Aral Sea Shores Pt. 2 – Battling the Dust
23 May 2016
By Blogging Consultant James Brindley
The UN Aral Sea Joint Programme ended in 2016, concluding four years of work addressing long-term social, health and economic impacts of the Aral Sea disaster. To present the project’s main results and its sustainability, we are publishing three blogs about the completed work and what the next plans are.
Building on our last blog that looked at how we’ve made communities more economically and socially resilient, in this blog we’ll look specifically at how our programme has worked to counter environmental problems caused by the Aral Sea disaster. We’ll look at how worsened desertification and airborne sands have directly influenced human security and well-being in the region, and how we’ve worked to address these crucial issues.
(Human Security refers to maintaining livelihood and standards of living in the face of trying circumstances – check out our previous blog to learn more about the concept as it applies to our response to the Aral Sea disaster)
Alternative business is growing in Karakalpakstan, but to a strong degree agriculture has replaced fishing as a major source of income in the region, and the well-being of communities relies on how farms can maximise their outputs and minimise negative environmental impacts. The joint programme and related UNDP initiatives have sought to help farmers best manage the extremes of their environment – land infertility and dwindling natural resources.
Over the programme’s implementation 400 farmers from the Muynak, Shumanay and Kanlikul districts received assistance. This target group including many women farmers have learnt to maintain their land productivity through laser-levelling, sand barriers and other techniques. They’ve also learnt how to better manage the business side of their work, and how to introduce cash crops. 50 agro-consultants and 23 veterinary services represent a valuable local knowledge resource to these individuals who are working to make a living off the land.
For farmers like Orakbay Eshmuratov, who transformed 124 hectares of previously unused land into an arable resource with a rotary mower, their part of the deal is to share what they’ve learnt.
“Thanks to the UN Aral Sea progamme, the provided equipment will not only help us improve the condition of the land, but also accumulate the needed fodder for cattle,” Mr. Eshmuratov said. “I am also planning to share this equipment with my fellow farmers, to support their activities.”
Knowledge-sharing multiplies a project’s beneficiary group. With the programme’s support, the initial 400 farmers who received support have now passed on information to the farmers of at least three project pilot districts, with a total population of over 130,000 people.
Building agricultural resilience in western Uzbekistan is a joint effort of not just the UN Aral Sea programme, but also several other UNDP-led initiatives. The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) has assisted the region’s farmers in adapting to climate change, which has considerable impact in the region, while ‘Achieving Eco-stability in Karakalpakstan and Uzbekistan’s Kyzylkum Regions’ addresses land fertility concerns, and ‘Aid for Trade’ boosts farm access to markets. These efforts have helped make sure long-term change can be sustained.
Hidden Health Threats
While the Aral Sea disaster’s economic impacts are the most obvious, health consequences have lain beneath the surface but are perhaps still more insidious and frightening. For years the region has grappled with a Tuberculosis epidemic, exacerbated by coarse sand spread by the wind. While the illness is dangerous in itself, what makes it even more of a concern is the related social stigma.
During its implementation the Aral Sea Joint Programme has made a big dent in rates of Tuberculosis spread in the Aral Sea region. In total 32,000 families and 128,000 people have been reached through awareness-raising efforts within the three target districts, focusing on Tuberculosis prevention and treatment.
The Joint Programme has made considerable effort in changing how people view Tuberculosis, and indeed perception of the disease has been altered from it being seen as an incurable affliction that puts a black mark on families, to it being something that can be beaten. While hospitals have received tools to better tackle the epidemic, 1,600 volunteers like Juzimgul Matirzaeva have openned doors to better understanding.
“Seeing hope in people’s eyes for better, healthier lives has encouraged me to participate in this project,” Ms. Matirzaeva shared with UNDP. “By helping my community to be healthier, I am also protecting my family and myself. It is very pleasant to know that our work has been recognized, and I’m happy that our achievement will serve as an example worldwide.”
Another prominent health challenge has been boosting levels of understanding of reproductive health and HIV issues, especially among young people and other vulnerable groups. While these concerns are not made worse by the Aral Sea disaster, the resulting economic strain and related isolation worsen other health concerns. More than 2,000 young people have been reached through this work, and their knowledge has improved considerably.
1,932 medical staff and practitioners have been trained to handle these health matters with a specific focus on improving gender equality. As with other areas of work, the trained staff have shared their learnt knowledge with other practitioners.
Continuing efforts into the SDG era
The Aral Sea Joint Programme has made considerable progress in reducing the human impacts of this environmental catastrophe, and particularly as the Uzbekistan enters the SDG era the focus is now shifting to making those changes more wide-spread. In both the agriculture and health sector, that is being achieved through knowledge sharing tools such as workshops, knowledge publications and workshops (17,500 households have received ‘Family Books’ – a concrete resource for tackling the most persistent health concerns).
Part three of our blog series will look more into how the changes made by the Aral Sea Programme are going to be sustained and built-on at a strategic level, with a review of the next programme. Watch this space!
By blogging consultant James Brindley