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Uzbekistan commits to improving water and health governance and safe management of industrial and tailings facilities, with support from UNECE and Switzerland

Uzbekistan commits to improving water and health governance and safe management of industrial and tailings facilities, with support from UNECE and Switzerland

Uzbekistan project launch

Today, a new project to be implemented by UNECE with the support of Switzerland was launched in Tashkent, underscoring Uzbekistan's commitment to improving water and health governance and safe management of industrial and tailing facilities.  

Uzbekistan, the most populous Central Asian country, faces significant challenges in the water sector. Access to water and sanitation services is relatively low, with stark geographical disparities: WHO/UNICEF reports that 71% of the rural population has access to safe drinking water as compared with 89% in urban areas, with only 32% of domestic wastewater safely treated. This, combined with inefficient water use and social inequalities, hinders social development and human rights and contributes to pollution.  

The situation is further complicated by the growth of Uzbekistan’s mining industry which is a key economic driver but also comes with potential environmental risks. As a result of the mining activities, large amounts of hazardous waste are generated, which are generally stored in tailings management facilities (TMFs). TMFs can pose high risks to societies and the environment, especially if poorly constructed or maintained. Managing these risks requires strong national governance and regional cooperation to prevent failures and their disastrous consequences, including water pollution, and to mitigate any potential adverse effects, should such accidents occur. Uzbekistan has a total of 41 TMFs. 

Climate change exacerbates these challenges through disasters like floods and droughts, limiting access to safely managed WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) and increasing risks of infrastructure damage and Natech (natural hazards triggered technological) disasters. 

To support the Government of Uzbekistan in tackling these issues, the project Strengthening Action in Uzbekistan on Water and Sanitation and Protection of Water Resources from Accidental Pollution in the face of Climate Change will be implemented by UNECE until the end of 2026, with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). It is a joint project between two multilateral environmental agreements: the UNECE-WHO/Europe Protocol on Water and Health and the UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents. Notably, Uzbekistan joined the Protocol on Water and Health as Party on 26 December 2023, therefore becoming the first country in Central Asia to join this treaty. At today’s meeting, Uzbekistan agreed on further steps to implement the obligations of the Protocol and to progress towards accession to the Industrial Accidents Convention. 

At the event, Uzbekistan committed to conduct a baseline analysis of the situation with water, sanitation, hygiene and health and initiate the development of draft targets under the Protocol on Water and Health. the government also agreed to take further steps towards the establishment of an Inter-Institutional Working Group on Tailings Safety and Prevention of Accidental Water Pollution in Uzbekistan, and identified challenges, needs, and opportunities in the management of tailings facilities. Moreover, concrete steps to facilitate Uzbekistan’s accession to the Industrial Accidents Convention were agreed, including the development of a national road map for accession. With this the country progresses in the implementation of its 2019 concept on environmental protection until 2030, which foresees accession to the Convention. To date, Kazakhstan is the only Party to the Convention in Central Asia. 

UNECE Deputy Executive Secretary Dmitry Mariyasin stressed: “UNECE, through its multilateral environmental agreements, offers solutions to support Uzbekistan in addressing pressing challenges surrounding water resources. The project will allow Uzbekistan to fully benefit from implementing the provisions of the two agreements and that it will trigger joint and coordinated action by key ministries and authorities working on environment, water resource management and industrial safety.” 

Switzerland is supporting this important new project in the context of its longstanding engagement in the region in promoting effective water resources management and responding to the impact of climate change. Ms. Rahel Boesch, Deputy Head of Mission/Head of Cooperation, Embassy of Switzerland in Uzbekistan “Water is a precious resource but due to demographic growth and fast economic developments, including mining, the water resources are threatened. While the availability and quality of water are decreasing, the needs are increasing in Uzbekistan. This makes coordinated action an absolute must and Switzerland is committed to reducing water stress, sustainable practices and strengthen resilience against climate change. Switzerland is proud to be partnering for this new project with UNECE and the relevant Uzbek ministries.” 

The two-day event comprises a high-level launch, and technical meetings on WASH, industrial safety and the revision of wastewater standards in Uzbekistan. The event is attended by 60 participants, comprised of representatives from national authorities, civil society, other UN agencies present in the country and partner organizations.  

“In order to realize the key priority of the Government of Uzbekistan of ensuring health of the present and future generations, we should aim at adopting an integrated approach to issues related to water, environment and health,” said Mr. Ilhom Juraev, Director of the Information-Analytical and Resource Center under the Ministry of Water Resources of Uzbekistan. “I believe that this project will serve as a catalyser of such approach.” 

Mr. Bahtiyor Pulatov, Director of Scientific Research Institute of Ecology and Environmental Protection at the Ministry of Ecology stressed: “Water quality and public health issues are a priority for Uzbekistan, this is why Uzbekistan takes concrete measures in this respect. The Ministry of Ecology is glad to see that special attention is paid to subregional cooperation and cooperation with different national authorities. Due to its cross-sectoral nature, the project and planned activities will require the involvement and coordinated work of all ministries and agencies involved."  

Mr. Sherzod Akhmedov, Ministry of Emergency Situations of Uzbekistan, recalled important previous work supported by UNECE in Uzbekistan: “The Industrial Accidents Convention helped Uzbekistan to improve industrial safety, notably, subregional cooperation as well as cooperation with operators. Thanks to the completed work, Uzbekistan mapped and identified risks of tailing management facilities, including transboundary ones. Additionally, the national capacities on prevention of, preparedness and response to industrial accidents have been strengthened along with the exchange of the information on hazardous facilities with neighbouring countries.” 

UN Resident Coordinator ad interim, Ms. Sara Noshadi, stressed the importance of a coordinated approach and welcomed UNECE’s active contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

Countries: Uzbekistan

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