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:: Caspian Environment Program (CEP) by GEF-UNDP ::
The Caspian Environment Programme (CEP) performed a Caspian Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA). A TDA is a scientific and technical assessment of the water-related environmental issues and problems, their causes, and impacts, both environmental and economic, at national, regional and global levels, taking into account the social-economic, political and institutional systems within each riparian country.
The Caspian Sea major environmental issues include:

The Caspian Sea is rich in marine fish of commercial value. The Sea is world famous due to the presence of a unique specie of sturgeon which is of commercial value due to its black caviar and very tasty meat (link to Biodiversity, Commercially valuable species, Fish). At its peak, the Caspian supplied more than 80% of the world’s sturgeon stock. These fish species, which are living fossils, are now on the verge of extinction due to reduction of reproduction grounds, overfishing and water pollution by pesticides, heavy metals and oil products. In recent years, sturgeon landings have decreased dramatically: from 30,000 tons in 1985 to only 5,672 tons in 1995. A quota system, introduced together with a temporary ban on pelagic fishing, does not appear to have been effective in reviving the dwindling fish populations. The majority of sturgeon population is now supported artificially. While fishing methods have clearly become more efficient and overfishing has occurred, one of the most severe threat to the sturgeon and other anadromous species is thought to arise from the construction of numerous dams on the Volga and Kura rivers. These dams bar fish from their primary spawning areas. Due to high levels of water pollution, sturgeons suffer from various diseases such as hepatoxical hypoxiya (muscle blistering). Poaching has dramatically increased during recent years and is thought to be among the main causes for the population decline of the sturgeon.
 
 
Water-level fluctuations is a natural cyclic phenomena which causes serious consequences for the region. Water-level fluctuations have been known to displace thousands of people, destroy investments in industry and infrastructure and cause severe pollution threats via inundation of coastal waste sites.
 
 
The Volga River, the largest in Europe, drains 20% of the European land area and is the source of 80% of the Caspian’s freshwater inflow. Its overall contribution to the Caspian may have diminished somewhat over the years due to extensive dam construction. Its lower reaches are heavily developed with numerous unregulated releases of chemical and biological pollutants. Although existing data is sparse and of questionable quality, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Volga is one of the principal sources of transboundary contaminants into the Caspian.
 
The Caspian basin is rich in commercially developable hydrocarbon deposits. There are significant numbers of oil and gas producing industries and new exploration activity is under way. Oil and oil products generate constant traffic that has been estimated to total approximately 10,000 shipping movements annually. The magnitude of oil and gas extraction and transport activity thus constitutes a risk to water quality. Underwater oil and gas pipelines have been constructed or proposed, increasing potential environmental threats. Commercial activity (fishing fleets, passenger, dry goods and other cargo traffic) utilizes the Caspian en route to the Black Sea or the Baltic via the Volga-Don canal system. This combined traffic has a number of possible impacts on the Caspian's environmental integrity. For example, the Volga-Don connection poses a threat in the form of introduction of exotic species through ballast waters inter alia, and stringent measures may be needed to prevent this threat.
 
 
 
Social and Economic Issues
 
1. An estimated human population of approximately 11 million is distributed around the Caspian shoreline. The main urban centres of population are concentrated on the western and southern shores. Coastal provinces in Iran and Azerbaijan, in particular, dominate the demography of the Caspian.
 
2. The current annual Gross National Products (GNP) per capita of the Caspian States are: Azerbaijan US$1240; Iran US$1255; Kazakhstan US$2030; Russia US$3470; Turkmenistan US$1440.
 
3. Principal economic activities in the Caspian basin include fisheries, agriculture, oil and gas production, and related downstream industries. At their peak, revenues to the riparian countries from sturgeon, including caviar, were as much as US$6 billion annually. Rice, vegetable cultivation and cattle and sheep husbandry are the prime agricultural activities in the catchment area. Oil exploration and production are increasing along all shelves of the Caspian by all countries, and are already well established in the Baku (onshore and offshore) and Tenghiz (onshore) regions. Oil production is expected to increase dramatically during the next few decades.
 
Legislative Issues
 
1. An international legal framework for cooperation in protection and sustainable use of the Caspian natural resources is seen as a major, overarching component of regional cooperation at large. An urgent need for a cooperative framework is evident from an ecological point of view, as clearly identified by the littoral states.
 
2. UNEP has assisted the region in developing the basic elements for a Framework Convention for the Protection and Sustainable Management of the Caspian Environment and its Resources. The Framework Convention is to include pollution prevention, reduction and control; protection, preservation and restoration of the marine environment; procedures to fulfill the obligations contained in a Framework Convention; and formation of the Organization for the Protection of the Sustainable Management of the Caspian Environment and its Resources. Work is proceeding to develop a final draft Framework Convention for consideration by the Caspian states in January 1999.
 
Institutional Issues
 
1. The statutory, administrative and procedural capabilities for multi-national regional environmental administration and management in the Caspian are not uniformly strong. Some countries are only now adopting laws for environmental management. Effective implementation of these new standards remains a task for the future. Administrative structures may be biased towards inspection, policing and enforcement rather than education, information and compliance. Strong differences exist between states, with some states (for instance, Iran) comparatively more advanced than others.
 
