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20.1.04

More Water Problems In Central Asia

Kazakh Lake 'Could Dry Up'

The UN has warned that Lake Balkhash, the second largest lake in Central Asia after the Aral Sea, could dry up, creating another major environmental crisis in the region.

... "Just like the Aral Sea, there is less and less water coming to the lake," he [UN representative Fikret Akcura] said when presenting a UNDP report on Kazakhstan's water resources.

The Kazakh newspaper Megapolis reported late last year that, according to the latest data, the lake has already shrunk by over 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles).


The lack of progress being made on saving the Aral Sea doesn't give me a lot of hope for Lake Balkhash. One of the most important steps -- and one of the hardest, especially in the context of corrupt governments and strong pressure for economic development -- is to treat the lake itself as a water user. Declining water levels in the lake aren't just a symptom of poor water use upstream, or even a purely ecological problem. Between the saltiness of the lake and the pollutants that are in it, the dry lakebed will expose some pretty awful stuff to the wind -- and hence to anybody who farms or breathes near it. Allocating a big share of water to the lake can also be a good way of creating a safety net for water shortfalls. It's tempting, when there is a string of good years, to increase water use. But it's much harder to decrease water use in bad years, if the infrastructure has been put in place for stepped up farming or industry and people have become dependent on it. The lake's share would be a safety margin that could be partially tapped in bad years -- though there is the risk that "bad year" would be declared too easily in order to get at "unused" water, undermining the point of it.

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