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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
09ASTANA482
2009-03-17 10:14:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Astana
Cable title:  

KAZAKHSTAN: INTERNATIONAL FUND TO SAVE THE ARAL SEA HEAD

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  ECON  SENV  AF  ZK  KZ 
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						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASTANA 000482 

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/CEN, OES/PCI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON SENV AF ZK KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN: INTERNATIONAL FUND TO SAVE THE ARAL SEA HEAD
DISCUSSES REGIONAL WATER COOPERATION

ASTANA 00000482 001.2 OF 003




1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.



2. (SBU) SUMMARY: Almabek Nurushev, Executive Director of the
International Fund to Save the Aral Sea (IFAS), told us on March 12
that IFAS would like to fashion a bilateral Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan
agreement on use of water resources. He maintained that the
Interstate Coordination Water Commission (ICWC), the highest water
decision-making body in the region, is unable to make binding
decisions concerning the management of water resources. Uzbekistan
is not likely soon to move away from cultivating cotton, wheat, and
rice to other crops, Nurushev argued. IFAS is not in principle
opposed to including Afghanistan in regional water cooperation,
because it is a neighbor and also part of Central Asia. However,
Nurushev contended that Afghanistan would have to agree with the
other countries in Central Asia on how to use the water. END
SUMMARY.

IFAS INTERESTED IN KAZAKHSTAN-KYRGYZSTAN WATER AGREEMENT



3. (SBU) During a March 12 meeting in Almaty, International Fund to
Save the Aral Sea (IFAS) Executive Director Almabek Nurushev told
Regional Environmental Officer (REO) and a visiting State Department
official that he has been working with IFAS from the date of its
founding 15 years ago, and said he knows all sides of the issues
related to regional water resources and the Aral Sea. He said the
IFAS Executive Committee, rotating between the various Central Asian
capitals, has been located in Almaty since November 2008.
Previously, it was in Dushanbe during 2004-08.



4. (SBU) Nurushev stressed that in Central Asia, "if there is no
water, there is no life." The city of Aktau in western Kazakhstan
is essentially a desert, he said, and when it was founded, the
Soviets put a soldier to guard each planted tree, illustrating how
difficult it is to cultivate the desert and how scarce water is.
Nurushev said desertification has become the order of the day in
many regions, and this was one reason why so many water basins were
created, including man-made basins. Some served specific purposes,
such as the Toktogul Basin in Kyrgyzstan, which was supposed to hold
water in the winter to be released for spring irrigation. Nurushev
said that one of IFAS's goals is to craft an agreement between
Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan that will resolve their bilateral water
problems. It would also like to develop general guidelines for
managing Central Asian water resources, drawing upon experiences of
cooperation in other parts of the world, such as cooperation in the
utilization of Indochina's Mekong River.

ICWC NOT ABLE TO MAKE BINDING DECISIONS



5. (SBU) Nurushev noted that the Interstate Coordination Water

Commission (ICWC) is the principal organization for the rational
utilization and protection of trans-boundary water resources in
Central Asia. Despite the fact that it is the highest
decision-making body on water, it currently has no legal or
enforcement powers, he argued. In 1992, the ICWC had five vice
ministers on its executive committee, one from each of the Central
Asian countries, and they were empowered to make major decisions
that could be implemented. But now only two countries (Tajikistan
and Turkmenistan) have vice ministers on the committee.
Kazakhstan's representative is the chairman of its Committee on
Water Resources. Kyrgyzstan has a representative from its Ministry
of Agriculture's Department of Water Resources. And Uzbekistan is
represented by a deputy minister for water resources from its
Ministry of Agriculture who does not have any decision-making
authority. According to Nurushev, these representatives have no
power to make binding decisions concerning the management of water
resources.

