The program “Water as a driver of sustainable recovery” continues the dialogue on the water between Central Asian countries and Afghanistan. On April 15 the program held the third webinar in a series of four. Experts from the region and abroad discussed economic, institutional and strategic aspects of the water resources management in Central Asia, outlining the economic foundations of the regional cooperation on the water in Central Asia.
The research process is implemented by the Corvinus University of Budapest and supported by the Blue Peace Central Asia initiative (BPCA) of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), and the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia (CAREC). The program is scheduled for two years, it will last until the end of 2022.
Representatives of governmental agencies, research institutes and civil society organisations underlined that political will to strengthen the regional cooperation is now stronger than ever. During the past couple of years, high-level statements encouraging cooperation were issued by political leaders of the region. In the last past months, these statements have become more concrete: Uzbekistan offers to invest in HPS in upstream countries, the agreement by Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to build two HPS on the Zeravshan river and agreements on bilateral cooperation on water and energy.
«Indeed, at the time of translating this expressed strong political will into investment of key water-energy infrastructures, the countries’ governments are fully aware of the capital intensive nature of such infrastructure investments, of the necessity of stable agreements between trustful parties and are developing efforts to ensure such an enabling environment. This collective endeavor must be supported: it is teamwork, across sectors and professions, across countries, mobilizing large financial resources to effectively secure a robust socio-economic development, resilient to the environmental challenges », noted Ambassador Guy Bonvin, Special Envoy for Water in Central Asia of SDC.
Mr Sulton Rakhimzoda, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea gave a speech on the webinar. He noted that Central Asian countries lost quite a lot of time whilst establishing self-sufficiency after the fall of the Soviet Union. Millions of dollars were spent to build new infrastructure at the national level, while the whole structure of sowing crops was changed to ensure food security.
“In the end, we all understand that we cannot reach complete independence from each other”, noted Mr Rakhimzoda. “It’s proven that lack of cooperation leads to economic losses. In 2017 the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia and adephi with the financial support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation published a study with concrete evaluation of the losses the region will experience without proper integration. The region may lose US$ 4.5 billion per year due to inaction and insufficient cooperation. Due to deteriorating infrastructure, environmental degradation and demographic and economic pressures, these costs will increase if water management remains as it currently is”.
It is acknowledged that all parties now see the benefits of regional cooperation. Special attention during the webinar was devoted to discussing possible ways of translating strong political will into action. Representative of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have shared their views.
Experts shared that this year is also low-water one like previous couple of years. Last summer Tajikistan had to stop electricity exports and downstream countries did not receive sufficient quantities of water for irrigation. So far Central Asian countries found common solutions to avoid the worst. All participants agreed that further integration is essential to master more efficiently such a situation, expected to become more frequent. However, opinions differed on how to achieve it.
Some experts suggested approaching this goal gradually because it’s important to consider the interest of all countries and to harmonize them. According to them, this process should start with a comprehensive review and analysis of the legal framework. After that, it is possible to negotiate new long-term agreements, a water and energy consortium for example, building on existing foundations.
It’s important to mention, that region has already accumulated considerable experience in water cooperation. There is progress in managing natural resources and negotiations on a water and energy consortium give hope that a long-term agreement can be signed, to secure long term sustainable socio-economic development of its parties.
One of the steps forward is the involvement of Afghanistan in regional dialogue. Afghanistan is a part of the Aral Sea basin and plays a key role in the future of Amu Darya. However, both in Soviet times and in post-Soviet times was left out of legal arrangements. Now the situation is changing, during the webinar representatives of Afghanistan shared that country is willing to increase electricity imports and accelerate the development of contacts with their riparian partners.
International and regional organizations also actively participated in the event. Representative of GIZ (German development agency), European Union, Kazakh-German University, CAREC institute and Scientific-Information Center of the Interstate Coordination Water Commission of Central Asia (SIC ICWC) have shared their thought on the regional investment concept.
First of all, experts agreed that more information on challenges, which Central Asia faces and on the effort made to address them should be brought on the international and world scene.
Simultaneously, building on already existing institutional structures for cooperation (IFAS, ICWC, EAEU, SCO, etc) countries can start to develop joint regional investment projects addressing regional challenges in water, energy and climate change sectors. These concrete steps will stimulate the mobilization of foreign finances, particularly from the green and climate finances side. This mobilization effort shall be supported by the development of more comprehensive transboundary agreements, incorporating water-energy-food nexus dimensions. World wide trillions of dollars are already being invested in post-covid: such funds shall target green recovery, anticipating future needs and resilience to risks. This is particularly applicable to Central Asia, where there is an opportunity to carefully attract and channel these source of financing in an effective way in the water sector.
In his concluding statement, Ambassador Guy Bonvin reminded that the concrete translation of the cooperation will is to invest as much as necessary to secure mid-term and long term water and economic resilience, as little as necessary to finance only productive, systemic and resilient assets in respect of sustainable natural resource management and climate change, as well as to reduce the exposure of the water sector, the economy and the stability of the region to the effects of climate change
It was also reminded that the water Sustainable Development Goals (#6), which includes the transboundary water management (#6.5), is essential for the achievement of all SDG-s. So it’s important to understand that proper water management, IWRM, is not a goal as such but a tool to achieve sustainability and prosperity, to contribute to the SDGs achievement. The close interdependence of the water sector with key CA economies is clear signs that Solutions for water management lay not only within, but also beyond the sector itself. IWRM is a tool for economic integration.
The 3 webinars organized to date in the framework of the Programme "Water as a driver of sustainable recovery" confirmed the importance to #valuewater, the motto of the 2021 World Water day, which is not only the task and responsibility of the engineers but of a whole team of stakeholders. The stable participation in these webinars indicates the importance of such a multi-sectorial and international dialogue platform. The next webinar, scheduled in May, will address the strategic nature of water.