Uzbekistan convened a meeting in late April to create an interdepartmental working group focused on ensuring the safety of tailings and preventing accidental water pollution. According to the UN press service, Uzbekistan is set to become the third Central Asian country (after Kazakhstan and Tajikistan) to establish such a working group through a formal process.

Tailings dumps are designed to store or bury radioactive, toxic and other tailings from mineral processing.

Gold and uranium mines are active in Uzbekistan, and the mining industry is expected to grow in the coming years, given that only 20% of the country’s territory has been explored so far.

The expected increase in the number and size of mines is expected to lead to an increase in the number of tailings dumps containing by-products of metal mining, which will create risks of water pollution.

Today, Uzbekistan has 41 tailing dumps, 10 of which have a potential cross-border impact. In addition, the UN noted, Uzbekistan is located in the lower reaches of rivers and could be affected by accidental water pollution in upstream countries.

“Therefore, strengthening inter-agency and transboundary cooperation is key both to prevent accidental water pollution and to mitigate consequences in case of an accident,” the UN stressed.

The participants of the meeting reviewed the recommendations of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on improving the safety of tailings management facilities, and studied the experience of establishing inter-agency working groups in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

The UNECE supports Uzbekistan in setting up the group, providing on-site training and strengthening sub-regional cooperation through financial support from the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. The working group will serve as a platform for coordination and cooperation between authorities responsible for industrial safety, water resources, as well as the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations.

Jahongir Talipov of the Ministry of Natural Resources said that the group will allow Uzbekistan to strengthen national governance in the field of mining, contribute to achieving the country’s environmental goals by 2030 and work towards acceding to the UNECE Convention on Industrial Accidents.

The UN explained that Uzbekistan, although not currently a party to the convention, has been supported by the assistance and cooperation programme under the convention since 2005. At the same time, Uzbekistan has been a party to the Water Convention since 2007. Both Conventions provide the country with the necessary support to prevent accidental water pollution.