• English

Coordination meeting on the follow-up to the IFAS summit in Almaty

Ashgabat, 16 July 2009
Statement by Mr. Ján Kubiš
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

At the recent Summit Meeting on IFAS on 28 April this year, the Presidents of Central Asian States, in face of mounting challenges in the water and energy sectors, displayed far-sightedness and a high degree of pragmatism. They agreed on the key steps towards the elaboration of comprehensive, sustainable solutions. They invited the United Nations and other members of the international development community to assist them in these efforts. I am pleased to note that the UNECE, working closely with the GTZ within the framework of the Berlin Process is part of this effort and is providing substantial assistance to the Executive Committee of IFAS in the implementation of the Summit decisions.

UNECE has been working for several years in cooperation with national and regional institutions on regional water issues, in particular, on the SPECA Regional Strategy for the Rational and Efficient Use of Water and Energy Resources, the establishment of the Chu and Talas Water Commission and on the strengthening of dam safety.

The challenges that Central Asia faces in the water and energy sectors are well known. I will mention only one. Among the gravest and irreversible consequences of climate change is the continuing reduction of the surface area of glaciers in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan: while this phenomenon is increasing river flows for another 15-20 years, a significant reduction of water supply is expected to occur from 2025-2030 onwards. Upstream and downstream countries will have to work closely together to prepare the region for this unprecedented drop in water supply. Mutually agreed management of water resources supported by well-functioning regional institutions will be a sine qua non for the stable, prosperous and peaceful future of the countries of the region. Rapid elaboration of fundamental policy approaches and coordination of long-term investment plans is urgently required by this dramatic challenge, and it can emerge only from mutual partnership and cooperation of all countries of the region. Therefore, the importance of the recent IFAS summit.

Participants of the Summit Meeting fully recognized the key role of strong regional institutions and modern legal frameworks in the solution of complex regional problems linked to the water and energy nexus. What is even more important, the Presidents instructed the Executive Committee of IFAS to elaborate a set of proposals for the strengthening of regional institutions and modernization of legal frameworks. The UNECE and GTZ have agreed with EC IFAS to work together on the implementation of the Summit decisions within the framework of a programme financed by the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany under the Berlin Process. The programme will also assist EC IFAS in becoming an effective regional donors’ coordination body, so it has the capacity to elaborate the Third Aral Sea Basin Programme, as directed by the Summit.  

Most of the activities under the UNECE-GTZ Programme will be implemented by the representatives of the five member countries themselves through EC IFAS and its institutional partners. Our objective is to empower them to successfully accomplish this complicated task. What UNECE offers is a neutral UN umbrella, its relevant legal instruments, its in-house expertise and its long experience in the water and energy sectors of Central Asia.

Confidence building and strengthening the political will of member countries to elaborate mutually acceptable solutions will be an indispensable part of the process. While EC IFAS should play a key role in this area too, I stand ready to support these efforts through my regular contacts with high-level government representatives in the region. I very much count on the active involvement of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, the Head of the United Nations Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, Ambassador Miroslav Jenca  in political consensus- building.

The three-year UNECE-GTZ Programme consists of four, mutually supportive and complementary elements:

1.         Through capacity-building it will facilitate the accession of those Central Asian countries to the UNECE Water Convention and other relevant legal instruments, which have not yet done so. Here, I would like to applaud the decision of the Government of Turkmenistan to accede to the Water Convention. This Convention embodies a thorough balance of interests of upstream and downstream countries and it offers strong institutional support to its Parties. It can provide assistance – including mobilization of funds – for the elaboration or modernization of bilateral and regional agreements, and it continuously integrates new ideas into its work, such as adaptation to climate change. The Parties to the Convention are developing Guidance on Adaptation to Climate Change to provide for a systematic response to the ongoing process. This Guidance is a valuable instrument to be applied in Central Asia.

2.         Improving water monitoring and data exchange is a key objective of the Programme. A comprehensive, accessible and transparent regional database that includes all relevant information on water quantity and quality would be the central part of an effective decision-support system for all regional bodies, including EC IFAS, ICWC and ICSD.

3.         The Programme supports the launching of a negotiating process by the Executive Committee of IFAS on institutional strengthening and legal reform. This process will start with a thorough assessment of the present situation and proceed towards the development of recommendations and proposals, as required by the Summit Declaration. As a result, IFAS could become the regional umbrella for the integrated management of water resources in Central Asia, regularly involving water agencies, ministries of environment, agriculture, energy, foreign affairs and the civil society in its work.

4.         The fourth element of the Programme – elaboration of proposals for the reform of regional legal frameworks for water resources management – is expected to start only if and when sufficient consensus is achieved on institutional strengthening.   

Mr. Chairperson,

The UNECE-GTZ Programme is implemented within the framework of the Berlin Process, which is part and parcel of the Water and Environment Pillar of the Central Asia Strategy of the European Union. The Programme promotes the implementation of key principles of the EU Water Framework Directive. First of all, it supports the development of a collaborative decision-making and implementation approach, which is comparable to EU-procedures. Through the strengthening of intersector coordination, it facilitates the adoption of an ecosystem perspective to water management and environmental protection.

We also see synergies and complementarities between the Programme and the National Policy Dialogues, implemented by UNECE and OECD under the EU Water Initiative.  Promoting integrated water resources management at the national, river-basin and regional levels would facilitate the harmonization of policies and the achievement of coherent approaches throughout the region – in other words, even the most successful reform of regional legal frameworks would bring little improvement without the adoption of national implementation laws and relevant mechanisms. Here in particular I can also see a strong role of UNDP.

We hope that the UNECE-GTZ Programme will help EC IFAS launch a comprehensive and sustainable process of strengthening regional institutions and modernization of legal frameworks for water resources management in Central Asia.

Knowing how much time and effort it took to establish well-functioning river-basin commissions on other rivers in Europe or Asia, we are acutely aware of the need to work hard on the sustainability of the process. It also goes without saying, all those involved in the area of water resources and energy in Central Asia need to work together, and seek to complement each other’s work and develop all possible synergies. We cannot afford to waste precious resources by doing otherwise. I, therefore, would like to express my sincere gratitude to Ambassador Miroslav Jenca for organizing this coordination meeting.

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