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Trans-Border Environmental Pollution Issues: Solution Ways

On August 20-21, the Senate of Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Environmental Movement of Uzbekistan organized an international seminar in Tashkent to address measures to neutralize the catastrophic impact of the production activities of Tajikistan’s State Unitary Enterprise TALCO on the environment and the health of people.

The seminar was attended by senators, members of the Legislative Chamber (lower house) of Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan, members of the Executive Committee of Central Kengash of the Environmental Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as parliamentarians, researchers and specialists from European, American and Asian nations, including deputies of Tajikistan’s parliament, representatives of international institutions like the UNDP, OSCE, along with interested ministries and other agencies, nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations and mass media of our country.

Opening the seminar, Chairman of the Senate of Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan I.Sobirov noted that from the first days of independence, a vigorous social policy has been pursued in the country under the leadership of President Islam Karimov, a track that prioritizes securing human rights and interests, including the right for health and life in dignity in a favorable environment.

Consistent institutional and organizational measures are being taken in Uzbekistan for ensuring environmental security. A normative base has been founded in line with international norms and directed at the rational use of natural resources and protection of public health. Uzbekistan has ratified important UN conventions and other international documents addressing environmental security and sustainable development, and has been fulfilling all its commitments. A mechanism has been elaborated to implement legislation in nature protection; targeted state programs and nationwide action plans have been in full swing. Community organizations of the country also have been most energetic and enthusiastic in their participation in these activities, an integral part of the reforms embarked on in Uzbekistan.

As a result of the wide-ranging measures taken, harmful substance emission into the atmosphere during independence years for the nation in general has reduced twofold, discharge of polluted waters diminished 2.2 times, the use of pesticides in agriculture has decreased fivefold in the last few years, while manufacturers have enjoyed an extensive introduction of ecologically clean technologies, deep reprocessing of industrial waste, treatment facilities are undergoing modernization – yielding not merely an environmental, but also a considerable economic effect.

In the meanwhile, as the Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Chamber of Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Central Kengash of the Environmental Movement of Uzbekistan B.Alikhanov noted in his speech, a range of grave trans-border environmental issues are there in Central Asia, including in our country.

A critically pressing one among them is the disastrous impact of harmful industrial emissions by Tajikistan’s State Unitary Enterprise TALCO on the environment and health of the population of Uzbekistan’s and Tajikistan’s districts located in proximity to the plant. The activity of this mill, with negligence to ecological norms and that based on obsolete technologies, has come to be the reason for the demolition of the region’s ecosystem that had formed during millennia, and has posed an actual threat for the gene pool of its human population as well as flora and fauna.

The essence of the problem is that the populace of the region has suffered, first and foremost from chronic diseases of endocrine and musculoskeletal systems, upper respiratory tracts, congenital anomalies and fluorosis, as well as cancer diseases and other pathologies brought about by the emissions of the TALCO distinct with a high amount of fluorine compound, toxic gases – carbon monoxide, brimstone, hydrocarbons – and other detrimental substances.

Participants of the seminar had an opportunity to witness this in Sariasiya, Denau, Uzun and other districts of Surkhandarya region where they traveled and familiarized themselves with the tremendous damage to the natural environment and public health inflicted by the TALCO.

Director of the US-based Institute for Environmental Studies Michael Edelstein noted thus, “We have the data from the environmental pollution caused by the TALCO enterprise during the entire period of its operation. The residents of Surkhandarya region’s districts most vulnerable to its impact have carried the entire load of this heavy burden on themselves and become victims and hostages to the situation. We saw how the poisonous smoke from the pipes of the enterprise moves toward Uzbekistan, and witnessed what damage is inflicted on the people, nature and economy. Staying far from this region, it is hard to imagine how these people live and what they suffer. The air they inhale, the water they drink, the bread they eat – everything is polluted with harmful substances. Nonetheless, it is still ignored by those who profit from the work of that enterprise. We must change the state of affairs for the better and thus take a necessary action.”

Today, many catastrophes and nature surprises on the Earth are linked to the activity of the humankind,” shares Professor of the Netherlands’ Wageningen University, Noble Prize winner in climate change studies Rik Leemans. “Sustainable development issues are growing in urgency. For it to be secured, we should reduce emissions by 90 percent in general within the next few years. Rather gravely problematic are the gaseous discharges of the TALCO that are critically hazardous for the health of people, animals and plants, including the productivity of agricultural crops, and consequently the development of the region.

Operating ineffective and obsolete treatment facilities, the TALCO emits around 22-23 thousand tons of polluted essences into the atmosphere per annum, including more than 200 tons of fluoride hydrogen – the most dangerous and harmful for the environment and human health. Thus, we advocate the conduct of both local and regional research works with the participation of all interested parties, independent experts and scholars. Also needed is a persistent dialogue, a classical example of which is the international seminar in Tashkent. Only then will the most reasonable solutions be found.”

Having extensively discussed the issues of trans-border pollution of the environment as a result of the manufacturing activities of the Tajik enterprise TALCO, the contributors to the international seminar concluded that the current situation in the northern districts of Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya region and Tajikistan’s Tursunzade district has been deteriorating gravely and acquiring a critical nature because of the destructive and catastrophic impact of this plant on the environment and human health. It was stressed that a lack of unwavering measures aimed at neutralizing this hotbed and source of atmospheric pollution may lead to irreversible consequences for almost the million people living there.

Especially alarming, according to seminar participants, is the mounting number of cases when children are born dead and with a variety of pathologies caused by the growing level of concentration of fluoride hydrogen and other toxic substances in the emissions of the TALCO into the atmosphere, water resources and soil. In the districts exposed to their trans-border impact, the disease incidence in both children and adults is thrice as high in the frequency of pathologic disturbances as across Surkhandarya region on average.

