Water resources are the basis for sustainable development and future progress
The International conference “Towards the 6th World Water Forum – joint action towards water security” opened in Tashkent on 12 May. It is supported by the World Water Council in the framework of the global process of preparation to the forthcoming forum, to take place in March 2012 in Marseille (France).
Preserving the environment and its resources, including one of the most important one – water, has acquired special urgency in the recent years. The entire international community is looking for solution of the problem of provision the population and the economy with water. According to official figures, over 1 billion people on the planet today lack access to clean water. In the future, this situation may become even more acute, because due to continuous population growth and climate changes, water shortages will only worsen.
The environmental challenges in Central Asia, associated with the drying Aral Sea, are known around the world. However, the bitter experience has not been a lesson for all regional countries. Attempts to implement projects with construction of giant dams on trans-border rivers, and to transfer existing and constructed hydro structures to energy mode are causing justified concerns among the majority of population in the region. Negative consequences of such actions will affect the lives of millions of people living here. Moreover, their influence is already becoming global in nature. This was emphasized by President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov in his speech at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2010.
The international conference in Tashkent, which is an important step in preparation for the World Water Forum, is being attended by over 350 experts, prominent scientists, environmentalists and specialists in water management from 32 countries, as well as representatives of about 30 influential international organizations and financial institutions, including the UN and its member agencies, the World Water Council, Global Water Partnership, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Economic Commission for Europe, International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, USAID, International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, International Commission on Large Dams, and others.
The participants of the conference listened to the welcome address of President Islam Karimov, in which he outlined fundamental approaches of Uzbekistan to the regional problems of rational use of water resources of transboundary rivers, which have always provided the vital needs of more than 50 million people living in six states of the region. The President called on the conference participants to establish a mechanism for effective regional cooperation to guarantee that the transboundary rivers are used according to generally accepted international rules and regulations to ensure equality, mutual benefit and fairness for all parties, since this issue is of a vital value for the residents of the region.
In his address, President of Uzbekistan stressed: “Today, humanity is facing an important task – to preserve nature for present and future generations, and to protect it from threats and challenges, which could affect the lives of people and disrupt the existing system of nature use.”
The times of “easy” water has ended, the humanity has entered a new era of shared water use, said the president of the World Water Council Loïc Fauchon in his video address to the conference. The vision is changing toward the concept of a more caring attitude towards nature. Thanks to the efforts of several countries, including Central Asian states, the way is paved for a more responsible attitude towards water resources and their rational sharing. Everyone’s right to water has been proclaimed by the UN, and no one can deprive any person of this right, which is essential for life. Separation of water among countries, and between people and nature should be just. He noted that the peoples of Central Asia had the richest culture in the area of water management, and their experience was very important for solving water problems around the world.
World Water Forums have been held since 1997, once in every three years. They are the largest international meetings to discuss the state, preservation and use of water resources of the planet. The topic of the 6th World Water Forum of 2012 is “From goal to solutions”. Of 12 areas on its agenda, six most important issues were identified for the Central Asian region, to which the conference in Tashkent should find a common approach.
These issues are guaranteed access to water and water rights, promotion of cooperation and peace, balance of multiple use of water through the introduction of integrated water resources management (IWRM), food security, improving the quality of water resources and ecosystems, and adaptation to climate and global change in urbanizing world. The priority issue for the region is organizing the management of transboundary water objects based on international law, widespread introduction of IWRM and reforming agriculture, including irrigation.
Two transboundary rivers in Central Asia – Amu Darya and Syr Darya – have from ancient times provided the basis for hydrological, social and economic development of the peoples living in the region, thus contributing to the goals identified in the Millennium Declaration, said the head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia Miroslav Jenca. Therefore, there is a need for an effective and rational approach, responsibility and joint action through regional cooperation in water management and conservation. The UN will continue to support the efforts of countries in the region to find an agreed solution to the problems of the Aral Sea and to develop a mutually acceptable mechanism for integrated management of water resources, taking into account the interests of all Central Asian states. The UN legal instruments ensure a sound basis for solving these problems, however, the situation in the area of water and energy resources in the region remains complex.
At the conference, it was stressed that Uzbekistan since the first years of independence has paid a great attention to improvement of the environment and public health, and environmental conditions not only in the country, but in the whole Central Asian region, including raising the quality of water resources management and promoting water saving. This area has become one of the most important directions of the socially-oriented state policy in Uzbekistan, where reforms are complex, gradual and consistent. The results of this policy are the country’s macroeconomic and social stability, sustainable economic growth and increasing incomes of the population.
