Water diplomacy in the spotlight at the international conference on Central Asia

Publication date: 19 February 2019

On February 19-20, Tashkent hosts the international conference “Central Asian Connectivity: Challenges and New Opportunities”. During the conference, more than 100 experts from 35 countries of the world will discuss regional security and cooperation. Among the participants are the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Peter Burian, Deputy General Director of the World Trade Organization, Alan Wolfe, head of the administration of the Organization of American States (OAS), Gonzalo Conca, who is visiting Uzbekistan for the first time.

The thematic areas of the parallel meetings reflect key elements for the sustainable development of the region. In particular, the parties will discuss the prospects for joint work in the field of trade, transport, water management, environmental protection, energy, tourism and culture. The organizers are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan and the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA).

During the opening of the conference, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov, emphasized the need to coordinate efforts in addressing the challenges associated with the Aral Sea catastrophe. According to Mr Kamilov, the Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea Region, established in November last year, plays an important role in this.

At the end of the speech, Abdulaziz Kamilov noted that Central Asia has always been a unified and integrated region that is united by history and culture. “Combining our capabilities and efforts will allow us to reach a fundamentally new level of cooperation and development. Together we can transform Central Asia into a stable and economically prosperous region,”concluded Mr Kamilov.

The conference will result into specific recommendations to the presidents of the countries of Central Asia, who will meet in Tashkent in April 2019 to discuss regional issues. This was announced at the opening by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, the head of the UNRCCA, Natalia Gherman.

Executive Director of CAREC, Dr Iskandar Abdullaev, highlighted the importance of water diplomacy in sustainable development. Dr Abdullaev made a presentation at the conference on water, environmental and energy partnerships.

CAREC Executive Director stressed that Central Asia is facing demographic and economic pressure. In addition, there is a deterioration of infrastructure and policies, as well as a commitment to a development model with a high “environmental footprint”. At the same time, most of the water resources in Central Asia are transboundary. Accordingly, addressing water-related challenges requires close regional cooperation. And postponing these decisions, according to D. Abdullaev, is highly undesirable. After all, inefficient water management has its environmental consequences.

In his presentation, Dr Abdullaev also highlighted the efforts of countries in the field of water management. The region has a pragmatic and long-term process with institutional and instrumental elements. "Institutions of regional cooperation coped with the post-Soviet processes without any serious conflicts”. In addition, countries of the region have been able to create national environmental and water management systems, although reforms in this sector are still ongoing, ”said Dr Abdullaev.

Another important factor on the path to harmonious water management is the participation of Central Asian countries in global sustainable development processes, the signing of climate and water conventions. National reforms in Central Asia also must be noted: IWRM, environmental development and sustainable development concepts have paved their way into the region.

According to Dr Abdullaev, at this moment the main challenge regarding water cooperation for the region is coordination of efforts at the national and regional levels.

It should be noted that water initiatives support is one of the five work areas of the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia. Over 18 years of work, CAREC has managed to make its contribution to the development of water cooperation in the region.

Thanks to its partners, the centre managed to implement a number of projects aimed at capacity building, information management, creation of basin organizations and councils, building confidence and communication between local, national and regional levels.

Water cooperation is always reflected in the work of CAREC regional platforms: the meeting of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Parliamentarians, CAIEF, CACCC. Moreover, the centre supports the participation of delegations from Central Asian countries in global events: World Water Forum, World Water Week.

“Water cooperation is more than just working through official channels. It requires efforts to build trust and improve cooperation at all levels of water management, ”said Dr Ablullaev. At the same time, the introduction of tools and formations for institutions play a key role for the sustainability of the results.

On the second day of the conference, participants will discuss the international perception of the new dynamics of regional cooperation in Central Asia, as well as the international experience of regional cooperation.

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