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Turkmen Report: May 4, 2004

4 May 2004
Russian Official Says Caspian Sea Should Not Be Demilitarized
28 April 2004

Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy on Caspian Sea negotiations on 28 April said that because of the threat of terrorism, the energy-rich sea should not be demilitarized, AP reported the same day. Viktor Kalyuzhniy made the statement at an international forum in the Kazakh capital, Astana. He called for a limited military presence, but did not provide specifics. The legal status of the Caspian Sea has been in limbo since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The five littoral states -- Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan -- have debated whether the sea is an inland lake with its resources to be divided equally, or a sea in which case every country would have its own sector. Kalyuzhniy also said the five states should ban the military presence of non-Caspian states -- a move apparently directed at the United States, which has boosted its military presence in Central Asia since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. (AP)

Moscow Expects Ashgabat To Resume Citizenship Talks
28 April 2004

Ashgabat assured Moscow that the Russian-Turkmen commission for citizenship affairs will soon resume its activities, Interfax reported on 28 April, citing the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "The Turkmen side offered assurances that this commission will work out [the issues] and that specific problems affecting [Russian] schools and theaters will be resolved," the minister said. Lavrov noted that Moscow has repeatedly expressed concerns over Turkmenistan's failure to honor its agreements with Russia pertaining to the protection of the rights of the Russian-speaking residents in that country. "We are maintaining an open and frank dialogue with [the Turkmen authorities] and want them both to resume the work of the citizenship commission and to provide opportunities for teaching the Russian language, receiving Russian periodicals, and so on," Lavrov said. Asked whether Moscow could impose sanctions on Turkmenistan if it does not improve the observance of human rights, Lavrov said, "Sanctions are definitely a tool in the world [political] practice, but in calculating our steps we need to be guided not by emotions but by the real effect that they could produce." "Venting your anger is one thing but achieving the desired result is another. I do not think that the automatic imposition of sanctions would be a good solution to the problem," he said. (Interfax)

Niyazov, Kuchma Discuss Bilateral Ties
27 April 2004

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma discussed bilateral cooperation by telephone on 27 April, Interfax reported the next day, citing Niyazov's press service. The two leaders paid particular attention to implementation of a bilateral agreement on supplying Turkmen gas to Ukraine. They voiced "satisfaction with the development of partnership in this sphere and strict compliance with commitments in fuel delivery and payment," the press service said. Niyazov and Kuchma expressed "mutual interest in strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation and voiced confidence that it will develop to the advantage of both countries." They also "exchanged opinions on certain aspects of CIS activities," the press service said. (Interfax)

Niyazov Plans Horse Race To Promote World Peace
26 April 2004

Turkmen President Niyazov announced a plan to promote world peace by organizing a horse race to take place on five continents, AFP and RTR reported on 26 April. Turkmenistan's "Neitralny Turkmenistan" daily on 26 April said Niyazov announced his plan while meeting with foreign diplomats in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. Niyazov's announcement came as Turkmenistan was celebrating Horse Day, one of many festivals the president introduced after appointing himself Turkmenistan's leader for life in 1999. Few details of the plan for the five-continent race were released. (AFP, RTR)

In Northern Turkmenistan, Residents Thirst For Clean Drinking Water
28 April 2004

By Antoine Blua

In an annual address marking Turkmenistan's Water Day earlier this month, President Saparmurat Niyazov called on citizens to protect water resources as a national treasure.

The call comes in a country that is 80 percent desert. Decades of intensive cotton farming have drained freshwater reserves and caused the salinization of the Amudarya River, which provided drinking water for Dashoguz Province.

Arslan Berdiyev is a project officer of the United Nations children's fund (UNICEF) in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. He says consumption of the high-saline water in Dashoguz has put the health of the local population at risk.

"The root cause of [the salinization of the Amudarya] is the discharge of drainage water both from Turkmen and Uzbekistan's territories. [Salinated] water from the Amudarya River affects the health of the people both in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan."

Drinking salinated water can result in kidney stones and other ailments, a result of the salts that over time build up in human tissue. Berdiyev says only about 20 percent of the 1.2 million people living in Dashoguz Province have access to clean drinking water.

According to some estimates, up to 40 percent of the population living in the Aral Sea region suffers from kidney problems.

The area includes Dashoguz, Uzbekistan's Khorezm Province and the Karakalpakstan Republic. It also extends to Kazakhstan's Kzyl-Orda and South Aral provinces, which suffer from the growing salinization of Central Asia's second key freshwater resource, the Syrdarya River.

Aleksandr Dodonov, Turkmenistan's former minister for water issues, acknowledges that salinization is a growing problem.

"The lack of normal drinking water influences immensely the health of the people in the Dashoguz region. It causes infectious diseases like hepatitis and [allows] its spread. There are no clear statistics about the spread of this disease. But there is no doubt about its existence."

One way to purge the Amudarya eventually of drainage and salt is to evaporate water from the drainage network in confined areas, rather than allowing the contaminants to enter the river and contaminate freshwater. Currently, an estimated 40 percent of drainage water in the Amudarya River basin returns to the river network, making the water more and more saline.

Mahmood ul-Hassan works at the Central Asian office of the nonprofit International Water Management Institute in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

"[Turkmenistan's] ground water is naturally saline," he said. "So you don't have any alternative unless you desalinize it. Or you can have access to [the Amudarya River's] water, which is already saline because upstream countries discharge their drainage effluent into river systems. So this water becomes successively more saline as it goes towards lower areas. And unfortunately, Turkmenistan is located much downstream."

Turkmen state standards consider water saline when one liter contains more than one gram of salt. According to Berdiyev, salinity can reach 1.6 grams per liter in the Amudarya during dry periods.

The UNICEF officer says clean drinking water can best be provided by establishing a centralized supply system where water can be treated, filtered, and chlorinated before being supplied to the local population.

"The government can develop a special action plan for the Dashoguz [Province] and provide the population with safe water through the construction of new piped water supply systems with desalinization [systems], not a simple water treatment [system]," he said.

But Hassan of the International Water Management Institute notes that such programs require huge investments -- something Turkmenistan can hardly afford.

"As far as Turkmenistan is concerned, if it receives saline water, what can it do? [Meeting] required standards [for drinking water] is quite expensive," he said. "The cost is something like 45 cents per cubic meter. The cost of desalinizing water is huge."

Hassan says the entire region would best be served by setting up an integrated water-management system that would create a unified effort to treat water as the precious resource it has become.

To that end, an Interstate Coordinating Water Commission was established over a decade ago, in 1992. But so far the Central Asian republics have failed to reach consensus on a region-wide system for managing their water resources. (RFE/RL)