The Caspian deal

IF WE stand on the shores of the 370,886 square kilometre Caspian Sea, it does not give us the impression that it is actually a lake locked on all sides by Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

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Published: Sat 19 Aug 2006, 8:41 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:58 PM

But a look at it in the World Atlas reveals that the largest water body in the world sits like a trough in Central Asia. Scholars still debate whether it is a sea or a lake, though neither definition is applicable as its water is only slightly saline.

However, it is home to a variety of species of mammals, plants, birds, and fish. Some of them are found nowhere else. If the Caspian Sea and its shores are a treasure trove of flora and fauna, its bed is a repository of massive deposits of oil and gas. For decades, the littoral states have been harvesting one of the most precious and expensive delicacies from the sea —black caviar eggs from the Caspian sturgeon —that holds 90 per cent of that fish species’ stock in the world.

In recent years, oil boom, over-fishing, pollution and industrialisation have been threatening the Caspian natural resources, particularly sturgeon and rare seals. In a bid to save the lake from an environmental disaster, the five shoreline countries reached an agreement that came into force a week ago. It seeks to check pollution, monitor the environment, protect marine life and respond to emergencies jointly. Similar accords are in place for the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas and hopefully the Caspian pact would be able to tackle current and future problems.

However, questions remain regarding the pact’s observance in letter and spirit. Unlike the Mediterranean and Baltic, the Caspian region is rich in hydrocarbons and caviar, whose demand and prices will always be rising and they are the biggest money earners for the coastal states. As of now, there is no foolproof mechanism to check over exploitation of sea wealth or pollution, particularly hazardous wastes that flow into the lake from the oil and gas industry. Unless the member countries get their teeth into the accord, it is likely to remain ineffective.

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