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Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (CANWFZ) established 20 years after President Karimov’s initiative

By Dave Armstrong - 03 Jul 2014 9:9:0 GMT
Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (CANWFZ) established 20 years after President Karimov’s initiative

A tree's lonely struggle for survival. The steppes of Central Asia, from the Aral Sea to the mighty mountains of the Tien Shan see many threats from cold winters, dry summers and the remnant radionuclides of the large Soviet nuclear testing facilities. With a nuclear weapon free zone, the five republics should now be able to rehabilitate their land with help from UNEP and other international resources; steppe image; Credit: © Shutterstock

The announcement on May 6th 2014 by the 5 nuclear powers that there will be no weapon use or deployment in central Asia was the culmination of many years' work. President Karimov of Uzbekistan first tabled a motion at the UN in 1993, but with the Uzbeks then still members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation with Russia (until 2012), there was some reluctance to cooperate.

The earth's nuclear free zones are of interest to us because they indicate some increased security, despite the possibilities of nuclear power station leaks and the use of other weapons. The world can rest easier it seems, in Latin America and the Caribbean (Tlatelolco since 1967), in the South Pacific (Treaty of Rarotonga, 1985), in Southeast Asia (Treaty of Bangkok, 1995) and in Africa (Treaty of Pelindaba, 1996). War continues in various forms in Africa and elsewhere, proving unfortunately that both human and wild environments are increasingly and more thoroughly destroyed in warfare.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in particular have struggled had to avoid the nuclear legacy of the Soviet Union. The great expanses of the Kazakh steppes were the site of many nuclear weapons installations. The Semipalatinsk testing area where 459 nuclear tests were performed during the Cold War years, created a continuing cost in the lives and health of millions. All five of the Central Asian republics have followed the secure path of peaceful and creative development away from their terrible legacy of radionuclide contamination and an equally degrading use of land resources. The loss of the Aral Sea was the result of Soviet agricultural policies that wasted its 2 supply rivers on giant monocultures of cotton and other "thirsty" crops, when food might have provided the greater community benefit. We covered this immense problem in the article, Loss of Aral Sea.

The northern part of the Sea has now been restored to some extent, but without huge international input, the southern areas seem to be lost and highly polluted for the foreseeable future. A recent study claimed that the Aral Sea has been dry several times before, but the authors don't seem to have any corroboration from fellow scientists.

Uzbekistan, with a single president since independence, has consistently managed to support communities in the beleaguered desert-like areas and sought to combat situations that encourage violent engagement such as the Afghan war that has influenced the whole region. President Islam Karimov was the instigator of the model of coalition government in Afghanistan and an arms embargo that helped achieve national reconciliation in 1995.

The key to Central Asia seems to be environmental and socio-economic sustainability, rather like our other ecological problems on earth. The Central Asian nuclear weapon free zone or CANFWZ suggested at the UN by President Karimov in 1993 and supported by the unanimous Almaty Declaration in 1997 is now finally in existence, with nuclear powers set to incorporate their individual views in the near future. Given the nuclear pollution and the many other environmental problems, the move must be seen as the best news towards a more total environmental improvement programme in all five nations.

The consequences of nuclear testing are far-reaching in both time and distance. Residues in the earth and atmospheric pollution can only now begin to be measured accurately because reliable figures can hardly be expected from the time of testing. After ratification in 2009, the CANFWZ Treaty of 18 articles will hopefully stand out as the first to have had nuclear explosions. Ecological and radiation security is essential to environmental rehabilitation in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

We spend so much time looking at species, their extinction, and their habitats that we often forget to use our latest technologies for the best reasons. Checking and discovering data on environmental contamination will reveal many reasons for our own health problems as well as those special indicators -----– our fellow organisms on this small planet. We wish the Central Asian republics the very best in their rehabilitation of lands and their peaceful future!