Climate Station “Could Save Fergana”

Uzbek scientists call on Tashkent to repair a meteorological centre damaged by rebels five years ago.

Climate Station “Could Save Fergana”

Uzbek scientists call on Tashkent to repair a meteorological centre damaged by rebels five years ago.

A climate station blown up by retreating Islamic rebels during the 1999 Batken incursion may hold information vital to the future of the Fergana valley region and should be repaired, scientists claim.

The scientific centre stood on the Abramov glacier for more than 30 years and gathered information on global warming and its effects on Central Asia – specifically the densely populated Fergana valley, which is prone to floods, landslides and other threats to life and property.

While the station lies in Kyrgyz territory, not far from the border with Tajikistan, it was operated by the Central Asian Scientific Research Hydro-meteorological Institute in Tashkent. Uzbekistan’s scientific community is now calling on the government to repair the station so that its potentially life-saving data can be recovered and its work can continue.

The damage to the station was sustained in the summer of 1999, when the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, attacked the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan, demanding that the authorities open a safe corridor for them to pass into Uzbekistan.

During the incursion, IMU rebels captured the climate station - taking all 15 members of the crew hostage - and blowing it up. Two days later, after failing to collect a ransom, the rebels released the scientists unharmed.

The IMU fighters were driven back by the Kyrgyz and Uzbek armies, but no effort was made to repair the climate station, which has stood empty and heavily damaged ever since.

The station had built up a unique scientific archive over its 30 years of operation, observing rivers, glaciers and lakes and the effects of snow and rain on the drainage of the area.

According to Larisa Borovikova, head of the institute, research was conducted at the station all year round, with seasonal crews of up to 20 scientists.

“There are only a handful of stations like this in the world. It had international significance in the field of hydro-meteorological forecasts,” said Borovikova, adding that its work was invaluable in the field of global warming research.

At the very least, she argued, the climate station – a complex of 15 buildings housing specialised scientific equipment which was built during the Soviet era at an estimated cost of around ten million dollars – should have partial and vital repairs made to it before the fabric of the buildings decay further.

Server Ibragimov, head of the hydrogeology department in the Fergana hydro-meteorological centre, agreed that the station should be preserved and repaired.

“The damage from the loss of this station remains to be felt in full not just by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, but also for other countries in the region,” he warned.

The centre’s research had proved to be invaluable in the past. It correctly predicted a major flood in 1998, which hit the Fergana valley’s Shakhimardan region, allowing the authorities to take measures to protect the population.

Scientists warn that further natural disasters may be imminent, and could strike without warning.

The head of the weather service at the Fergana hydro-meteorological department, Abdukhalik Teshebaev, told IWPR that one threat of flooding comes from the Abramov glacier itself.

At the moment, said Teshebaev, a decrease in the mass and area of the glacier can be seen, as a result of an increase in air temperature and general global warming.

“If this continues, the glacier will disappear altogether in perhaps 100 years - but before this happens the entire region will suffer from floods, which cannot be predicted precisely,” he warned.

The head of the Fergana hydro-meteorological centre, Anatoly Ishchenko, told IWPR that the climate station could be of great assistance in monitoring this situation.

“We appealed to Tashkent several times to solve this problem,” he said. “We have also pleaded with the Kyrgyz authorities, but for some reason no one is interested in this.

“Ignoring this important issue today may cost us dearly tomorrow – but of course by then it will be too late.”

Matlyuba Azamatova is an independent journalist in Fergana.

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