New UN partnership improving human security in Aral Sea region

September 5 2012

Human security isn’t just about the absence of violence. It is far more than that. Human security means the protection of people’s fundamental freedoms and encompasses governance, effective health care and education, all of which improve people’s lives.

Often, human security is under serious threat in communities where environmental disasters take place, as they affect the economy, health care and the overall welfare of the population, as in the Aral Sea region.

Located in the heart of Central Asia, the Aral Sea – once the world’s fourth largest lake – has now dried up to about 30 percent of its original size, as the lakes that fed it were diverted for irrigation purposes.

Such a dramatic environmental change has had a negative impact on the region’s economy, social sphere and livelihoods of the population. Traditionally, the Aral Sea provided both water and fish. However, since the sea has all but dried up and the water flow has diminished, the fishing industry and agriculture have been destroyed, and even drinking water is scarce in many communities.

A desert has replaced much of the Aral Sea, which has frequent toxic dust storms, causing serious health problems. To date, a number of national and international projects have been successfully implemented in this region, but the living standards of the populations of districts such as Muynak, Shumanay and Kanlikul are still in desperate need of improvement.

A call for collective action

During his visit to Uzbekistan in April 2010, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talked about the impact that the shrinking of the Aral Sea has had on human security and described it as one of the world’s worst environmental disasters.

“We must work together,” he said. “This is the joint responsibility of the communities in the region and the nations of the world… and the United Nations will work to provide the necessary assistance.”

Addressing poverty, health and public awareness

Considering the complexity of existing problems, the collective action of United Nations agencies has become crucial in organizing relief to people in this region.

The efforts of five United Nations agencies in Uzbekistan – the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) have resulted in a joint programme: Sustaining Livelihoods Affected by the Aral Sea Disaster.

Funded by the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security, the joint programme is working to:

  • Improve the welfare of people in the most vulnerable groups in Karakalpakstan (from the Muynak, Shumanay and Kanlikul districts). By facilitating access to basic infrastructure, including clean water and gas through the design and implementation of community development plans it hopes to improve the lives of about 130,000 people
  • Help small farms (dekhkan), to earn more income by introducing improved agricultural practices and pasture management techniques, and planting new crops and tree varieties
  • Support small businesses set up by women and young people by developing local handicrafts and tourist sites
  • Improve the health care sector. Among other things, it plans to train about 1,500 primary health care workers in reproductive health issues, and to launch an awareness-raising campaign on family planning and HIV-prevention aimed at young people.

By working with communities, and reaching each and every individual, the United Nations hopes to improve economic opportunity, education, health care and environmental security, to ensure that people in the Aral Sea region live life to the fullest.


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