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Press release – Aralsk, Kazakhstan on June 18 2008
Historical day at the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan
- NGO Aral Tenizi, Aralsk, Kazakhstan, and The Danish Society for a Living Sea
- It is unbelievable that we should come to experience this day says fisherman Batyrkhan Prikeev, president of the Kazakh environmental and fishery organisation Aral Tenizi. – I was only a small boy when the sea disappeared, and it became a part of out identity that we had lost it. Now, the water will soon be back at my village Karateren, and we are again catching fish on the Aral Sea.
On the 19th of June, Batyrkhan Prikeev will celebrate the fact that the Northern part of the Aral Sea is almost re-established. Together with the Kazakhstani prime minister Karim Masimov and the president of the World Bank Bob Zoellick, the Aral fishermen and local authorities will mark the occasion of the successful completion of the first phase of the SYNAS-project (Syr Darya Control and Northern Aral Sea). The ceremony takes place on the dam across the Berg Strait, which is the most visible result of the efforts of the Kazakhstani government and the World Bank to re-establish the Northern Aral Sea. (The first phase of the SYNAS-project also included improvement and restoration of the canal systems along the Syr Darya river, as well as a new water resource management).
While the water level in the NAS has now been heightened and stabilized, the second phase of the SYNAS-project will bring back water in the harbour of Aralsk, whose stranded vessels and unemployed cranes for many years have created a tragic setting for the daily life as well as the impression of the many visitors from abroad.
Batyrkhan Prikeev is the chairman of the independent NGO Aral Tenizi (”The Aral Sea”), which has worked for the reestablishment of the fishery on the NAS since it was opened in 1998.
- It is an historic day for us, says Batyrkhan Prikeev, but it is also a sad day, because we have to say goodbye to our Danish friends. Luckily, we are now strong enough to bring the development further. The fishery is much better organized today, and we are selling fish in both Russia and Uzbekistan, while new processing factories are shooting up across the region.
The first initiatives in the rehabilitation of the NAS fishery were made in the early and mid 1990s by the Danish NGO “The Danish Society for a Living Sea”. In 1996, a trial fishery was conducted and since then the project “From Kattegat to Aral Sea” has supported the development of the fishery sector, supported by the Danish international development assistance (DANIDA). Says project leader Kurt Bertelsen Christensen who all together has spent two years of his life in the region since 1991:
- In 1994, when we wanted to start up the project, no one believed in the possibility of the development we have been part of since. But we believed in it, and so did our partners in Aral Tenizi. We can now withdraw with good conscience. We believe that the further development is in good hands, especially with Aral Tenizi, and even though there is still some distance to cover, before the fishermen can finally handle everything by themselves, it is obvious that all levels of the trade are now much stronger. We are specifically happy that the Japan Social Development Fond has granted nearly two million dollars US to assist the fishery communities around the sea on their last steps to independent and viable economic structures. The Japanese project will be implemented through our partner Aral Tenizi, which in itself proves the sustainability of our common efforts over the years.
For further information, contact project coordinator of Aral Tenizi, Zhannat Makhambetova at + 777 456 7787, or Danish project leader Kurt Christensen at + 702 550 7216.
More information also available at www.levendehav.dk
Speech of Project Leader Kurt Bertelsen Christensen at the ceremony on the Berg Strait, June 19 2008.
Dear President, Dear Prime Minister, Dear Aral Fishermen, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk to you today. We have followed the fishery in this region since 1991 and standing here today gives me great pleasure. Lots of things have happened over these years and I will highlight some mile stones on the way from 1991 to 2008. But when I look back to day there is only one word that really describes the overall change – it’s a miracle. In 1991 we had a dead sea; in 2008 Aral Sea is a living sea.
In 1996 our organisation The Living Sea started working to help and assist in the rehabilitation of the fishery on the Northern Aral Sea. The first real fishery on the Aral Sea for many years was opened that same year and provided proof that the Aral Sea was alive.
In 1999 the first general assembly of the NGO Aral Tenizi was held with more than 600 participants.
In 2003 Kazakhstan and the World Bank signed the SYNAS project, and in Aralsk we established the fish processing centre Kambala Balyk.
Along the way a lot of important things have happened: we have successfully marketed fish of high quality; we have received strong support from the fishermen and the Kazakh authorities in Astana, Kyzylorda and Aralsk; and we have also benefited from the great support of international agencies and foundations like DANIDA, the World Bank, Mashav, USAID, UNDP amongst many more. All this together has provided a strong foundation that makes it possible to look forward with confidence.
Today the Northern Aral Sea is nearly restored; fish processing plants are shooting up in Aralsk and Kazalinsk; JSDF will continue to build up capacity in the Aral fishery - and we thank president Nazarbaev and the World Bank for signing the Second Phase of the SYNAS project. Our hope is that the project will help to totally restore the NAS and the water will finally come back to the harbour of Aralsk.
Now Danish financial support to the Aral Sea has come to an end. It’s sad on the one hand but we know that our partner NGO Aral Tenizi, together with support from the JSDF, can - and will - take over all these responsibilities in the coming years.
We have contributed to the development of the fishery in this region, but we have also got a lot back from the fishermen and the people here, most of all friendship. Therefore we will end this presentation by singing a song about the Aral Sea: Our common hope for a glorious future for the Aral Sea and its people.