NUR-SULTAN. On May 17 a high-level panel session “Water as a factor of economic growth and security in Central Asia” was held at the XII Astana Economic Forum in Nur-Sultan. The discussion focused on the national needs and visions towards sustainable water management through regional collaboration.
The panel session, chaired by the Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan Mr Saparkhan Omarov and moderated by Dr Guy Bonvin, the Swiss Special Envoy for Water in Central Asia, brought together high-level officials from key ministries of the five countries of Central Asia as well as international experts. The event was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Switzerland’s Blue Peace Central Asia initiative, in partnership with the European Union, the World Bank, the International Water Assessment Centre and supported by the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia (CAREC).
By welcoming all delegations, Minister Omarov noted that the issue of water resources management in the region requires a holistic approach as they are mainly of transboundary nature. He also highlighted that the water sector of the region, which combines water, food and energy, should be seen as inextricably linked with national security, regional stability and sustainable economic growth. The importance of water availability is indeed a key factor for sustainable economic development and this is very true when it comes to the Central Asian region as well. This has been highlighted also by representatives of all five Central Asian countries.
They expressed their readiness to enhance joint efforts for forging collaboration in the context of declining water resources in the region due to climate change and the rise of the demand due to the growth of population. The speakers also underlined a strong connection between the water, energy and agriculture sectors. It was mentioned that there is a need to enhance inter-agency dialogue between these sectors.
Similarly, the representatives of the World Bank, the European Union and the Geneva Water Hub also shared their thoughts on water management in the region. Experts estimate that worldwide Central Asia is the region that could gain the most from the implementation of forward-looking water management approaches, increased water productivity and through enhanced and systemic transboundary water cooperation, based on strengthened national water resources management capacities.
As the World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan, Mr Ato Brown, highlighted, “Today the Central Asian economies are not water constrained, however, we see the region produces far below its water resources potential. The cumulative effects of climate change and the near-disappearance of the Aral Sea are further increasing the water-related stress. With current water management policies in place, water scarcity could lead to a significant slowdown in economic performance. While more efficient water use presents significant gains for the region economies.” Mr Ato brown also mentioned that according to the World Bank studies, the efficiency of water use in Central Asian countries is one of the lowest in the EECA region. Which means that there is a big potential in working on efficiency.
"The EU welcomes a growing recognition that national approaches are insufficient to address effectively the complex water, energy, food and environment challenges and will support together with other development partners improved regional cooperation which is crucial for sustainable water management in the region," noted Mr Luc Devigne, Director of the European External Action Service Directorate for Russia, Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, Regional cooperation and OSCE. Mr Christophe Bösch of the Geneva Water Hub talked about sharing benefits in transboundary and intersectoral water contexts: “Investments for Watershed Services (IWS) is a now a well-established mechanism globally, that was pioneered in Central Asia with the Chu-Talas agreement of 2000. IWS is an economic agreement between different stakeholders in a watershed, in which one party invests in or buys a service from the other, with a view to better manage their collective water resources and foster growth and security".
Having alignment with the activities of the Blue Peace Central Asia initiative of the Swiss Agency for development and cooperation, the panel session was the first step towards developing a common vision on water security in the Central Asian region. More concrete steps towards this common vision will be discussed in the nearest future.
Blue Peace Central Asia – an initiative launched by the Swiss Government and implemented by the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia (CAREC).