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BISHKEK, November 16, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- An international conference on land degradation and soil contamination opened today in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.
The two-day event, organized under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), brings together more than 180 participants. It is the first preparatory meeting for the OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum that will take place in Vienna on 22-23 January and then in Prague on 21-23 May.
Land degradation is a serious problem in Central Asia, where its causes range from overgrazing to soil erosion, salt damage to irrigated land, and desertification.
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are the two countries in the region that are most affected by these phenomena.
The Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that agricultural yields in the region have declined by 20-30 percent in the past 15 years.
The bank today said all five Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- today joined with more than a dozen partners to launch a $1.4 billion program to combat land degradation over the next decade.
An agreement to that effect was signed in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Partners include ADB, a number of UN and western European agencies, the Washington-headquartered Global Environment Facility, and the Islamic Development Bank.