Over 200 scientists, diplomats, representatives of international organizations, and government officials from Central Asia gathered in Urgench October 28-29 for an international conference dedicated to seeking solutions to the problems of the Aral Sea Basin region. The event was organized by the Government of Uzbekistan as current chair of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. Over the last 50 years, the Aral Sea’s surface area has shrunk to a one-eighth of its original size and its absolute water level has dropped from 173 feet to 95 feet. Ambassador George Krol led the U.S. delegation to the conference, which included USAID Central Asia Deputy Mission Director David Brown, USAID Uzbekistan Country Director John Riordan, the Department of State’s Regional Environmental Officer for Central Asia Robyn McCutcheon, and Embassy Tashkent’s Environmental Officer Roger Rodriguez.
In an interview at the conference, Ambassador Krol lamented the Aral Sea environmental catastrophe and its negative impact on public health, economics and demographics in the region. Ambassador Krol emphasized the importance of trans-boundary water management for addressing the problems in the Aral Sea Basin region, “Water is fundamental to U.S. diplomatic and development goals, including health, economic growth, food security, gender equality, and conflict mitigation. When managed well, water allows economies to thrive and children to grow up healthy. Water can also build peaceful cooperation between neighbors”.
Ambassador Krol also praised the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which has worked closely with both the Government of Uzbekistan and nongovernmental organizations on health and economic growth programs in the Aral Sea Basin since 1993. USAID’s future Aral Sea Basin efforts will focus on supporting the Uzbek government’s fight against tuberculosis in the region and in improving water use through a trans-boundary water management program. Over the last 20 years, the American people, through USAID, have provided more than $356 million for programs that support the development of a prosperous Uzbekistan.