Central Asian environmental researchers warn of the rapid destruction of natural ecosystems in Central Asia. Some of them believe that this is an irreversible process. Furthermore, the residents of the region are already feeling the consequences of these processes.

They propose to put aside all existing disagreements between the countries of the region and solve the problems of environmental degradation jointly to save the ecosystem while it is still possible.

CABAR.asia says that in recent years, residents of Central Asian countries have felt the consequences of global climate change more acutely.  These include more frequent dust storms, abnormally hot summers, unusual for the region cold winters, the shallowing of rivers and lakes, and other environmental problems.  The forecasts of environmental scientists who repeatedly warned that human activity is destroying the planet are coming true.  The global situation is even ahead of these forecasts.

These and other problems of the region’s natural ecosystems were discussed with environmental researchers from four Central Asian countries during the latest CABAR.asia analytical expert meeting.

Environmental scientists’ reports reportedly show that over 70% of natural ecosystems on Earth are already disturbed today and this process continues.

Bulat Yessekin, environmental scientist from Kazakhstan, member of the Bureau of the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy, Asia-Pacific Council on Sustainable Development, and the Kazakhstan Council for Sustainable Development, believes that human intervention and expansion are destroying the natural systems that are crucial for “human life, health, and in general, all the physical and biological conditions necessary for life on Earth”.

“Today this process is already irreversible,” he said.

A new Aralkum desert about the size of Switzerland has formed in the region. Although Kazakhstan and other countries try to restore remaining reservoirs, such as the Northern Aral and others, it is impossible to restore the entire Aral Sea, Yessekin believes.

He highlighted that similar to the Aral Sea processes occur in the ecosystem of Lake Balkhash.  The research shows that by 2030, the region may lose Lake Balkhash, which is one of the largest lake ecosystems on the planet.  This ecosystem is larger in area than Great Britain, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland combined. It includes plenty of natural ecosystems – 12 types of them – from glaciers to deserts.

For the Central Asian countries, the consequences of climate change are manifested primarily through water resources.  Water is the most sensitive element to temperature changes. This also includes soil moisture, land health, and many other processes.

The first obvious factor from natural ecosystem destruction that humanity will face in this decade is the food crisis, the expert believes.  Other consequences associated with it are loss of jobs and mass migration that will exceed the forecasts made before.

Anna Kirilenko, chairwoman of the Global Forest Coalition and Executive Director of the Ecological Movement ‘BIOM’ from Kyrgyzstan, says that of the approximately 20 types of ecosystems existing in Kyrgyzstan, half have already been lost now.

According to her, people do not yet understand the value of the ecosystems and the ecosystem of Central Asia in particular.  

“They scare us with greenhouse gases, they say that this is the main reason for everything. However, this is not entirely true, because the ecosystems are exactly what can support everything. And the ecosystems have already done this. Natural ecosystems have maintained conditions favorable to life on the planet for millions of years,” she said.

Some of the most productive natural ecosystems are forests. Although they occupy a very small area in Central Asian countries, they make the greatest contribution. This does not mean that other ecosystems do not contribute. However, they all are subject to rapid destruction.

There is no better technology to counter climate change than preserving natural ecosystems, the expert believes.

“Ecosystems are matrices that greatly influence us.  They are extremely complex and it is very difficult to restore them.  We must understand that our primary task now is to preserve those matrices. They remain somewhere in our countries as some small elements, just fragments. However, they are more valuable than pearls and diamonds, much more valuable than any economic gains. I think it is important for us to start thinking about and understanding this,” she said.

The environmental researcher from Tajikistan Alikhon Latifi says he is not a fan of climate change ‘bogeyman stories’.

“I always say, there was a time when hippos swam in the Rhine River.  For hippos, global warming is just an awareness of the climate norm, when they will be able to swim in the Rhine River again.  Well, to be honest, I do not see any particular danger in this for humans as a biological species.  Humans, as a species, have long adapted to different ecological systems and different climate zones. We exist everywhere just fine, we have adapted,” he said.

However, he noted that the problems in Central Asian countries are the same and common.  They are connected, in the first place, with the human impact on the environment.

He noted that all the numerous platforms that were created and where the same problems are discussed for many years, generally do not bring significant results.

“Thus, I concluded that you cannot be strong in all those areas at the same time.  This is impossible.  Our association, which I am honored to lead, is the Association of Hunters of Tajikistan.  We are just direct users of natural resources. … Today, the proper management of natural resources is one of the key areas in preserving our ecosystems,” he said.

As an example, Alikhon Latifi spoke about the work of the organization he heads. He said that the Association organizes trophy hunting in Tajikistan.  Over the years of independence, they managed to find a balance between environmental management and ecosystem preservation.

“Since we have mountain and ungulate animals, their horns are the trophy.  The hunters want big horns… Well, the rams and goats do not grow big horns in one day.  This requires a significant amount of time, from 7 to 10-12 years.  It is necessary to create comfortable conditions for an animal to grow such horns.  That is, it is necessary to protect the environment.  And that is what we do in our organization,” said Latifi  “The state allocates certain scientifically based quotas for the hunting annually. We bring our guests to hunting areas and for money received we preserve these territories. We carry out biotechnical activities. We create comfortable conditions for animals,” he said.

Latifi noted that their active work resulted in the growth of the population of the Pamir Mountain sheep argali – the Marco Polo sheep: in the 1990s in Tajikistan, there were about 8-10 thousand of them, now, the population reached 26-28 thousand heads.

Saidrasoul Sanginov, leading consultant of the Committee on the Development of the Aral Sea Region and Ecology of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan, deputy chairman of the Executive Committee of the Ecological Movement Central Kengash of Uzbekistan, noted that Central Asia is home to such colossal mountain ecosystems as the Tien Shan, Pamir, Altai, Karakorum, and others.  The largest in the area – 2,500 kilometers – is the Tien Shan Mountain system.  Mountain systems are naturally affected by climate change.  One of the most global and dangerous consequences of such processes is the intensive melting of glaciers.

“Over the last 40 years, 30% of glacial mass has been lost,” said he.  “In the next 10 years, this will lead to a reduction in the water availability of the main watercourses of Central Asia…  The Amu Darya and Syr Darya are full-flowing and powerful, but their water content will be reduced by 10% to 15%,” says Sanginov.

In addition, soil degradation occurs in mountainous and foothill areas.

The experts believe that urgent targeted measures are needed to stop the destruction of the region’s natural ecosystems.

Saidrasoul Sanginov says investments in science are required to substantively and systematically work in the conservation and restoration of mountain ecosystems.

Another big challenge is the creation of transboundary protected areas.

Bulat Yessekin believes that all those declarative measures taken earlier and are being taken now do not work.  Therefore, today, governments, environmental scientists, and civil and international institutions need more precise goals and actions, including indicators and projects for the restoration of nature.

Alikhon Latifi also stressed the importance of focused and joint work.

Anna Kirilenko said that “sometimes it is necessary to do nothing”.  “It may sound controversial. If the ecosystem exists, sometimes, you just need to leave it alone. I understand that for politicians and many others, this is impossible. We need to plant something, run somewhere. However, sometimes we need this principle, some kind of principle of doing nothing and allowing the ecosystem to regenerate itself, this is also necessary,” she said.  In addition, an expert from Kyrgyzstan suggests not violating the principle of adapted restoration, for example, planting local tree species.