The first meeting of the Kazakh-Russia commission for the preservation of the ecosystem of the transborder Ural River took place in Moscow. Representatives of ministries, agencies, parliamentary members, scientists and public figures of the two countries participated in it. The parties discussed state of affairs and prospects for the development of the Ural River ecosystem and came to the conclusion that this problem is significant for the whole Eurasian sub-region. Regulations on the joint commission and an action plan of improving the river's ecosystem and preventing transborder pollution of the Ural were adopted at the meeting.
One of the most beautiful rivers of Europe and Asia geographically divides the two continents. It flows through three Russian regions – Bashkortostan, the Orenburg and Chelyabinsk regions – and three Kazakh regions – the Aktyubinsk, West Kazakhstan and Atyrau regions.
"The growth of the industrial sector in the Chelyabinsk and Orenburg regions of the Russian Federation led to the construction of 80 hydroelectric complexes with capital facilities along the Ural River. Moreover, 3,100 earth dams that were randomly constructed on all small rivers do irreparable damage to the river basin. The development of oil and gas sphere in the West Kazakhstan and Atyrau regions of Kazakhstan is another negative element in the deterioration of the river's environmental situation. Protected streamside forest is dying, biodiversity is shrinking, and relict plants and animals are on the brink of extinction," director of the Steppe Institute at the Urals Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), corresponding member of the RAS, PhD in geography Alexander Chibilyov said.
Russia and Kazakhstan have been discussing environmental problems of the Ural River for many years. The two countries signed an agreement on the preservation of the ecosystem of the transborder Ural River in October 2016. The document provided for joint actions to improve the river's ecosystem and to prevent its transborder pollution. The parties agreed to use new technologies and to support cooperation between scientific and public organizations for preserving the Ural River ecosystem.
Employees of the regional public organization Taza Bulak, based in Uralsk, believe that saving the Ural River means saving the Caspian Sea and preventing it from repeating the fate of the Aral Sea. The Aral Sea started to dry out in 1960-s, when Central Asian Soviet republics, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, started to actively develop agriculture, in particular cotton farming. Water through irrigation canals was taken from the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers that flow into the Aral Sea. As a result of constantly increasing amount of taken water, the Aral Sea had grown shallow and shrunk dozens of kilometers turning into two separate water basins by 2009. Salt from the dried-out sea is spread all over the planet, including the South and North Poles, which has a major influence on the melting of eternal ice thus impacting the planet's climate. People who live in the Aral Sea region are subject to cancer and endocrine diseases, as well as tuberculosis, because of the worsening environmental situation.
The main scientific task is to stabilize the situation in the Aral Sea area according to main indices. At the initial stage (2011-2015) the situation in the region was studied and the costs of events to improve operative management of water flow, to clean the riverbed and to prevent the silting of the river's bottom were evaluated. At the second stage (2016-2920) measures to decrease pollution of water by public utilities and industrial enterprises will be taken.
Scientists believe that this problem requires not only thorough examination but also increasing the level of environmental awareness of people living on the river's banks. Industrial enterprises pollute water with pesticides and heavy metal compounds, while people with waste products. This has become a powerful anthropogenic factor that influences the ecosystem of the Ural River. Today, it is necessary to take all possible measures to prevent an environmental disaster.