Uzbekistan joined other states in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe on April 12 to sign an agreement on eliminating old pesticide stocks with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, and the European Union.
Over a four-year period, the FAO and EU will provide seven million euro to these states to help them destroy obsolete pesticides, design new legislation to control chemicals, and make farmers more aware of the risks.
It is unclear what proportion of the money will go to Uzbekistan, which has large stocks of toxic pesticides. The government estimates that over 14,000 tons are held in storage, although a lobbying group, the International HCH & Pesticides Association, puts the figure at 40,000 tons.
At the moment the chemicals are held in 13 underground dumps across the country. The 40-year old sites flood every spring, creating a risk that the chemicals will seep into the subsoil.
An official with the government’s nature conservation service said on condition of anonymity that there were no resources to deal with the chemical dumps.
"Everyone understands what needs to be done and how to do it, but there is no budget allocation for pesticide destruction," he said.
Pesticides were used intensively in Soviet Uzbekistan from the 1940s to the 1960s, and the republic had over 450 airstrips for crop-spraying planes. By the early 1970s, DDT had been banned in the Soviet Union, but pesticides continued to be used in Central Asia, especially in cotton-growing areas.
In the mid 1990s, chemicals were removed from storage areas on crop-spraying airfields and other collection points, and were placed into underground concrete bunkers.
Uzbek scientists say farmland continues to be polluted with chloride-based pesticides far beyond the permissible limits. No work is being done to decontaminate these areas, and the role of the nature protection agency is restricted to monitoring.
Experts say international donors should now press the Uzbek government to become more serious about resolving this environmental problem.
The nature protection agency official says the authorities must first ratify the Stockholm convention on protecting people and environments from the impact of persistent pollutants. To date, the government has failed to sign various international agreements because of the costs that would entail.
As one environmentalist in Tashkent put it, "The authorities are relying solely on getting external assistance to eliminated landfills and dumps.”
This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.
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