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Overuse of C.Asia's Amu-Darya a threat to stability: UN
by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) July 11, 2011

The over-exploitation of the Amu-Darya river which snakes across Afghanistan, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, could threaten the long-term stability of the region, the UN said Monday.

The problem dates back to the Soviet era, when a massive cotton growing programme was launched by Moscow, sapping up water and releasing pesticides and fertilisers into the river.

In addition, plans to build hydropower stations could add further pressure on the 2,500 kilometres of waterway across central Asia.

"The overuse and inefficient distribution of water may constitute a threat to the long-term stability of the region," said Laura Rio, a programme manager of the Environment and Security Initiative.

"The river from the very beginning is diverted in its entirety to irrigate the fields or to dams," she noted.

As a result, "people now live in a desert, whereas previously, they were fishermen," added Rio.

With the population growing in the region, the rising demand for water in agriculture may "produce a situation of water scarcity in rivers shared by several countries."

The number of inhabitants has already soared from 14 million in 1960 to 50 million now.

In addition, the projected temperature rise between two to three degrees in the next 50 years due to climate change could further exacerbate the problem as the glaciers supplying the river would shrink in size.

The situation could be so serious that it may even lead to strife, warned the UN Environment Programme.

Achim Steiner, who heads UNEP noted that water, together with energy and agriculture "reveal the potential for increasing instability and even confrontation."

He urged the countries therefore to rethink agricultural production as well as increase cooperation on resources and infrastructure.

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