Uzbekistan's "Green Inspectors" Unlikely to Carry Weight

A bill currently before Uzbekistan’s parliament would in theory involve members of the public in environmental issues, but on past record, the authorities are unlikely to invite green groups to work with them.

The law sets out to formalise a role for non-government organisations in environmental protection, including new “public inspectors” who will have powers ranging from monitoring the environment to offering recommendations to government.

The main area of concern in Uzbekistan is in the northwest, where the contraction of the Aral Sea has led to water shortages, desertification and land degradation. Elsewhere, metal and chemical plants in the Tashkent, Kashkadarya, Bukhara, Navoi and Fergana regions are responsible for high pollution levels.

Eco-activists say the public inspectors envisaged by the new law could make a difference to these problem areas, and also work on areas ranging from public hygiene to illegal poaching and logging. That presupposes, of course, that they are allowed some scope for getting things done – and there is considerable scepticism that this will happen.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an advisor to at the official State Committee for Nature of Uzbekistan acknowledged that the proposed inspectors would “inevitably come under pressure” from above.

An environmental journalist asked, "In the absence of a genuinely independent civil society, how is it going to be possible to oppose flawed environmental policies? How can the authorities give a free hand to environmental lobbyists when they break their own laws?”

The journalist cited the example of a green group which went to court some years ago in an attempt to block construction of a drainage pool in Karakalpakstan in the northwest. Despite arguing that the waste water would be released into the Amu Darya river, polluting drinking water, they lost their case.

He also noted the tacit ban on media reporting of the felling of trees in urban areas. Large numbers of mature trees have been cut down in Uzbekistan’s cities as part of urban redevelopment plans, without regard for their contribution to the environment in this largely arid country.

In this year’s Environmental Performance Index produced by Yale University, Uzbekistan came third from the bottom on a list of 132 countries. Only Turkmenistan and Iraq got worse ratings.
According to the Environmental Performance Index 2012, this year Uzbekistan again was rated the lowest along with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iraq concerning the environmental condition. The drafters considered air and water purity among the main environmental indicators.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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