June of the outgoing year was marked by the launch of a Swiss initiative that sets a new course for cross-border water cooperation in the region: The Blue Peace Central Asia initiative. It has been launched on the margins of the World Expo in Astana with participation of high level decisions makers.
Under this initiative, Switzerland through its Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) aims at fostering dialogue between the countries sharing transboundary river basins in order to develop sustainable practices on integrated water resources management in transboundary areas. By doing so, the initiative strives at transforming transboundary water management from a potential source of conflict into an instrument of peace building and enhanced cooperation.
We were pleased to present a small talk with Dr André Wehrli, Switzerland’s Regional Water Advisor for Central Asia, asking him just three main questions about this initiative.
Mr. Wehrli, I invite you to begin with a definition of the Blue Peace initiative as if you would explain it to a person far from the environmental protection sphere. What would you then underline?
We know that we are already in a global water crisis today. And this crisis will become more and more severe. Efforts in one country or one region will not be enough to tackle this crisis. We are connected and affected. Thus, we need to cooperate. More and better.
The basic idea behind the Blue Peace movement is to combine policy dialogue on integrated water resources management with concrete action on the ground. The movement currently includes three initiatives: The Global Blue Peace initiative with its high-level panel on water and peace – as well as two regional initiatives, one in the Middle East and one in Central Asia.
The link between the policy level and the operational level is particularly important to “walk the talk” and to get concrete results on the ground, which in turn deliver convincing evidence for the policy level.
What experience can be useful in implementing these tasks?
As the water tower of Europe, Switzerland has a long-standing experience in transboundary water cooperation – and to some extent also a special responsibility. And we know from our own experience how beneficial good cooperation on integrated water resources management is, even for an upstream country as Switzerland.
Good evidence therefore is the river Rhine: Cooperation on this river is ongoing for several decades. As you can imagine, after World War II, one of the major tasks in Europe was on trust building and trying to increase mutual understanding. And it was during these years, in 1950, when the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine was founded. But it took several decades to work towards the achievements we have today, and in fact, the work is still ongoing. New questions and problems emerge and need to be tackled. However, the setup is solid and we can work on these issues.
There is certainly no “one size fits all” solution for all transboundary basins, but some form of better cooperation is needed in any case. And the Blue Peace concept is pretty adaptable.
Can you please name specific tools or methodology on building trust upon this initiative?
Let me first give an overview on the setup up: We have three pillars in the Blue Peace: one on policy dialogue, one on action on the ground, and one on our future generation
The first pillar is as I said focusing on the policy level – supporting and fostering the policy dialogue. We have had three conferences, starting in Basel in 2014, then in 2016 in Almaty and finally this June in Astana. These conferences brought high-level officials together to exchange on and identify topics which could provide entry points for transboundary cooperation. This dialogue will now be institutionalized through a high-level dialogue platform, which will start in 2018. Dialogue per se and consensus-based decision making are important steps towards an increased level of mutual understanding and trust.
The second pillar aims at having action on the ground. Thus, we are supporting transboundary activities on the ground in order to provide evidence that cooperation pays. At the moment, we are running a regional project that starts from glacier monitoring and aims at providing climate data and information for concrete activities on disaster risk management. The project started a couple years ago, already in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but now we want to enlarge its scope and include Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. In addition, as many other international stakeholders, we are involved in activities in the Chu-Talas basins. The focus there is on improving the data base and through this, water accountability in these transboundary basins. A sound information and data base is key for decision-making – and again an important step to increase trust.
The last pillar is focusing on the youth. It is about capacity building and about bringing young “future champions” from all countries in Central Asia together. The latter again is an important step in trust building. And then of course, the new capacities need to be linked to the decision-making processes and layers. We already started with this pillar during the conference in Astana, but we intend to identify niches where our initiative and the involved partner institutions can add value.
Recall that the Blue Peace Initiative was presented in the pavilion of Switzerland during the EXPO-2017 in Astana. Below you see a video that was broadcast for its visitors.
 From the 17th to the 19th of June 2017, the International Secretariat for Water, and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, organized the “Youth Regional Meeting on Water in Central Asia”. Read