People and Planet: Central Asia calls for International Solidarity
Resolving the legacy of uranium mining in Central Asia has become urgent. The countries with the support of the EU call for prompt and further action.
The international community is asked to provide assistance in resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly respectively in December 2013 and in December 2018 as well as through numerous IAEA General Conference resolutions.
Indeed, the UN resolution of December 2018 acknowledged that a number of States continue to have serious social, economic and environmental problems associated with former uranium mines. A repeated request was made for the international community to support the states of Central Asia in solving the problems.
The unprecedented release of toxic and radioactive waste must be prevented not only for the well-being of the local population, but also to avoid that the breadbasket of Central Asia: the Fergana valley is being polluted. This densely populated area in Central Asia is of crucial significance for the development of the region.
The EU-led international programme that aims to solve the problems in seven priority sites in Central Asia has reached a decisive stage. All the preparatory work is done and independently peer reviewed. Therefore, the way to bring significant improvement in the living conditions of the people in Central Asia is defined and approved. Plans have been endorsed by the Governments.
In this respect, the EU has worked closely with the Governments concerned in Central Asia and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN development Program (UNDP).
In 2018, a number of important events have taken place:
- In the margins of the General Conference of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in September 2018 a high-level side event took place whereby all relevant remediation programs bringing solutions for Central Asia were presented and discussed. A Strategic Master Plan as completed and endorsed was also a key part of the exchanges;
- A high-level side event on the uranium mining legacy was organised in New York in September 2018 in the margins of the UN General Assembly. Ministerial representatives underlined the importance of solving the problems that could have severe consequences for the health and environmental situation in Central Asia. Commissioner Neven Mimica repeated the EU support and called upon other partners to join the EU in bringing sustainable solutions to the region;
- At the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) an International Donors’ Conference took place in London in November 2018. The EBRD is managing the Environmental Remediation Account (ERA) especially created to finance environmental remediation projects in Central Asia. During this event, pledges and funding were provided by Belgium, the EU, Norway, Lithuania, Switzerland and the United States;
- Current available finances in the ERA fund allow the programme to start remediation projects at selected sites in the Kyrgyz Republic and in Uzbekistan. However, urgent action remains at other priority sites in Central Asia. There is a need to bridge the current funding gap of EUR 50 million;
- At the UN in New York in December 2018, a new resolution was adopted on the role of the international community in the prevention of the radiation threat in Central Asia. The resolution acknowledged the progress made in reducing the threat. At the same time, it concluded that further (financial) support is needed in order to overcome the uranium legacy. By doing so the sustainable development of the region will be promoted.
In spring 2019, a Project Management Unit has been set up in the region to oversee the implementation of the remediation works in the Kyrgyz Republic and in Uzbekistan. Remediation work is planned to start at the uranium legacy site of Shekaftar in the Kyrgyz Republic in the fourth quarter of 2019 followed by remediation works at the Min-Kush site. A high-level meeting is planned in the region in October 2019 hosted by the Kyrgyz Republic. In the meantime efforts continue to overcome the financial funding gap of EUR 50 million.
The EU-led regional environmental remediation program serves the population of all Central Asian countries, and contributes namely:
- to promote regional cooperation;
- to maintain peace and stability in the region;
- to improve human health;
- to improve the quality of the environment;
- to promote economic development, in particular local employment.
The program contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – especially SDG 3 "Good Health and Well-Being", SDG 6 "Clean Water and Sanitation" and SDG 15 "Life on Land".