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Central Asia: Summit On Aral Sea Disaster Opens Tomorrow

By Edige Magauin

Almaty, 27 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Leaders of five Central Asian states will meet tomorrow in the Kazakh capital Almaty to discuss the plight of the Aral Sea, scene of one of the world's worst ecological disasters.

Our correspondent reports Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who currently heads the International Aral Sea Salvation Foundation, will report on present projects to improve the situation.

The issue of member states' dues is also expected to be discussed. At a 1993 meeting of the Central Asian presidents, they agreed that each member state would pay 0,3 percent of its national income for Aral Sea projects. But so far no country has completely paid its dues.

The Aral Sea's ecological problems date back to the 1960s, when the Soviet leadership decided to divert the Amu Darya and Syr Daria rivers to irrigate cotton fields in the Soviet Central Asian republics. As a result the shoreline of the Aral Sea, once the world's fourth largest lake, began shrinking leaving in its stead a sea of sand.