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UNECE supports transboundary water cooperation between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan with new knowledge on climate change and a new water management project

Published:27 February 2014

On 27 and 28 February in Bishkek the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bishkek Office and the national Kyrgyz authorities organized two meetings in support of the development of transboundary water cooperation between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan on the Chu and Talas Rivers.

The first day was devoted to presentations of the findings of the project, "Promoting Cooperation to Adapt to Climate Change in the Chu and Talas Transboundary Basins” and discussions with national officials of the two countries as well as experts on the findings. This project, which is now ending, has been implemented jointly by UNECE and UNDP in the framework of the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC), and has been financed by Finland.

A project brochure synthesizes the results of the cooperative study by Kazakh and Kyrgyz experts over the past three years. An increase in temperature in the basin area is predicted, especially in summer and autumn. The likely accompanying rainfall increase during the cold season and a decrease in the warm half of the year might result in a deterioration of moisture conditions during the summer-autumn. Furthermore, hotter summers and milder winters with more liquid precipitation (instead of snow) in the mountains can be expected. Consequently, the area and volume of glaciers is predicted to significantly reduce.

A cooperative approach, combining scientific data and water managers’ outlook with decision-making needs employed in the project made it possible to produce a comprehensive assessment of climate change impacts on water resources in the Chu-Talas transboundary river basins for the first time.

On the basis of this outlook and of an initial set of adaptation measures and recommendations developed, the meeting discussed future needs and possible policy responses from the authorities. The workshop made a link to the latest developments in climate policies in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and to the work of the Chu Talas Commission.

Assessment of the vulnerability of the agricultural sector, which is the key water user in the basin, led to identification of potential adaptation measures, ranging from technical measures — such as rehabilitation of irrigation systems to reduce water losses, changing land use and crop diversification — to policy and financial measures, including review of subsidy policy. The need to improve water use efficiency and modernize agriculture in both countries necessitates measures similar to those supporting adaptation.

On the first day of the meeting, representatives of UNECE underlined the importance of the countries’ coordinating their water management measures, as the impacts propagate across borders. The value of checking the robustness of water management practices and of long-term investments in infrastructure, against changing conditions — “climate-proofing” — was also highlighted.

On the second day, the project document of a future $1 million project, “Enabling transboundary cooperation and integrated water resources management in the Chu and Talas River Basins”, to be funded by Global Environmental Facility (GEF), was presented and discussed. This project will provide an opportunity to deepen the cooperation between the two countries, in particular with regard to the protection of water ecosystems and water monitoring, and also to follow up on the recommendation of the climate change adaptation project concluded the previous day.

The GEF project under development has three main components:

  • In-depth situational analysis and improved management and use of water resources and related ecosystems
  • Institutional development of the Commission, in particular strengthening the environmental aspects of its activities
  • Improved monitoring of water quality and quantity

It is anticipated that the project will start early autumn 2014.

Kazakhstan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s cooperation on the Chu and Talas Rivers is managed by a joint bilateral commission. It is a good example of transboundary water cooperation built on a solid institutional and legal basis. By working with the Commission and national Kyrgyz and Kazakh authorities, the two projects contribute to the further development of water cooperation between the two countries, making it possible to better take into account risks and uncertainties as well as environmental concerns.   

Contact for additional information:

UNECE
Ms. Annukka Lipponen (on the climate change meeting)
Email: annukka.lipponen@unece.org
Mr. Bo Libert (on the new GEF project)
Email: bo.libert@unece.org
Tel. +41 079 4444180

Note to editors

The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) is an important legal framework for transboundary water management in the pan-European region. The two projects accounted for in this press release are parts of its work programme. Currently, 38 countries and the European Union are Parties to the Convention. Kazakhstan is a Party while Kyrgyzstan is not a Party to the Convention.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan share the waters of the transboundary Chu and Talas Rivers. Whereas all facilities for the rivers’ regulation, such as dams, water reservoirs and canals, are located upstream in the territory of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan depends on the operation and proper maintenance of these facilities. This situation prompted the two countries to establish a legal basis for the joint operation of water management infrastructure. Under an agreement from 2000, UNECE has previously supported the establishment of a bilateral Commission on the Use of Water Management Facilities of Intergovernmental Status on the Chu and Talas Rivers, with a permanent secretariat as well as experts and working groups. 

GEF, with its secretariat in Washington, addresses global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives. An independently operating financial organization, GEF provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants.


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