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Last Updated: Friday, 22 October, 2004, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
'Environment threat' to Caucasus
Tank and crowd in Tbilisi   BBC
The region is littered with former munitions
Disputes over natural resources and the extent of environmental degradation may worsen tension in parts of the southern Caucasus, an international team says.

A report by the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe says old weaponry is another problem.

It says rapidly swelling numbers in the area's capitals and how to share water resources are key regional concerns.

But the report also says environmental problems can be a catalyst for security if the political will is forthcoming.

Environmental stress and change could undermine security in the three South Caucasian countries
Frits Schlingemann, Unep
The report is entitled Environment And Security: Transforming Risks Into Cooperation - The Case Of The Southern Caucasus.

It was prepared by the OSCE, the United Nations Development Programme and the UN Environment Programme.

The report says environmental degradation and access to natural resources could deepen contention in areas of existing conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions of Azerbaijan.

Hopeful signs

It says the militarised situation also hampers waste management and disposal, and the maintenance and renovation of irrigation and hydroelectric dams, constraining economic growth.

But it says environmental cooperation can be a basis for international peace-building, and for post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction.

Mount Ararat behind Yerevan   BBC
Mount Ararat overlooks a troubled Caucasus
The report says "a convincing body of work" has shown that countries are likelier to cooperate than to fight over control of international river basins.

Frits Schlingemann, director of Unep's European office, said: "The assessment demonstrated that in the worst case environmental stress and change could undermine security in the three South Caucasian countries.

"However, sound environmental management and technical co-operation could also be a means for strengthening security while promoting sustainable development if the three governments would decide to do so."

Shared worries

The report forms part of a wider effort, the Environment and Security (Envsec) Initiative, which is run jointly by the three agencies in the Caucasus, south-eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The report concentrates on what it says are three areas of common concern for Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia:

  • environmental degradation and access to natural resources in areas of conflict
  • management of cross-border environmental concerns including water resources, natural hazards, and industrial and military legacies
  • population growth and rapid development in capital cities.
The report says the methods and effectiveness of agreeing how to share water resources - both surface and underground and including the Caspian and Black Seas - are key concerns.

It is also worried about the disposal of abandoned Soviet weapons and chemicals and the reclamation of contaminated lands in the region.

Emerging problems

Kalman Mizsei of UNDP said: "The Southern Caucasus countries are confronted by similar social, political and economic transformations that are altering century-old relationships within and between them, and shaping their development.

Vehicle fires rocket   BBC
Campaigners are worried about the disposal of weapons
"Each of these transformations both has an impact on and could be affected by the state of the natural environment."

Roy Reeve, the head of the OSCE mission to Georgia, said: "We are facing a variety of non-traditional threats to security posed by socio-economic and environmental issues.

"The OSCE has a duty to identify these threats... The ENVSEC Initiative... is assisting us in fulfilling this mandate."

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