Abstract. The current system of relations between the states of the region in an atmosphere of good-neighborliness and cooperation allows the countries of Central Asia to manage and use the water resources of the region effectively and efficiently. There is a positive trend in addressing issues of transboundary water use. Almost all contentious issues on water facilities in the border areas and their operation are settled, modes and volumes of taking water from the main transboundary rivers are operationally coordinated, and the countries of the region take joint efforts to mitigate the impact of a water shortage.
The Central Asian region has been identified by the policymakers of the Republic of Uzbekistan as the main priority of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy.
Based on this, active work is currently underway to strengthen cooperation on joint management and use of water resources.
Within the framework of the initiative of the policymakers of the Republic over the past two years, the work on promoting water cooperation with neighbouring countries has been significantly intensified. Working groups on water use with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan have been established.
All these changes have a positive impact on the water, food and energy security of the Central Asian countries.
Despite the significant achievements of the Central Asian countries, there are still a number of unresolved issues in the field of water resources. In particular:
• Increase in water consumption, decrease in water resources, climate change.
The year-on-year water shortage associated with climate change and melting glaciers, as well as population growth and, consequently, increased demand for food and water, are one of the main challenges for the future development of the countries of the region. Even today, Central Asian countries face problems related to water shortage, pollution and depletion of water sources.
Central Asia is threatened primarily by the melting of mountain glaciers that feed the region’s main rivers. Over the last century, the area of glaciers in the region has decreased by one third. Today’s rate of loss in Central Asia is estimated at 0.2-1% per year. According to forecasts, with an increase in temperature by 2 degrees, glaciers can lose up to 50% in their volume, and with warming by 4 degrees - up to 78%, which can lead to catastrophic consequences.
The results of modeling and various estimates show that, by 2050, the water resources of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river basins may decrease from 5 to 15% of the long-term norm.
Today it is safe to note that climate change and melting of glaciers negatively affect the water content of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers.
In the context of industrialization, high demographic growth and urbanization, as well as increasing demand for food, the demand for water resources increases from year to year. The region is now home to more than 70 million people, and the UN predicts the population will reach 94 million by 2050. This raises new challenges related to population growth and increased demand for food and water.
Addressing the use of transboundary water resources in Central Asia is a common task for the countries of the region, and only through joint efforts can we achieve tangible results to preserve the water balance in the region, and the world community, as we see it, could help us to achieve these goals.
• Outdated and inefficient legal framework for the joint use of water and energy.
Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the Central Asian states have failed to establish a stable and effective mechanism for regional water and energy cooperation. Many existing agreements and arrangements are not implemented or partially respected.
The conviction of either deliberate noncompliance or lack of commitment to the implementation of the agreements by the parties has led to an increase in mutual distrust between the countries and damaging the credibility of regional organizations in this area. An obvious example would be the activities of IFAS.
To date, there is no other alternative to solving the issue of the allocation of transboundary water resources in the region, except to achieve regional agreement through the adoption of legal instruments that contribute to a constructive and civilized dialogue.
The still unresolved water issues of Central Asia should be addressed on the basis of the principles of friendship, mutual respect and trust, in the spirit of the centuries- old traditions of our peoples in respect of nature and the joint use of common water resources.
At the same time, the experience of linking water and energy issues in multilateral and, more recently, mainly bilateral intergovernmental agreements has revealed many difficulties, both at the stage of concluding intergovernmental agreements and at the stage of their implementation.
As a rule, intergovernmental agreements try to cover the whole range of existing interstate issues, and therefore almost all ministries and departments of the parties, not only water and energy industries, participate in their development. The consequence is low efficiency and lack of transparency in decision-making at the level of intergovernmental agreements, the presence of barter mutual supplies of energy resources, linking the implementation of the obligations of one authority depending on the performance of obligations by other authorities, etc.
Experience has shown that intergovernmental agreements are particularly ineffective in low-water or high-water years, i.e. when the greatest coordination of water and energy issues is required.
It should be noted that the countries of the Central Asian region still have the opportunities and the necessary potential not only to improve the existing interstate relations in the water sphere, but also to raise them to a higher quality level, as well as to create mutually acceptable mechanisms of water use, which can become the basis for long-term close cooperation.
Indeed, as practice shows, it is mutually beneficial cooperation, built on the basis of taking into account the interests of all countries of the basin, as well as based on the norms and principles of international water law, is long-term and mutually acceptable.
To address the existing problematic issues in the field of water resources management in Uzbekistan and in the region as a whole, it is proposed to work out the following measures:
The development and adoption of Regional Programs of rational use of water resources, which provides for joint management of water resources at the boundary of water basins, the creation of mutually acceptable mechanisms for management of transboundary water resources in the region, conducting joint economic analysis of water use, development of practical action for joint consideration and exchange of information in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, the study of joint implementation of water and energy projects based on the principle of distribution of costs and benefits.
We have prepared a draft Regional Program and today distributed it to all participants before the event.
It is planned to organize expert discussions of the draft Regional Program with representatives of Central Asia on October 25, 2019 in Nukus on the eve of the above-mentioned International Conference “Aral Sea as the Zone of Environmental Innovations and Technologies”.
We propose to hold a number of discussions at the expert level in an agreed place and different format, as well as to adopt a Regional Water Resources Management Programme when agreed.
- The establishment of Regional Scientific and Production Centre for irrigation and Water Conservation, aimed at assisting countries in the region to improve the efficiency of water use in agriculture, municipal, industrial and other spheres, the use and development of water-saving irrigation techniques and improvement and modernization of irrigation and melioration, support the development and implementation of scientific developments and modern technologies of water conservation.
- Elaboration of signing the agreements between the countries of the region on joint management of transboundary water resources, as well as cooperation in the construction of large hydraulic structures on the upper reaches of transboundary rivers of the region.
It is necessary to find a comprehensive solution in providing consumers of the Central Asian region with electricity and water, i.e. to consider water and energy issues (water and associated electricity) in conjunction, and not just water and energy issues separately.
Taking into account the ongoing construction of large hydroelectric power stations with reservoirs of long-term regulation on transboundary rivers, which can and should carry out re-regulation of river flow for the benefit of the entire region, and not a single country, it is advisable: joint participation of stakeholders in the construction of these facilities; to develop and conclude a multilateral agreement with the participation of upstream and downstream countries, which should legally enshrine the rights and obligations of the participants in the operation of hydroelectric facilities of long-term regulation.
We are convinced that the actions of our countries on the joint use of water resources are based on mutual respect, trust and openness, which is due to the centuries-old ties of brotherhood of our peoples, common history, traditions and religion.
Uzbekistan is ready for close and active cooperation with all Central Asian countries on the use of water resources in the region on a constructive and mutually beneficial basis in the spirit of good-neighborliness and friendship.
Switzerland was the only financing partner in the first phase. The EU’s first grant of EUR 1 million was given to CAWEP for its second phase. The third phase started in January 2018. ↑