2. The Environmental Impact Assessment Process, or its equivalent, is a legal requirement in the majority of the Caspian countries. However, the manner in which it is applied, particularly the scoping process and provisions for follow up, is not systematic between states.
 
3. In contrast, national capabilities in environmental administration, research, monitoring and data collection are generally adequate throughout the region and, in parts, strong. In the past, some research institutions have operated on their own initiative rather than in response to the needs of policy-makers, planners and managers. There is also a widespread inability to market scientific expertise and to translate scientific results for policy makers. The links between science and policy are presently weak and should be strengthened by a regional program.
 
http://www.caspianenvironment.org/newsite/images/ar.gif9. Legal Regulatory and Economic Instruments
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:: Urmia lake crisis is mostly because of lack of Inclusive Growth approach in Iran ::
Dear Dr Farzin
Salaam
As I learned in UNDP-IG workshops, IG has 4 components (economic, sociological, environmental and good governance). Usually in the developing countries, economic component of the development would be considered more(for achieving rapid growth). Most of environmental crisis and disasters would be happened after such a rapid growth and unbalanced development. Based on the existing studies and reports (and also time series of satellite images), during the last 2 decades (since 1995 till now), area of Urmia Lake has been reduced to about one third of its natural condition (from 6000 square kilometers to almost 2000 km^2). It is very interesting that this issue is concide with the development plans of Iran government especially after the Iraq’s war.
 
Main activities or causative factors in the basin of Urmia Lake are as the followings:
-         Sectoral planning (lack of integrated planning) and trying to improve livelihood condition of the local communities mostly by agricultural development (during 3 decades after Islamic revolution in Iran, the area of the arable lands in the basin has become 3 times; from 150000 ha to 450000 ha).
-         Dam construction in upstream (so far 72 dams are under operation and 20 more dams are under study & design) for domestic and irrigation water supply.
-         Over explotation of under ground water by drilling illegal wells (drilling wells without getting government permission). Nowadays, more than 53000 illegal wells are exist in the basin. Some of them are around the wetlands (fresh water near to Urmia lake) and are extracting/draining fresh water from wetlands so there is more intrusion of salin water from the lake to groun water resources.
-         Because of some consideration, crop pattern has been chaged from grape (that needs less water) to apple and “Sugar beet” (which needs more water).
-         Partitioning of the lake by road construction in the middle part of the lake (which has caused changes in hydrologic regime of the lake and as a result, changing chemical sedimentation phenomenon of the lake minerals).  
-         Land use change (destruction of the rangelands) and Land degradation in upstream so less potential for infiltration and ground water recharge.
-         In addition to human activities and intervention, few natural factors such as Climate change and drought has accelerated the crisis by reducing the input to the lake and more evaporation from the lake surface because of shallow water depth and increased temperature.
 
Because of the critical condition in the region (dust and salt storm which is very dangerous and harmful for the people), Government is willing to find a quick solutions for restoration of almost dried lake.
 
Scientists believes that ecosystem, ecology and hydrology of Urmia lake is very complex and unknown so any restoration plan for it should be prepared very carefully and after doing required studies/researches, data collection and also developing proper simulation to evaluate the result of any action in the upstream basin or in the lake, itself.
 
I am very worry about the quick decision of government in portioning of the lake bed for temporary restoration (step by step partitioning of lake bed and providing required water for restoration without considering its ecological and environmental consequences). Although everybody says that an integrated approach should be considered in this process but because of political will, I am afraid we will face with a bigger and more serious and costly crisis in near future (I am sure it will have a lot of regional negative side effects and if we consider migration of the birds, it will have globally effects as well).
 
Since one of the main duties of UNDP is in the field of capacity building and knowledge sharing so I think UNDP should consider this issue seriously and try to convince/aware high policy/decision makers about the consequences of such interventions or quick plans.
 
Best regards
 Seyed Abolfazl Mirghasemi

Dear Mr Mirghassemi,
Thankyou for your very informative comments on Lake Urmia – and I also realize that you are now somehow part of the Lake Urmia task force. We in UNDP fully agree that the basis of such problems in today globalized world is lack of inclusive growth planning – and the push for sole wealth creation without due regard for social and environment consequences. We have also previously discussed/developed together such ideas and solutions while you were NPD of MENARID (and these have now been adopted by the project/FRWO). Please do provide us with your views on very specific ways in which we can introduce inclusive growth methods, solutions, programmes and mechanisms into the Lake Urmia initiative – that may help to ensure sustainability of the broader watershed (perhaps and especially participatory water harvesting methods). The impression I get is that the focus of the task force is still on physical dimensions and water usage in production – while inclusive growth planning frameworks and related mechanisms may perhaps prove more useful.
Regards
Ali Farzin
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انجمن سیستم های سطوح آبگیر باران ایران Iranian Rainwater Catchment Systems Association
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