ALTERNATIVE CROPS NOT LIKELY



6. (SBU) Nurushev noted that Uzbekistan uses 80 percent of the water
from the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya rivers, mostly for agriculture.
The Amu-Darya, the main source of water for the southern and eastern

ASTANA 00000482 002.2 OF 003


Aral Sea, is split 50-50 between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. There
is virtually no water from the Amu-Darya that reaches the Aral Sea.
If this continues, he said, the southern and eastern Aral Sea will
soon disappear. (COMMENT: Last fall, during a trip to the
Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan, REO personally witnessed a very
low level of water flow in the furthest downstream part of the
Amu-Darya. END COMMENT.)



7. (SBU) NOTE: In contrast to the plight of the southern-eastern
portion of the Aral Sea, the World Bank and Kazakhstan have managed
to restore part of the northern Aral Sea by means of the Kok-Aral
Dike, constructed to separate the two seas and maintain the
integrity of the northern sea, which lies entirely within
Kazakhstan. As a result, water levels have risen, salinity levels
have reduced, fish production has increased, and the ecosystem has
been partially restored. END NOTE.



8. (SBU) Nurushev said that Uzbekistan, traditionally a large cotton
producer, has considered the question of introducing alternative
crops since the 1960s. However, for Uzbekistan, cotton is a
strategic commodity. (NOTE: The Soviets decided to develop
large-scale cotton monoculture during the Cold War, when it feared
that the West would cut it off from imported cotton supplies. END
NOTE.) He did not think it likely that Uzbekistan would soon move
away from cotton, wheat, and rice to other crops. Instead, he said,
all of the Central Asian countries continue to research methods to
become more efficient and reduce the amount of water used in
irrigation of existing crops.

SOVIET UNION PLANNED TO DIVERT RIVERS TO SAVE ARAL SEA



9. (SBU) Nurushev noted that the Soviet Union had initially made a
decision to save the Aral Sea which involved diverting water from
the Volga, Ob, and Irtysh rivers in Siberia. However, that project
never made much headway, and Gorbachev eventually cancelled it. Now
the five Central Asian countries are stuck with the Aral Sea
problem. (NOTE: There is still occasional talk in Russia of
diverting rivers to save the Aral Sea, with Moscow Mayor Luzhkov
leading the charge. It's extremely unlikely this will ever move
beyond talk, and that might be for the better. Some of those
Russian rivers, such as the Tom River, an Ob tributary, are among
the world's most polluted water sources. END NOTE.)

AFGHANS NEED CENTRAL ASIAN AGREEMENT TO USE PANJ RIVER



10. (SBU) Nurushev said that IFAS is not in principle opposed to
including Afghanistan in water regional cooperation, because it is a
neighbor and also a part of greater Central Asia. He noted that
IFAS had invited Afghanistan to participate in the 2006 Water for
Life conference in Dushanbe. He agreed that Afghanistan should also
share in Central Asian regional water resources. Nurushev said that
as Afghanistan begins to develop its economy and agriculture in its
northern region along the Tajikistan border, it would inevitably
draw off water from the Panj River -- a tributary of the Amu-Darya
that forms much of the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan --
and would thus reduce the overall amount of water available to
Central Asia. He said bluntly that Afghanistan would have to agree
with the other countries in Central Asia on how to use this water.
International conventions are not the only constraint, he said.
There is also Islamic law, according to which upstream users need
permission from downstream users for their water usage.

DOUBTS ABOUT OUR EFFORTS IN AFGHANISTAN



11. (SBU) When asked if the United States can succeed in
Afghanistan, Nurushev waxed historical and noted that when the
Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, Margaret Thatcher predicted that
the Soviets would be stuck there for 300 years. "The Soviets
failed," he said, "why should the United States think it is any
different?" He then expressed some prejudices that are not uncommon
in Central Asia, saying that the Afghan people only know how to
fight, not work. They know narco-business very well and have

ASTANA 00000482 003.2 OF 003


"Godfather"-like leadership structures (referring to the movie).
Nurushev said, "Only 'civilized people' should sell drugs. If you
allow others (e.g., Afghans), then the result will only be a
catastrophe."

HOAGLAND