KAZAKHSTAN: Desertification spreading
Ankara, 17 June 2003 (IRIN) - On World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, IRIN learnt on Tuesday that desertification continues to take its toll in Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s largest nation, with an increasing need for local awareness and measures to be taken to curb it.
"This is a very important problem for Kazakhstan, because the soil degradation process continues and tends to exacerbate [the situation]," Gulnara Bekturova, vice-president of the Fund to Combat Against Desertification, a local environmental NGO, told IRIN from the former Kazakh capital, Almaty. She called for urgent measures to be taken to stop the phenomenon, emphasising the need for greater awareness among local communities on the causes and effects of soil degradation.
"If the people on the ground understand and fully comprehend the importance of the problem, only in this case will we be successful," she maintained, noting, however, a lack of resources to tackle the issue.
Her comments follow a recent statement by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), warning that 66 percent of Kazakhstan’s territory was exposed to various types soil degradation.
Every year 10 percent to 15 percent of arable land in Kzyl-Orda Province turned into desert as a result of improper irrigation system, while between 20 and 25 percent of the pastures in the southern areas of the Aral Sea had been lost, the UNDP statement said.
Commenting on the challenge ahead, Bekturova said the main task was to protect arable lands from degradation and subsequent desertification, citing over-cultivation of soil, abnormally high usage of pastures, loss of forests and improper irrigation methods as the root causes of the problem.
Sharing her concern, Katerina Yushenko, an assistant with the Global Environment Facility/ Small Grant Programme (GEF/SGP) in Almaty, told IRIN she was not optimistic about resolving the problem.
GEF/SGP is a UNDP-administered programme established in 1992 and currently offered in 63 countries, embodying the very essence of sustainable development, with particular emphasis on how community action can maintain the fine balance between human needs and environmental imperatives.
"At the moment most of the country’s territory is exposed to desertification, and this issue is not being broadly discussed. The situation with desertification is worsening because there is little work being done in terms of combating this phenomenon by the authorities," Yushenko asserted. "We tried to link this problem with the loss of biological diversity. Actually, soil degradation is closely connected to loss of flora and fauna, and these problems are inseparable," she said, adding that two projects on these issues were now being implemented.
"Our programme is aimed at working with NGOs and local communities, and we try to work closely with them on the ground," Yushenko explained, adding that these problems should be solved at the local level, with the involvement of the people who experience these ecologic problems and difficulties first hand.