Forestry workers and ecological activists in Uzbekistan’s northwestern Karakalpakstan region have begun planting desert plants on dried up sections of the Aral Sea. Salt and dust carried in the wind cause significant damage to areas adjacent to the Aral Sea and their inhabitants. Every year more than 100 million tons of salt, dust and sand are blown from the bottom of the former Aral Sea and mix into the air. Up until the late-1990s, the land surrounding the Aral Sea was still cotton fields; today, it’s largely an expanse of salinized grey emptiness. The desiccation of the landscape has led to these vast toxic dust-storms that ravage around 1.5 million square kilometers. Spreading nitrates and carcinogens, these storms - visible from space - used to occur once every five years, but now strike ten times a year. Once a thriving agricultural center, Karakalpakstan, home to the remaining section of the so-called Large Aral Sea, is now one of the sickest places on Earth. Respiratory illness, typhoid, tuberculosis and cancers are rife, and the region has the highest infant mortality rate in the former USSR. “This year we plan to create green plantations in the most vulnerable places, where the winds with salt and sand come from,” said Zinovy Novitsky, a project manager from the Research Institute of the State Forestry Committee. “We plan to plant trees on 150-200,000 hectares. The country is introducing an effective policy to combat this problem.” Between 2018 and 2023, 1.7 million hectares of forests were planted on the bottom of what used to be the Aral Sea. To date, forestry enterprises have collected and prepared for sowing 192 tons of desert plant seeds, including 71 tons of saxaul seeds. Similar plans are being undertaken across the border in Kazakhstan, where, according to the International Fund for saving the Aral Sea in the Republic of Kazakhstan, the so called “Green Aral Sea” being created will make a massive contribution to the process of achieving carbon neutrality. “One saxaul retains up to 4 tons of sand, 1 hectare of four-year-old saxaul absorbs 1,158.2 kg of carbon dioxide and releases 835.4 kg of oxygen per year, [whilst] the shrubby plant, salsola richteri kar absorbs 1,547.8 kg of carbon dioxide and releases 1,116.4 kg of oxygen per hectare. Accordingly, 1.1 million hectares will consume about 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide.”
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A wind power plant with a capacity of 500 MW is being built by the UAE company Masdar in Uzbekistan’s Navoi region. The first 100 MW of the plant was put into operation in December 2023, and since then the wind farm has generated 31 million kWh of electricity – equivalent to the monthly consumption of over 150,000 Uzbek households, the Ministry of Energy has said. During this short period, the wind farm has saved 9.4 million cubic meters of natural gas and prevented the emission of 13,000 tons of harmful substances into the atmosphere. The next 200 MW of the wind farm will be commissioned before the end of this year, and it will be operational at full design capacity in 2025. Wind turbines with a capacity of 4.7 MW from China’s Goldwind are being installed at the site. To date, 34 of a total of 111 turbines have been installed.
The Global Partnership on Ecological Connectivity (GPEC) — a major new initiative to ensure that areas that are important to migratory animals are identified, protected and connected — was launched on February 14th on the margins of the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) is an environmental treaty of the United Nations that provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial, aquatic and avian migratory animals and their habitats. Amy Fraenkel, the executive secretary for the CMS, commented: “The launch of this new global partnership is a direct and immediate response to some of the key recommendations of the flagship CMS report, the State of the World’s Migratory Species, released just two days ago at the opening of the conference. The report calls for increased actions to identify, protect, connect and effectively manage important sites for migratory species. This is exactly what this alliance is about, as it will ensure that actions to address ecological connectivity are mobilized around the world. GPEC's objective is to ensure that ecological connectivity is maintained, enhanced, and restored in places of importance for migratory species of wild animals. But ecological connectivity is not just relevant to migratory species. It also plays a major role in addressing effective biodiversity conservation, land restoration and climate change mitigation and adaptation across terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems". Aziz Abdukhakimov, the minister of ecology, environmental protection, and climate change of Uzbekistan, added: "Nature does not recognize man-made boundaries. Uzbekistan is acutely aware of this fact, as evidenced by the devastating effects of the Aral Sea's depletion on humans and wildlife across Central Asia and beyond. By contributing to the CMS Global Ecological Connectivity program, Uzbekistan is participating in a worldwide effort to protect migratory species. This collaboration underscores Uzbekistan's belief in the power of nature to unite nations, necessitating a collective effort to protect it."
