Water management is the most sensitive issue facing Central Asia with regard to regional cooperation, which, if not addressed properly could develop into a serious threat for the entire region in the medium-term. The region is having to cope with a range of water-related challenges all at once: the shrinking Aral Sea, upstream and downstream countries in discord over release regimes and distribution, competing energy and irrigation sectors, deteriorating water ecosystems and foreseen negative impacts of climate change. Last year’s exceptionally cold winter resulted in these problems becoming a compound (food, energy, and water) “crisis”, which was averted at the last minute.
The water issues are regional in nature and therefore cooperation at the regional level is critical if efficient progress and solutions are to be found. With this in mind, a special international conference, “Water Unites – Strengthening Regional Cooperation on Water Management in Central Asia” (Almaty, Kazakhstan, 17–18 November 2008), was organized by the Government of Germany, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Executive Committee for the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (EC-IFAS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The event – hosted by the Kazakh Executive Board of IFAS and the Government of Kazakhstan – was a follow-up to the first “Water Unites” conference (Berlin, 1 April 2008), which saw the launch of the “Berlin Water Process” by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The Process is an important part of the water and environment pillar of the European Union’s Central Asia Strategy, which is coordinated by Italy and will be officially launched on 3 December in Ashgabat.
The conference importantly made a much needed step towards developing a comprehensive regional programme to address the water and energy crisis in Central Asia. The discussions offered a solid foundation for further constructive cooperation between the countries of the region, the various United Nations organizations and other members of the international development community.
The event was opened by UNECE Acting Executive Secretary, Mr. Paolo Garonna, who underlined that Central Asia could be at a tipping point thanks to concurrent positive developments seeing enhanced cooperation between Central Asian countries, United Nations organizations, the EU and local institutions. In this potentially new scenario, the UNECE Convention for the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) should be the basic reference for a reformed cooperation framework on transboundary waters. Ms. Kori Udovicki, Director for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, UNDP, delivered a keynote address on the Central Asia Regional Risk Assessment, which is currently being prepared by UNDP. She underlined how the food, water and energy crisis in Central Asia is a major challenge for the subregion’s Governments, yet at the same time presents an opportunity to look beyond short-term problems to find long-term, win-win solutions. Ms. Hedi Wegener, Member of the Bundestag and Head of its German-Central Asian Parliamentary Group, introduced the main objectives and activities of the "Berlin Water Process".
Other speakers included the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Mr. Pierre Morel, Ambassador of France to Kazakhstan, who spoke in the capacity of the Presidency of the European Union; the head of the delegation of the European Commission; and the representative of Italy coordinating the water and environment pillar of the EU Strategy for Central Asia. The speakers emphasized the important contribution the German project would make to the implementation of this Strategy. Representatives of the Central Asian countries greatly appreciated the substantial assistance of the EU in strengthening cooperation in water resources management in the region.
Participants also heard reports from the Environment and Security Partnership (www.envsec.org) on the environmental risks in the eastern Caspian Sea region and on a proposed international framework to coordinate international assistance in integrated water resources management. The discussion focused on possible steps to modernize the legal foundation for water management and bolster water-related institutions in Central Asia on the basis of the framework and experiences of the UNECE Water Convention.
The event also marked the inauguration of EC-IFAS, which moved from Dushanbe to Almaty on the second day of the conference.
More details are available on the conference website: http://www.unece.org/env/water/meetings/Almaty_conference.htm.
For further information, please contact:
Mr. Bo Libert
UNECE Environment, Housing and Land Management Division
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Phone: +41 (0) 22 917 2396 / +41 (0) 79 444 4180
Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 0621