On February 25, the program “Water as a driver of sustainable recovery” held the second webinar in a series of four. The event focused on “Identifying essential structural and institutional reforms to achieve economic sustainability of the water sector of Central Asia”. 100 experts from Central Asia, Europe, Afghanistan and China discussed the past and ongoing reforms implemented in the region, the key factors that lead to ineffective water use, and shared studies on the topic. Aside from that, the Blue Peace Index was presented during the event.
The research program is implemented by the Corvinus University of Budapest and supported by the Blue Peace Central Asia initiative (BPCA) of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), and the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia (CAREC). The program is scheduled to two years until the end of 2022.
“Identifying institutional reform to achieve the economic sustainability of the water sector is an extremely ambitious mission! But absolutely necessary! Especially if we understand that the water sector…is not only depending on the water sector.”, noted Dr Guy Bonvin, Special Envoy for Water in Central Asia of SDC, in his opening remarks. Moreover, according to Dr Bonvin, it is a matter of ensuring the viability and the sustainability of a key ingredient for the regional economy and stability. Identifying institutional reforms is a teamwork of different professions, ministries, countries that is needed.
And we cannot postpone this process. “COVID-19 should not compromise common environmental ambitions. The pandemic should rather be used as an opportunity to promote a transition to more sustainable use and management of natural resources, including shared water” stated Peter Burian, EU Special Representative for Central Asia, in his address. He added that EU CA Economic forum and EU CA Civil Society Forums in the second half of this year will provide useful platforms for promoting a comprehensive approach to sustainable recovery from the post-COVID19 crisis, involving also the private sector, to be supported by suitable enabling conditions.
Presenting the Blue Peace Index for the Syr Darya and Amu Darya, Matus Samel of the Economist Intelligence Unit, noted that “The institutional architecture for the water cooperation at the river basin level is existing but has potential for improvement in its operationalization for a higher efficiency, especially if compared to other basins, which could be a source of inspiration”. The rating reflects an evaluation of the management of shared water resources in five areas: policy & legal frameworks, institutional arrangements & participation, water management instruments, infrastructure & financing, and cooperation. More detailed can be retrieved from the website of the rating.
Learning more of the benefit for the water sector from sound reform packages is the role of the research of modelling and testing, anticipating as illustrated by the presentation of Dr. Miklós Rosta and Dominika Vitár of Corvinus University with the title “Modelling the effects of institutional reforms on the water sector: key steps to strengthen state capacity and improve resource allocation”.
Additionally, a research group, under the lead of Professor Xenarios, of the Graduate School of Public Policy of the Nazarbayev University outlined the challenges of urban water and wastewater systems across the river basins of Kazakhstan, looking at the “Accessibility and affordability: applying socio-economic, geographical and population service criteria to state, community, private and humanitarian financing of communal water supply and sanitary services”. Study’s results were discussed. According to Professor Xenarios, the study could be replicated in other States of the region, contributing to a better understanding of the challenges faced by cities in the region and enhancing peer learning in addressing those.
The debate of experts, which followed the presentations, showed that the current structure and legal system hold back the potential of water use in the region, impacting the socio-economic development of the region. In particular, the institutional and policy environment aren’t conducive to attracting private investments, which would improve the water value chain and mobilize resources that address looming challenges related to climate change.
The participants from Central Asian states, including Afghanistan shared information on legal and institutional progress made in the countries in relation to water management. For example, Kazakhstan is now developing a national program on waters resources management, which will comprehensively cover all aspects of water use. Tajikistan continues implementing IWRM in an ambitious water reform. Experts highlighted that additional financing alone is not enough to ensure the sustainability of the water sector.
The discussion highlighted avenues to contribute to the sustainability of the water sector, such as:
· A comprehensive legal system, involving all water users;
· Prioritizing sustainability and guaranteed access to water for the population;
· Differentiated tariff system;
· Development of a regional database;
· Development of mechanisms to engage the business sector.
As noted by Marton Krasznai, economic, financial and environmental consideration have not been properly integrated into the management of the water sector of Central Asia since 1991. As a result, countries went through years of underinvestment and insufficient funding for the operation, maintenance, research and development. Besides, the lack of regional cooperation has been magnifying existing problems.
“Estimates of the cost of inaction in terms of systemic water cooperation in the region range between USD 3 - 6 billion annually. Adaptation to climate change may require significant additional investment to develop robust, multi-year regulating capacity for the region”, Marton Krasznai, Center for Central Asia Research Scientific Director, Corvinus University of Budapest.
Looking ahead, Ambassador Bonvin stated that “Each water related policy need to factor the regional vision of what is a good deal, an equitable agreement between different stakeholders sharing the same good, water, essential for their wealth, security and health.
Such policies shall also incorporate the checks and balances mechanism of the region, the endogenous trade-off mechanism. Valuable source of inspirations are solutions developed in other basins, in other part of the world.
All in all, it is safe to say, that all countries acknowledge that water plays a key role in the economy of the whole region and that structural and legal changes are necessary. Representatives of government agencies have once more shown that they are ready to cooperate, which makes it possible to have positive expectations from further meetings. The next event is scheduled for 15 April 2021.