Driving across Azerbaijan last week it is clear that it is a country of contrasting landscapes. The massively oil-polluted Absheron peninsula gives way to semi-desert through the centre, before one reaches the high mountains fringing Russia that were beautifully snow-capped. Here the nature is wild with large trees of beech, oak and chestnut. Eagles soar above the trees and all is good with the world. Azerbaijan is starting to develop tourist facilities, such as the new hotel we stayed in alongside the Kura River.
Kura central Azerbaijan
They have even constructed an enclosure into which you can fish – and then have the catch cooked. Surprisingly the Kura looks inviting and light green form the underwater weed growing in its shallows. I observed a rather unusual form of night fishing by two young locals. They used 3 treble hooks centrally mounted on the rig……….very strange….. until they explained that they are trying to literally hook fish that have been stunned by the turbines of the hydropower facility upstream.
The Kura and its basin has and continues to have much international interest – financed by several organisations, particularly EU. One of my earlier projects saw me training Ministries of Environment of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan – towards river basin management. I was also an official delegate for the OSCE from Armenia to Azerbaijan many years ago – where the OSCE were trying to use international water management as a vehicle for cooperation in the hugely disputed regional conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Now another large project is ongoing – managed by a good friend of mine, with whom I used to work – see below:
To improve water quality in the Kura River basin through transboundary cooperation and adoption of the river basin management approach.
Project Purposes: Support development of a common monitoring and information management systems to improve transboundary cooperation in the Kura River basin; and Enhance capacities of environmental authorities and monitoring establishments engaged in long-term integrated water resources management in the Kura River basin.
The outputs from this project will come from the combined efforts of the key and non-key experts and the beneficiaries. The intended outputs have been discussed and agreed with the Project Partners during the Inception Phase, these are given below:
•Review on the baseline situation based on the data available
•Joint monitoring programme designed and agreed with the beneficiaries
•Report on the Joint river monitoring/surveys carried out in the selected locations
•Assistance provided to the national water monitoring establishments where appropriate to help to address the key concerns
•Common GIS database platform established to facilitate information management and data exchange between the project countries
•Draft basin management plans (RBMP), including tentative programme of measures, prepared for the selected pilot river basins in each project country using the EU Water Framework Directive methodology
•A proposal developed for improvements in the data structures, formats and information flows to facilitate decision making in the integrated water resources management
•Proposals developed for the future international projects to help to address priority IWRM problems in the project countries
•Beneficiary staff trained where appropriate including provision of necessary guidelines in Armenian, Georgian and Azeri languages
•Increased public awareness regarding the significant transboundary water issues in the Kura River basin
The key areas of effort are the five main project components as follows:
•Component 1: Assessments and Surveys
•Component 2: Monitoring
•Component 3: Management Information and Methodology
•Component 4: Institutional Capacity and Training
•Component 5: Public Engagement and Civil Society
Various types of wetland and delta areas can be found on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The northern section of this immense lake is encompassed by the Caspian Depression, a low-lying flatland region.
The depression, which covers approximately 200,000 kilometers² (77,220 miles²), lies at the southern end of the Ryn Desert, and is in both Kazakhstan and Russia.
The Volga River and the Ural River, which forms part of the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia, flow into the Caspian Sea through this region. The deltas of the Ural and Volga Rivers are extensive wetlands.
The fan-shaped Volga River Delta has, unfortunately, experienced significant wetland loss due to industrial and agricultural modification to the delta plain. Much of the water in and around the delta appears bright green due to algal blooms, intensified by fertilizers carried in by the river
Kura River and wetlands
In fact, studies have shown that water pollution, mostly coming from the Volga River, poses a serious threat to the biodiversity of the Caspian Depression. Water pollution is contributed mainly by industrial, agricultural, and household discharges.
The Ural River Delta in Kazakhstan has a different shape from that of the Volga: rather than a wide triangular or fan-shape, it is longer and thinner. This is called a “bird’s foot” or “digitate” delta. Such deltas are often seen on sediment-rich rivers flowing into lakes.
Much of the Caspian Depression is below the level of the sea; its lowest point is 28m (92 ft) below sea level. Its eastern region comprises large areas of marshlands. One such marshy area in western Kazakhstan is the location of the Tengiz Field, a huge source of oil.
On the western shore of the Caspian Sea, in Azerbaija, the Kura River enters the sea, discharging sediments. Onland, the dark green area in the center near the coast is swampy Gyzylaghadj State Reserve. Also called the Gizil-Agach State Reserve, it is a Ramsar Wetland that is an important wintering and nesting area for migrant, swamp and wild birds.
Kura in Georgia
Throughout the central and western area many people sell fish at the roadsides, caught from netting the massive irrigation canals.
Roadside fish sellers