The annual World Water Week was held from 23-27 August, with the conference taking place online and attracting 13,000 water professionals, activists, scientists and students from around the world. The Central Asian region was the subject of two sessions, organised by the Blue Peace Central Asia initiative.
"Water is key for food security, for energy security, as well as for economic security, without mentioning health security. No one can avoid the importance of this key strategic dimension. Already today insufficient basic cooperation has a huge cost estimated at 4.5 billion US dollar [per year] according to a study from 2019", said Ambassador Guy Bonvin, Special Envoy for Water in Central Asia of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
On 24 August, a session on "Central Asia Water security & prosperity: elements for informed cooperation " was held. Ioana Dobrescu from the Water Footprint Implementation Research Centre presented the results of the Central Asian water footprint study supported by Blue Peace Central Asia. It is worth noting that this is the first such study in the region.
“The water footprint is the amount of water used to produce all goods and services. It is a volumetric indicator of water consumption, which is different from water withdrawal”, explains Iona Dobrescu. To assess the water footprint, scientists distinguish three categories of water resources:
Green - rainwater.
Blue - surface water (rivers, lakes) and groundwater.
Grey - wastewater and polluted water.
By the way, water pollution is seen by experts as a form of water consumption. After all, once polluted, water is no longer available for use.
The study covers data from 2008-2018. Analysis shows that 84% of water is consumed for agricultural purposes, 11% for industrial production and only 5% for domestic use. At the same time, the region has very high losses of blue water in agriculture, almost 50%. This may be due to the poor condition of irrigation systems and inefficient irrigation.
Based on the data, the experts have developed recommendations for the region. Among them: reducing water losses, adaptation to droughts and revision of water tariffs. The detailed results of the study will be published soon on the Blue Peace Central Asia website.
In addition, experts from Central Asia discussed further strengthening water cooperation and coordinating efforts to conserve water resources. Scientists and water experts agreed that trust is based on an ongoing and transparent exchange of data. Also, representatives of Central Asian countries showed a serious intention to improve the efficiency of water use. The countries are introducing cost-effective irrigation technologies, expressing a desire to share experiences with neighbouring countries, and investing in modernizing irrigation infrastructure.
On 25 August, the BPCA initiative held a session on "Water as a driver of sustainable recovery in Central Asia". At this session, participants were introduced to the programme of the same name run by Corvinus University in Budapest, with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Blue Peace Central Asia initiative (BPCA), the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia.
The programme aims to develop science-based recommendations for policymakers with a focus on socio-economic development and on concrete solutions. Marton Krasnai, Scientific Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies at Corvinus University in Hungary, explained that the programme had already held four webinars. At these meetings, water experts, academics and government officials discussed key challenges in the region, structural and institutional reforms, economic frameworks for cooperation and strategic aspects of water management.
Among the key challenges, experts highlighted infrastructure degradation due to insufficient funding and climate change. Scientists predict longer and colder winters, which will require more energy, as well as higher temperatures in summer, which will increase the demand for water resources.
Kerry Schneider, Senior Programme Manager of the SIWI Transboundary Water Cooperation Department, highlighted the contribution of the experts from Afghanistan who participated in the programme webinars. Indeed, the input of experts from Afghanistan helped to form a clearer picture of water management in the region. Representatives of all countries agreed that close cooperation is the key to success and that including Afghanistan in the water dialogue is indispensable for the sustainable development of all Central Asia.
Representatives of water authorities of the region also spoke at the session. It is worth noting that the countries are already taking the first real steps towards strengthening cooperation. The Central Asian states have concluded a number of agreements with each other, for example, the Tajik-Uzbek hydropower project on the Zarafshan River is under elaboration.
In addition, Zafar Makhmudov, Director of the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia, spoke about the Centre's projects. Over the 20 years of its operation, CAREC has succeeded in establishing several educational and dialogue platforms: Central Asian Leadership Programme, Central Asian Climate Change Conference and Central Asian International Environmental Forum.
Water management issues remain key to the Centre's work. "Water resources provide up to 28% of the countries' GDP through irrigated agriculture and almost 30% of total energy production in the region", noted Mr Makhmudov.
Ambassador Guy Bonvin concluded by assuring that SDC and other international organisations are ready to continue supporting the dialogue. According to Mr Bonvin, building trust between the countries is crucial for the region.