Monitoring river quality in the Southern Caucasus - a joint NATO-OSCE Science for Peace project

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Monitoring and management of transboundary water resources are complex problems in any region of the world. The ongoing security challenges in the Southern Caucasus make this issue even more challenging. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been no maintained water quality and quantity data available for the region.


What is being done

Water sampling at the Kura River, Azerbaijan

Through this NATO-OSCE project, scientists carry out monthly monitoring of trace elements, radio nuclides and organic matter.  Using internationally-approved scientific procedures respected in each country, scientists take water samples from thirty sites spread equally across the three countries.  The samples are validated through the analysis of reference samples and other procedures of quality assurance.

NATO-sponsored laboratory for chromatography analysis

In each country a laboratory has been set-up and equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for monitoring pollutants including heavy metals (from mining activities) persistant organic pollutants (pesticides), and radionuclides using different methods: atomic absorption spectrometry and gas chromatography– mass spectrometry.  This project therefore also supports the Alliance’s concern over possible terrorist actions through radiological agents and illegal transboundary transportation of radio nuclides.

During the course of this project, the three laboratories have received instrumentation for:

  • Trace inorganic analysis with electrothermal atomic absorption spectrometry.
  • High resolution gamma-ray spectrometry with Ge(Li) detector and alpha spectrometry for the measurement of natural and man-made radioisotopes.
  • Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) for the measurement of organic compounds (POPs).

Working with other international organizations

This NATO-OSCE project is included in ENVSEC (Environment and Security) Initiative set up by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme, and of which NATO is an associate member.  This clearly demonstrates the Alliance’s commitment to work with other international organizations to contribute to global security and stability.  For more information on the ENVSEC Initiative go to

Training of young scientists

Through this project young scientists from the three countries have received training in Norway and Belgium on water sampling and analysis. There has been continuous effective cooperation between scientists of the three Partner countries with scientists from the NATO countries US, Belgium and Norway. Cooperation between scientists in the Partner countries plays an important role in helping to foster closer relationships in this potentially volatile region. It also demonstrates NATO’s commitment to “capacity building” in its Partner countries, which involves training local scientists to be able to continue the work themselves.

End results

It is generally recognized that the activities carried out under this project are of sufficiently high quality and are appreciated by water experts in the three countries.  It is also widely accepted that the data produced through this NATO project is the only reliable source of its kind on the Kura-Araks river system.

The NATO SPS Programme will continue to support this project until the end of 2008 when it is expected that other funding agencies will become available or the local authorities themselves find alternative ways to finance the activities.

Having access to reliable, high quality data on water quality in the region should provide the national authorities with the necessary tools to maintain water quality and contribute to fostering greater stability in the region.