Environmental degradation and competition for natural resources could sharpen disputes in areas of the southern Caucasus already mired in conflicts, warns a United Nations report released today in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.
The militarized situation in such places as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent regions of Azerbaijan also hampers waste management and disposal, and the maintenance and renovation of irrigation and hydroelectric dams, leading to stifled economic growth, according to the report, Environment and Security: Transforming Risks into Cooperation – The Case of the Southern Caucasus.
Prepared by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the study examines both the negative affect of conflict in the region as well as the opportunities environmental issues present for cooperation and confidence building.
Access to natural resources in conflict areas, management of cross-border environmental problems and the rapid development of the capital cities of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are some of the concerns highlighted in the new report, part of a wider effort called the Environment and Security Initiative, run jointly by OSCE, UNEP and UNDP.
The report finds that the quality and mechanisms for sharing transboundary water resources – both surface and underground, and including the Caspian and Black Seas – are key concerns for all three countries, as is the disposal of abandoned Soviet weapons, chemicals and reclamation of contaminated lands.
“The assessment demonstrated that in the worst case, environmental stress and change could undermine security in the three South Caucasian countries,” said Frits Schlingemann, Director of UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe.
“However, sound environmental management and technical cooperation could also be a means for strengthening security while promoting sustainable development if the three Governments would decide to do so,” he added.