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No measures agreed to address risk of irreversible pollution of transboundary aquifers in Central Asia

WECF director calls for urgent measures to halt water pollution from uranium mining tailings in Central Asia, and laments continued use of Asbestos, at Conference of Environment Ministers from 56 countries in Astana, which dealt with water management and the greening of the economies

24.09.2011 | WECF Press Release



No measures agreed to address risk of irreversible pollution of transboundary aquifers in Central Asia

“Radio-nuclides from uranium mining tailing threaten the groundwater in all the Central Asian region  - it is very unfortunate that no concrete measures were agreed by the ministers of environment of 56 countries who addressed water management in their conference in Astana, Kazakhstan”

Astana, 24 September 2011 – WECF director calls for urgent measures to halt water pollution from uranium mining tailings in Central Asia, and laments continued use of Asbestos, at Conference of Environment Ministers from 56 countries in Astana, which dealt with water management and the greening of the economies

Uranium mines
WECF director Sascha Gabizon – co-chair of the European Eco-Forum – addressed the ministers of environment of the 56 countries of the UNECE region in her plenary address at the 7th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Astana which closed yesterday in Astana.

She called for immediate urgent action to contain the old uranium mining tailings in Central Asia, in particular in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which threaten to irreversibly contaminate the transboundary groundwater aquifers. She called for a policy framework for rapid action on clean-up of uranium mines in the Eastern European, Caucusus and Central Asian. Best practices from the rehabilitation of uranium mines in the EU can provide guidance. The cost of full clean up – estimated to be into the tens of billions of Euros – are impossible to be paid by middle-income countries in Central Asia. Sascha Gabizon said “an international financial mechanisms is needed, with a tax on mineral products and contributions from the nuclear energy sector.” As no concrete measures could be agreed in Astana, at least this should be an outcome of the upcoming Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in 2012 in Brazil.

Asbestos
Sascha Gabizon furthermore remarked on the tragedy that Kazakhstan, the host country for the conference, continues to use chrysotile asbestos as the main building material. Chrysotile asbestos kills more than 100,000 people each year. The Minister of Kazakhstan responded by saying that there was no danger for the international guests of the conference, as the buildings in Astana in which they were lodged were built by international architects and companies. But what about the people of Kazakhstan who are exposed to asbestos used in building schools, hospitals and in most households? The Ministers of Environment and Health of the region have committed to developing a national plan on elimination of asbestos related diseases. More than 50 years of research and policy measures on chrysotile asbestos have shown that 'controlled use' of asbestos is not possible. However, Kazakhstan has an asbestos mine, and is an exporter of asbestos and its asbestos industry lobby is fighting any measures to restrict use and exports, even though chrysotile is already banned in over 40 countries worldwide in line with World Trade Organisation approval for protection of public health. The World Health Organisation has obtained the mandate at the 5th Parma Conference on Environment and Health, to help Kazakhstan and the other EECCA governments to eliminate asbestos related diseases. Currently however, companies and not the states are responsible for occupational health in the Central Asia region, which makes that there is no data available on the number of people who are dying from asbestos.

Sanitation for rural areas
Referring to an epidemiological study done in Uzbekistan, Sascha Gabizon showed the unacceptable diarrheal disease burden of small children under age 2, due to a lack of safe sanitation and water. Unfortunately, funding for local authorities and NGOs to improve the situation does not exist, the EBRD and other international finance organisations claim they are unable to finance sanitation for small communities of up to 5,000 people, despite the fact that EBRD obtained money from member states to help address especially this problem, with the EBRD 'Water Fund' to support implementation of the UNECE 'Protocol on Water and Health'.

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Note for the editors

For more information, please contact Chantal van den Bossche, press officer WECF tel: 0031.6.28129992, chantal.vandenbossche@wecf.eu ; www.wecf.eu

For information about the Astana conference and the Protocol on Water and Health: UNECE website on 7th EfE Minsterial Conference, Astana www.unece.org

WECF is an international organization with over 100 partner organizations in 40 countries. WECF develops and demonstrates affordable solutions for local sustainable development and brings lessons learned to national and international policy processes. WECF activities are coordinated through its 3 offices in France, Germany and the Netherlands, with field offices in Bulgaria and Georgia. WECF is a member of the European Eco-Forum. WECF contributes to a number of UNECE and other UN policy processes. WECF has has NGO consultative statues with the UN Economic & Social Council and is accredited with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)