Stefan Priesner: Opening Remarks at the Inception Workshop ‘Developing climate resilience of farming communities in the drought prone parts of Uzbekistan’

Oct 27, 2014

On behalf of UNDP, I extend my warm greetings to Mr. Viktor Chub, General Director of Uzhydromet, National Focal Point to UNFCCC, and Government Designated Authority to the Adaptation Fund;

I would also like to welcome our distinguished guests, representatives of parliament, ministries and committees, NGOs, international organizations and members of the mass media.

We have gathered on the occasion of an Inception Workshop, which marks the official launch of our newest climate change adaptation project, which will be implemented jointly with our long-time partner, Uzhydromet. Some three years, in close consultation with our national partners we have started developing this project proposal – we are launching the project today, which also happens to be the largest climate change adaptation initiative to date in Uzbekistan.

The project seeks to strengthen resilience of farmers in drought prone areas, especially Karakalpakstan – the most impacted by the Aral Sea disaster and most vulnerable to climate change. Located at the lower reaches of the Amu-Darya River, Karakalpakstan suffers severe water scarcity – excessive withdrawals of water upstream and climate shifts have reduced the flow of the river, and brought about desertification, higher temperatures and harsher droughts. Yields of crops such as cotton and wheat, and supplies of forage for livestock—all vital to regional livelihoods—have fallen in recent years. A destructive cycle is operating where water shortage leads to land degradation that deepens water stress and so on.

Climate change

I mentioned that this is a climate change adaptation project – which means that we acknowledge that climate change is real, and is already impacting the lives of people and that we need to do something about it.

Climate change used to be one of the most debated topics among experts, scientists and politicians around the world. Some years ago, the debate was around, whether climate change and human activity are linked. This particular debate seems to have faded a little and most agree that climate change is real, mostly human induced and is happening already. The current debate is rather around how fast the climate will change and how severe the consequences will be. Climate change, which was seen as abnormality before, is becoming the new normal. Therefore, it is important to understand the climatic trends and how they impact the lives of ordinary people, countries and continents – if people and countries are not prepared and are not “adapting”, the consequences can be severe.

UNDP is committed to working at grassroots level to help address some of the climate-related challenges. For instance, we offer and showcase simple, inexpensive, but yet effective measures which can be implemented by communities to help them deal with climate-posed challenges. The examples of our work range from planting heat tolerant plants for livelihood, promoting energy efficient cook-stoves to applying water saving irrigation methods.

The key challenge - Uzbekistan is highly susceptible to potential climate change impacts. What experts are seeing in Uzbekistan are changing climate patterns, more frequent extreme weather events, such as droughts and even floods, often happening at the same time in different parts of the country. Let us now look into some examples of possible impact. For instance, if water is not available during the irrigation season due to less than regular rainfall, this will have adverse impact on agriculture, thereby on food security.

Aral Sea

The issue of climate change is complex in nature, and cannot be addressed only by one organization, or by Government alone. It requires concerted efforts from many stakeholders and the general public. In fact, tackling climate change may require that many countries work together, as climate change does not recognize borders. This is particularly relevant in the context of the Aral Sea crisis.

I am glad to note that our workshop is taking place on the eve of large international conference on Aral Sea, which will be held in Urgench later this month to once again draw the attention of the international community to issues of the Aral Sea disasters, and mobilizing resources for practical projects on the ground. Aral Sea sub-region has been of a particular focus for the UN, and we will continue to support the efforts of the Government of Uzbekistan in tackling this crisis of planetary scale.

The impact of the steadily shrinking sea on the livelihoods and health of the population has been severe forcing many to relocate.  Income poverty, lack of food security, exposure to dust storms, and deteriorations in the quality of drinking water have all combined to have negative effects on the local population.

Water is a precious resource for Uzbekistan. The Aral Sea catastrophe caused not only socio-economic problems, but also may have entailed changes in the climatic conditions in the region. Competition for water exists between irrigated agriculture, hydropower, drinking and municipal water supply and sanitation, and industry. In a country with high natural population growth, growing economy as well as the ongoing Aral Sea catastrophe and potential impacts of climate change, water availability and quality will become even more important in the years to come.

The role of the UN in environmental protection

Ladies and Gentlemen - the Millennium Development Goals recognized that environmental targets are an integral part of core development. MDG-7 – underlines that poverty reduction and social progress are closely related to environment protection. This instrumental relationship between livelihoods and environment is especially intuitive in Uzbekistan with its arid and semi-arid climate, where sustainable agriculture depends on the judicious use of water and land.

Together with the Government of Uzbekistan, we are currently looking into progress on MDGs, and according to official data Uzbekistan has made considerable progress in the field of environment and meeting relevant national MDG targets. There is a little over 1 year remaining until the end of the MDG framework, and it is of great importance that the country maintains the same or accelerated pace.

But even after the MDG framework is over, environmental issues will only become more prominent. Sustainability will be at the core of the post-2015 Development Agenda. Never before has it been clearer that natural resources are finite, that our planet is vulnerable, that biodiversity is depleting and that climate change is the ultimate challenge of the 21st century.  And this is why, balancing of growth with social and environmental dimensions of development, is more important than ever.

The Project

With this context in mind, the primary objective of our workshop today is to introduce to you the project objectives and expected results and hear your views on how this project could be best implemented.

The project aims to establish an early warning system that will inform local communities about drought risks and weather patterns, new agricultural techniques will advance more efficient use of available water resources, and landscaping measures will slow land degradation and desertification. As a result of project interventions, farmers will be better prepared for droughts and able to mitigate potential losses. New agricultural techniques, irrigation and drainage practices, and land use changes, reforestation and other land restoration measures will improve soil conservation and moisture retention.

My warm welcome once again and hope your active participation and a productive workshop today.

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