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The need for strengthened cooperation on water highlighted at Berlin Conference

The challenges posed by climate change to Central Asia, the likelihood of more frequent compound water-energy-food crises and the growing strain on the shared water resources of the region due to economic development and demographic growth require more intensive joint efforts by the countries of the region and their international partners. This was the main message of the high-level conference on Water and good neighbourly relations in Central Asia organized by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany on 7 and 8 September in Berlin.

The conference gathered the Deputy Prime Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the Deputy Minister of Water Economy of Turkmenistan and the Chairman of the State Committee of Nature Protection of Uzbekistan, as well as the EU Special Representative for Central Asia and high-level representatives of regional organizations and the development community.  Participants requested the Federal Foreign Office to provide continued assistance to national and regional programs in the framework of the Berlin Process to help Central Asian countries cope with the legacy of the past – the consequences of the drying out of the Aral Sea - and emerging challenges.

The conference reviewed progress within the Berlin Process, launched by Foreign Minister Steinmeier in 2008 to assist Central Asian countries in the management of their shared water resources. This process has served as a political framework for a broad range of national and regional projects implemented by GIZ and UNECE as its partner, with financing by the Federal Foreign office. 

In his message to the conference Foreign Minister Steinmeier warned that water shortages affect people’s lives and hamper the economic development of entire regions. This can lead to social and political tensions, and can threaten peace and stability.

UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach reminded participants that access to clean water had been one of the core goals in the Millennium Development Goals.  Water’s place in the Sustainable Development Goals, will be even stronger, going well beyond access - taking into account critical issues such as integrated water resources management, efficiency of use, water quality, prevention of water disasters and transboundary cooperation.

“The UNECE Water Convention facilitates the development and sharing of water resources, within certain rules and with a focus on consultation with other countries. I would like to encourage all countries in Central Asia to join and implement the measures and principles behind the Water Convention and use it as a neutral platform to find common solutions in the region and to help to improve coordination and cooperation among all key players - governments, donors and other members of the development community, the civil society and the academic community. In UNECE we are committed to step up our efforts,”  he said.

UNECE has been implementing the program “Regional dialogue and cooperation on water resources management in Central Asia” in the framework of the Berlin Process. The program focused on supporting regional cooperation on water resources management and environment protection in the Aral Sea Basin. Among others, it supported the work of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, including the modernization of its legal basis and improving the functioning of its institutions. The program provided assistance to the elaboration of the Third Aral Sea Basin Program, a three-year action plan containing hundreds of projects aimed at alleviating the consequences of the tragedy of the Aral Sea and achieving sustainability in its basin. The program included a series of capacity building events on international water law, focusing on the UNECE Water Convention. The accession of Turkmenistan to the Convention in 2012 is considered as one of its successes. A number of activities on dam safety and water quality were also part of the programme.