Scientific Expedition "From Glaciers to the Aral Sea"

Duration of the project: 1 – 20 August 2018

Financial support: Swiss development and cooperation organization and CAREC

Background/History: The Aral Sea basin covers 5 Central Asian states - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and northern part of Afghanistan. Climate change, population growth, outdated infrastructure, complicated socio-economic conditions, and a deficient legislative base exacerbate the existing critical situation regarding water management in Central Asia.

The countries of Central Asia (CA) are gradually introducing the principles of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in their practice of public administration by shifting water management systems from administrative to hydrographical boundaries, developing strategies of implementing IWRM at all levels, establishing basin councils, etc. Currently the countries are actively working on promotion of IWRM principles both at the national and regional levels. In this context, it is important not only to involve all the Aral Sea basin states to the dialogue and joint decision-making on shared rivers, but also to consider various aspects of water use and different stakeholders in the long-term planning.

During the last decade a significant decrease in the interest of young people towards engaging in science and research was noticed mainly due to overall poor perspectives, including low salaries in the engineering and scientific sector, laborious work and limited perspective of recognition.

However, due to the transboundary character of Central Asian rivers and the interdisciplinary and interdependent character of water-related issues of Central Asia, common understanding of the joint water systems is essential in promoting knowledge-based water management in the region. Thus, measures to increase the attraction of science and research for youth need to be developed. The activities under this project should contribute to raise awareness and attract scientific research on water-related issues in Central Asia.

Objectives: Specific objectives of the project were:

-    To enhance scientific capacity of students of CA through the introduction with implementing projects and case studies along the expedition route.

-    To build practical skills in conducting field research among young water specialists.

-    To explore natural, social, economic conditions and key factors of water management of upstream and downstream countries of Central Asia.

-    To raise awareness about social and economic conditions (NEXUS) of the societies living in the Aral Sea basin region by interviewing them and surveying their lifestyle and historical interconnectedness along the route

-    To strengthen regional cooperation among young water scientists of Central Asia through conducting joint research, publications and networking.

-    To provide opportunity for young scientists to publish and present on the international conferences the expedition results to global scientific community.

-    To promote water science attractiveness and raise interest in natural sciences among young generation.

Implementation of activities:

The project implementation was divided into three main parts activities: before, during and after the Expedition. Activities prior the Expedition included: Participants selection process; determination of research topics, students-supervisor‘s acclimation; expedition route development. During the Expedition survey, lectures, excursion, meetings were held. Short interviews were collected along the way, for radio & social media dissemination to raise awareness of the situation in the regions, outside the main cities for filling the potential gaps of quality of life, and the physical and environmental understanding between city and rural areas. Students made and disseminated flyers with different messages and info graphics along the themes they developed. For 21 day participants crossed 4 countries, visited more than 30 different water related sites (dams, lakes, glaciers, hydrological facilities, project sites, farms, etc.), attended meeting with representatives of IARC, IFAS, BAIS and other local and international organizations. Post expedition activities included finalization of the research work, conduction of a webinar with supervisors, and the presentation of the study results on relevant (international) events in the region (including CAREC CAMP4ASB Climate Conference in April 2019, World mountain Forum 2018, CAWa - International Water and Land Symposium, Eighth session of the Meeting of the Parties to the UNECE Water Convention, etc.) as well as on social media networks, newspapers and other community activities.

Participants: In total, 25 undergraduate, graduate and PhD students and young researchers from 6 countries of Central Asia, including Afghanistan, took part in the expeditions: 11 scientists in 2018 and 14 scientists in 2019.