The Aral Sea Basin is shared by five Central Asian Countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Additionally the basin includes parts of Afghanistan and a small part of Iran. Due to lack of regional planning exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Aral Sea has suffered from one of the worst environmental degradations on our planet. Beyond the loss of 60 kilometers of the Aral Sea shoreline, the lack of cooperation between the upstream countries and downstream countries has resulted in lost opportunities for mutual benefit water management, mis-allocation of resources for agricultural management, lost opportunities for much needed hydro-electric development and the probability of severe water shortages affecting increasing populations.
Additionally, lack of regional planning puts citizens of several countries at risk of serious loss of life or displacement of large populations for not undertaking any risk mitigation for the eventual breach of the earthquake-created dam holding back large volumes of water in Lake Sarez.
On two occasions, The Rotary Foundation has sponsored workshops in conjunction with UNESCO-IHE and additional agencies to bring together appropriate representative professionals from the seven countries in the Aral Sea Basin to consider a framework for addressing transboundary water conflict management. We have been advised by professionals in the field that this is the first diplomacy-based workshop involving Aral Sea Basin participants. The workshops were hosted by UNESCO-IHE, the first in October of 2014 and the second in December 2016. It is anticipated that additional workshops will take place sponsored by regional or international agencies to continue to move the dialogue forward towards long term positive outcomes.
In conjunction with these efforts, an academic program has been identified whereby students from the Aral Sea Basin countries can study at the graduate level and the knowledge gained can be used to develop a diplomatic framework to address the challenging and conflicting trans-boundary Aral Sea Basin issues. This program, the Water Cooperation and Diplomacy Program involves the University for Peace in Costa Rica, IHE-Delft and Oregon State University. To date, we have successfully funded 11 scholars through this program.
The cost of the 18 month program is approximately US$75,000 with the next academic year commencing the Fall of 2020. The global grant will not cover all of the expenses of the scholars. At this time we intend to provide 4 additional scholarships, 3 supported by District 5340 and 1 supported by District 5110.