The production of aluminum is considered among the so-called dirty technologies,” says Kim Yong Gu, President of Shindong Resources (Republic of Korea). “The TALCO consumes an immense volume of power and pollutes the environment to an unjustified extent by the emission of especially dangerous substances. In the 1950-60s, the Republic of Korea faced that kind of problem. We adopted all measures to tackle it – by building effective treatment facilities, installing appropriate equipment, by transition to more ecologically secure technologies. I believe such an approach is necessary in the situation with the Tajik aluminum enterprise, since the human life and health is incomparable to any profit.”

A considerable damage is being inflicted on the economy, including agriculture, as well as on the social sphere of the region. The productivity of agricultural crops has been decreasing. Because of the presence of fluorine in plants and forage crops, the organism of animals has been undergoing irreversible physiological change. The neat and small cattle livestock has been reducing, as has the milk yield along with the lowering quality of meats and dairy products. The research works have revealed the 9-13 times surplus norm of fluorine presence in milk. All this poses a serious threat to the life and health of people.

As expert assessments suggest, the economic damage inflicted as a result of the work of TALCO amounts to hundreds of millions US dollars. And it seems impossible to estimate the entire loss the nature and public health have suffered, as the seminar participants stressed in their reports.

According to conclusions drawn by foreign specialists, the resources of principal production machines at the enterprise are depleted and are incapable of providing for the environmental security of production. At the same time, notwithstanding the deteriorating ecological situation, the TALCO fails to take necessary organizational-technical and nature protection measures for restructuring the production, equipping with modern treatment facilities that would rule out the damaging repercussions on the environment.

As long as three years ago, during our trip to Surkhandarya region, we witnessed how the TALCO emissions were leading to the extermination of gardens and vineyards, to diseases among children,” shared Vittorio Giorgi (Italy), Chairman of the Association of Historical Regions of Europe. “The indicators of the harm inflicted have been growing from one year to another. I had never seen before how people and the environment suffered from the ecological pollution caused by the development of economy. I told about that in the article published in Italy and other countries. The international law grants us with instruments to secure sustainable economic development and at the same time an opportunity for the current and future generations to live in a favorable environment. The international community has certain resources to hold those who violate universal norms liable for their actions. How can one not acknowledge the obvious fact of environmental pollution by the TALCO? Who is going to compensate for the damage being inflicted for many years? The problem should be addressed with an eye to the interests of people. I believe one of the ways out is to establish an international commission from among independent experts and appeal to court with the established data.”

The foreign contributors to the seminar stressed especially that the lack of necessary measures directed at reducing the negative impact of the TALCO production wastes breaches the norms of a whole range of international legal documents, including the Declaration on Environment and Development adopted in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, and the World Charter for Nature of 1982. Also unexecuted is the 17 November 1994 Uzbek-Tajik Intergovernmental Agreement “On Cooperation in Improving the Environmental Situation in the Area of Negative Impact of the Tajik Aluminum Plant”.

In addition, despite the expert reports and appeals from international ecological organizations, state and public institutions of Uzbekistan, including the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis, the Environmental Movement, the population of Surkhandarya region, the materials submitted by the Tajik side practically deny the fact of the depressing impact of the production activities of the aluminum enterprise on the environmental situation, the health of the population in the region, as well as the necessity of taking action to cease polluting the environment by it.

In the opinion of Edgar Klose, President of the Germany-based Brandenburg Institute for the Development of Technologies and Innovations, “it is intolerable to allow such number of people to suffer from the work of one enterprise. The fact of its harmful impact and the necessity of resolving this long-pressing issue should be recognized by the other side. Only in that case can one take effective measures to prevent the critical ecological situation at hand in the wider region, primarily in the districts of Uzbekistan’s Surkhandarya region, from deteriorating even more, and drastically transform the circumstances for the better. After all, the suffering of even one child, even one person is a tremendous tragedy, while these districts house hundreds of thousands of people. Therefore, I think it is imperative to act to immediately end the catastrophic blow on the ecology and public health caused by this enterprise.”

Summarizing the three-day international seminar, building on the synopsis of the views and conclusions put forward, its participants approved due recommendations. These proposals underscore the special urgency of the swift implementation of a complex of measures at the TALCO State Unitary Enterprise to restructure the production capacities and other nature-protection procedures that would rule out its damaging impact on the environment. It was noted that the seminar contributors believe it imperative to draw the attention of international environmental institutions, UN agencies, including the UNEP, UNICEF and other organizations, the parliaments and government of countries, the international community to urge them to adopt instantaneous measures designed to assist the consolidation of the environmental sustainability of the region, the protection of health of the populace that happened to live in the zone of the destructive impact of the TALCO.

Also underlined is the importance of uniting efforts by international organizations, civil society institutions, including the wider public of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, in search of ways to weather the negative trans-border impact caused by emissions by this enterprise, taking into account the universal principles and norms of international law, international legal acts, critical UN documents designed to safeguard human health and the right for a safe environment.

Especially noteworthy were the wide-ranging efforts undertaken in Uzbekistan aimed at reducing the harmful repercussions of emissions by the TALCO on the environment and the health of the people of the region. In the 2012-2012 period alone, a range of diversified district polyclinics and treatment-prophylaxis facilities as well as more than 50 rural medical units have been built in Denau, Sariasiya, Uzun and Altynsai districts of Surkhandarya region. All of them are outfitted with cutting-edge medical equipment. Effective outcomes are evident from the execution of the government approved Action Plan for the Protection of Environment of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2013-2017.

The international seminar participants called on the UN institutions, national governments and international environmental organizations to support the efforts of the Republic of Uzbekistan, including its parliament, Environmental Movement, and wider public directed at weathering the catastrophic impact of the production activities of the TALCO on the environment and the health of people.

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