperation and tangible actions. A work programme will be carried out by ENVSEC partners and the countries of the valley.