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Central Asian civil society networks agree to cooperate on water issues in the framework of the UNECE Water Convention

Published: 20 September 2012

Almaty – Thirty-five representatives of civil society organizations from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Switzerland and Germany created the network of Central Asian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on “Climate. Water. Energy. Health”, during the Central Asian Water Meeting held on 12 September in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Public participation is essential to raise awareness about good governance and encourage it in the areas of water management and climate protection. The NGO participants shared experiences of local legislation and practices with representatives of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Ministries of Health and Environment of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

The meeting focused on the benefits of transboundary cooperation for climate protection and better water management within the framework of the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) and its Protocol on Water and Health.

The civil society representatives developed a resolution with recommendations, which were presented to Central Asian Government representatives at the second workshop of the European Union-Central Asia Strategy Partnership, held in Almaty on 13 and 14 September. The recommendations will also be presented to the Meeting of the Parties to the Water Convention at their sixth session in November 2012.

Addressing the meeting, Sascha Gabizon, Director of Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF), observed that “immediate action is needed” to address climate change in Central Asia, where temperatures are rising faster than globally. She noted that due to the over-consumption of water in the region, the Aral Sea — once among the largest lakes worldwide — is mostly dry and that salt dust from the Aral Sea bed has spread into the environment and is now found on the glaciers of the Central Asian and Himalaya mountains, leading to their rapid melting, resulting in floods and droughts. “The Central Asian countries should of course move to less water-consuming agriculture, and should work together on water monitoring and retention dams, instead of each [individual] country [working] for itself”, Ms. Gabizon urged.

Civil society participants recommended to refocus on the Aral Sea; even if the sea could not be restored, as a minimum the bottom should be kept moist, to retain the salt dust. It was felt that transboundary cooperation on the river basins also needed to be developped further and participants recommended the establishment of Inter-State Basin Councils for the Chu-Talas and other basins. Many such basin councils work successfully in other parts of the region. Participants also recommended the creation of an independent Public Council of the Aral Sea Basin. Furthermore, NGOs called for increased transparence and accountability of the existing Inter-State Commissions.

In other recommendations, participants called for sharing of best practices among the countries on climate and water, such as, for example, the progressive legislation on Energy Performance of Buildings in Kyrgyzstan. Renewable energy was singled out as an area where regional cooperation could benefit all countries as Central Asia has a vast potential for wind, solar and hydro power. The creation of a common Central Asian energy market would create a strong incentive for private and international investments in renewable energy. On the issues of water sanitation, participants recommended the establishment of several resource centres throughout the region on efficient energy, water and sanitation for households and small enterprises. Finally, the participants all agreed that the countries of the region could no longer address their environmental problems by one-theme-focused legislation. To resolve such complex issues as soil degradation, water contamination, unstable and uneven water supply and inefficient use, national Governments together with civil society should adopt a water-food-energy nexus approach and link mitigation efforts to water security, energy security and food security.

Note to the Editors

The meeting in Almaty was co-organized by the Social-Ecological Fund (Kazakhstan), the BIOM Ecological Movement (Kyrgyzstan), MAMA-86 (Ukraine) and WECF, as one of four regional water meetings of the project “Raising awareness about the UNECE Water Convention and its Protocol on Water and Health and strengthening the role of the civil society organizations in their promotion and implementation”, supported by UNECE. WECF ensures the overall coordination of the project activities.

The UNECE Water Convention provides an important legal framework for transboundary water management and contributes to improving transboundary water management in the pan-European region.

The UNECE/World Health Organization Region Office for Europe Protocol on Water and Health to the Water Convention aims to protect human health and well-being through reducing water-related deaths and diseases by improving water management.

For further information, please visit: http://www.unece.org/env/water/

Kazakhstan is a Party to the Water Convention since 23 October 2000, but has not ratified the Protocol on Water and Health. Kyrgyzstan is not a Party to the Convention or the Protocol, but is setting targets and target dates in the context of the Protocol.

Both the Convention and the Protocol require Parties to ensure the provision of information to the public as well as public participation. In Central Asia, public participation in water management has lately been facilitated with the amendment of national water legislation and the reorganization of water resources management, giving more space to civil society organizations to participate effectively in the relevant decision-making processes. Public participation in the activities of joint bodies is still in the early stages, with the cooperation between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on the rivers Chu and Talas showing the most advanced development in this area.

Contact:
Ms. Francesca Bernardini,
UNECE Water Convention Secretariat,
Tel: +41 22 917 2463,
E-mail: francesca.bernardini@unece.org


Sascha Gabizon,
WECF International, Germany,
Tel: +49 89 23239380,
E-mail: sascha.gabizon@wecf.eu


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