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3 November 2005 | Printer friendly

Local community takes the lead in fighting pollution

In the almost desert plains around the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, the “Perzent” Centre is voicing the concerns of citizens about children’s poor health due to environmental conditions.

Overuse of river water for intensive cotton production has reduced the size of the Aral Sea by one half. Chemicals sprayed on the crops end up in the sediment on the dried-out seabed. Strong winds disseminate this white powder polluting the air, food, soil and water.

The Perzent Centre, a non-governmental organisation representing community members, has succeeded in bringing together mothers, teachers, farmers and doctors with scientific experts and government representatives. These discussions and other information and training events have raised awareness of the problems affecting the community. They have also resulted in programmes that are supported by community members.

The process of establishing a grassroots non-governmental organisation such as Perzent was extremely difficult. Local people were not used to the idea of taking personal responsibility for their health and environment. They were also initially suspicious of the new type of organisation and Perzent found it difficult to recruit staff. Those who did join often benefited from training only to leave for a job elsewhere. The local authorities were also reluctant to deal with the group at the start. Fortunately, all that has now changed and Perzent has achieved credibility with both the local population and the government.

The activities of the Perzent Center have not been evaluated for their impact on children’s health. However, staff point out that despite the involvement of international agencies in the region over many years, the health and environmental conditions for the local people has seen little improvement. They believe that the experience is already worth sharing with Kazakhstan where other communities are affected by the Aral Sea devastation.

Source: Children’s health and environment case studies summary book, World Health Organization, 2004, p.48-50.

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