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its international partners have launched the One Health Central Asia project, aiming to mitigate the risk of zoonoses – diseases that are naturally transmissible from animals to humans – in Central Asia. The new initiative was announced on February 13th at the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP14) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The risk of zoonotic diseases in Central Asia is exacerbated by biodiversity loss and changes in human-wildlife interactions. As part of the new initiative, IUCN and national and international partners, including all five Central Asian countries, will implement actions to prevent the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases, IUCN reported on its website. The experts will work to consolidate a fair and effective regional network of protected and conserved areas, strengthen conservation measures and wildlife management for disease risk mitigation, and promote the latest advancements in zoonosis research and technology. Speaking at the launch ceremony, IUCN’s director general, Dr Grethel Aguilar, said that nature conservation can contribute to mitigating the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks, and this important new initiative will strengthen the resilience of Central Asian landscapes, bringing numerous benefits to communities. “We will continue to support the governments here to build regional capacity to apply IUCN's tools and standards, including the IUCN Green List, best practices in species management, and the latest advancements in zoonosis research.” Aziz Abdukhakimov, the minister of ecology, environmental protection, and climate change of Uzbekistan, commented that: “Over the past few years we have observed how the spread of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 can have a global impact. This has resulted in entire countries being demobilized, transportation connections being disrupted, an increase in food security issues, and massive socio-economic consequences. We are committed to expanding regional cooperation for sustainable management of protected natural areas, preserving unique biological diversity, and contributing to the environmental balance in the Central Asian region, which will receive a significant boost through this project on One Health in nature conservation.” Supported by a €11m contribution from the German Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection via the International Climate Initiative, this major regional initiative will spearhead the One Health approach in Central Asia over the next six years. The initiative, entitled Enhancing landscape resilience to zoonotic disease emergence by consolidating nature conservation systems in Central Asia, will focus on the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health. "Obstacles to migration reduce the habitat available to migratory species. This phenomenon has been observed across Central Asia with species such as the Saiga, Wild Ass, and even those with relatively small ranges, like the Bukhara Deer,” said Amy Fraenkel, the executive secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), one of the international partners of the One Health Central Asia initiative. “In the diminished and fragmented habitats, migratory species of wild animals often find themselves in contact and competition with livestock for pasture and water...
Lake Julturbas in Uzbekistan’s northwestern Karakalpakstan region has been added to the List of Wetlands of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands – the intergovernmental treaty that governs the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. This was announced on February 12th during the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP14), which is taking place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan this week. Lake Julturbas was once part of a bay of the Aral Sea, the fourth-largest lake in the world until around 1960, along with the nearby Sudochye Lake System, which is also a Wetland of International Importance. Since the severe reduction in the Aral Sea area, Lake Julturbas has become an important stopover for many birds migrating along the Central Asian and African-Eurasian flyways. It supports about 25,000 waterbirds annually, and 1% of the regional populations of at least seven bird species, including ferruginous duck, red-crested pochard, and white-headed duck. There are 15 species of fish, and five of them are endemic to the Aral Sea region, including two critically endangered species – the dwarf sturgeon and the Amu Darya sturgeon. There are also some land animals living around the periphery of the lake, such as the vulnerable goitered gazelle. Activities such as cattle grazing, reed harvesting, fishing and hunting are allowed for the local communities living around the lake.
The Central Asian University of Environmental and Climate Change Studies (Green University) was opened in Uzbekistan’s Tashkent Region on February 10th. The goal of the Green University is to introduce innovative ideas, practices and technologies for solving local, regional and global environmental problems, and strengthening regional cooperation in the field of ecology and environmental protection. The university’s opening ceremony was attended by the director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Grethel Aguilar, Uzbekistan’s Minister of Ecology, Environmental Protection and Climate Change, Aziz Abdukhakimov, and the environment ministers from all the Central Asian countries. Speaking at the event, Aguilar said: “We congratulate the government of Uzbekistan on the opening of the Central Asian Green University, a major regional initiative that serves to develop environmental leadership and education. This university will help solve the triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution. Through environmental education, the university will contribute to the conservation of a region rich in nature.” On the same day, the Green University hosted the opening of the first office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Central Asia. Aguilar commented: “Today, our planet faces three major challenges – climate change, biodiversity loss, and air pollution. all countries must work together to solve these problems. Together with Uzbekistan and the countries of Central Asia, we are implementing new projects aimed at protecting the region’s ecosystem. The opening of the IUCN office is an important step in this direction”.