The legacy of uranium mining in Central Asia is an urgent task which requires a speedy and coordinated response by the international community, This message was delivered both by the EU and the EBRD at a special event organised at the side-lines of the 72nd UNGA General Assembly meeting in New York on 20 September 2017. The meeting was chaired by the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Mr Peter Burian. The initiative on environmental remediation is part of the EU strategy towards Central Asia.
The high-level event gave renewed momentum towards a solution of the environmental problem for the region following the keynote address of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, H.E Mr A. Atambayev, and statements made by the Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs representing the EU Presidency, the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, the Foreign Minister of Tajikistan as well as a High level representative of Uzbekistan. Representatives of various international organisations (EBRD; IAEA; UNDP) expressed their continued support to bring solutions to the region. The need for action was noting the negative impact of the current situation in the various areas on the health of the population and on the environment, especially in the Ferghana valley where 14 million people live and which is spread across eastern Uzbekistan, southern Kyrgyz Republic and northern Tajikistan.
At this occasion, the EUSR for Central Asia stated: "The work financed by the EU is of solidarity with the people of Central Asia. We brought European expertise to the region to find the best possible solutions based on European similar experience. The work will contribute to the realisation of various Sustainable Development Goals by the countries concerned i.e. by limiting the negative impact both socio-economically and on the environment".
The three countries - Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are in the scope of the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (ERA) established by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in 2015 at the initiative of the European Commission. The fund will manage international donor contributions to deal with the challenges originating from legacy sites that the population and the environment face. In the past, Central Asia served as an important source for uranium. A large amount of radioactively contaminated material was placed in mining waste dumps and tailing sites. Most of the mines were closed by 1995 but very little remediation was done.
The ERA account covers seven priority sites in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The estimated cost of the programme is EUR 85 million and to date the fund had received EUR 16 million from the European Union. Hence an amount of EUR 70 million is needed to address the most urgent priorities. To close the funding gap a pledging conference is under preparation for 2018.
Another milestone was reached on 18 September 2017 when a Strategic Master Plan setting out a detailed blueprint for the environmental remediation of priority sites in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan was signed. The plan provides a detailed programme for a coordinated, timely and cost-effective effort and was developed by a group of experts established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
All this work provides a solid basis for further funding decisions by international donors in order to alleviate the urgent needs in the affected areas. At the same time the meeting also called for an update of the 2013 UNGA Resolution. This matter will be further discussed with relevant partners.
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Senior Programme Manager, European Commission