The national environmental legislation of Uzbekistan fully meets international standards. A number of state programs and national action plans are being implemented. The country is signatory to all major international instruments in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development, in particular, the UN Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and other documents related to use of transboundary water resources.
As foreign experts noted at the conference, the environmental catastrophe of the Aral Sea is now known throughout the world primarily thanks to the policy of Uzbekistan, which is aimed at overcoming its effects. The President of the country in his speeches at many high level international forums has repeatedly drawn international attention to the need for comprehensive measures with participation of the international community. On the initiative of the head of the state, a number of declarations were signed, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) was set up, and major international conferences on this topic were held, including the one on “Transboundary environmental problems in Central Asia: the use of international legal mechanisms” last November. The outcome of this conference was adoption of the Tashkent Environmental Declaration, which notes that the regional states should strive for cross-border cooperation in accordance with key international documents defining the basic principles of management of transboundary rivers, in order to prevent harm to other basin states of these rivers.
It was Uzbekistan that initiated the development and implementation of the Program of Action to assist the Aral Sea region in the framework of the IFAS, two phases of which have already been implemented. At the meeting of IFAS heads of states in April 2009, President Islam Karimov put forward the concept of the third phase of this program designed for 2011-2015.
The conference participants noted that in Uzbekistan, enormous work was being carried out for the conservation and rational use of water resources. As part of reforms in agriculture, associations of water users were created, and the areas for cotton growing have been significantly reduced and now cover only about 25% of irrigated lands. Despite intensive development of the national economy, water use from rivers has been reduced from 63 cubic km in the 1990-s to 52 cubic km nowadays. More than USD 1 billion was used for land-reclamation in the recent years. Thanks to this, the state of almost 740,000 hectares of irrigated land has been improved – drainage networks were reconstructed and cleaned, land leveling was carried out, and necessary equipment was purchased. Uzbekistan has widely introduced the most advanced approaches to solving water scarcity problems, including integrated water resources management. For example, only one of these projects has allowed reducing total water use of the Southern Fergana Canal by more than 20%. Today, integrated water resources management is carried out in the country for more than 250,000 hectares of irrigated areas.
The Central Asian nations have since ancient times appreciated water as the source of life, said the rector of Moscow State University of Environmental Engineering Dmitry Kozlov. Uzbekistan’s experience in the field of land reclamation, water conservation and water management is being studied and used successfully in many countries around the world. On behalf of the network of organizations in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, he expressed gratitude to President Islam Karimov for his constant attention to environmental issues, and well-thought and balanced policy addressing the current complex situation in the region in the use of transboundary rivers resources.
This present conference with participation of all stakeholders is very important to identify the effective and concrete solutions in the field of joint water use, said regional coordinator of the European regional process to prepare for the World Water Forum, executive director of the International Network of Basin Organizations Jean-Francois Donzier (France). In Central Asia, serious problems in water supply are experienced. It is encouraging that the work to overcome these problems is completely transparent, he noted.
In their speeches, international experts emphasized that even extensive efforts of one state – Uzbekistan – were insufficient to solve the problem of preservation and rational use of scarce water resources in Central Asia. An integrated approach is required, which takes into account the interests of all countries and peoples in the region. Uzbekistan is showing an example of such approach.
In this regard, it was noted that the desire of countries located upstream of the region’s major rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya to exploit cross-border water resources in violation of international standards was of a great concern. It was emphasized that issues of just water management in Central Asia have received considerable attention among the global community. The attempts to implement projects of construction of large dams in the headwaters of the two rivers may cause irreparable damage to the entire ecosystem of the region and lead to technological, social, environmental and humanitarian disasters. These projects were developed more than 40 years ago and have long been outdated in technical terms. Most importantly, these projects do not take into account the high seismicity of the planned construction zone, which is 8-9 on 12-point scale. In the last 110 years, more than 20 major earthquakes have occurred here. The Rogun hydro power station project in Tajikistan envisages construction of the world’s highest dam with the height of 335 meters. Its construction could trigger a massive earthquake that will create a great danger to human life.
Moreover, as calculations of independent experts have shown, in the case the dam is broken up to 1,5 million hectares, and over 700 settlements in the territory of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where about 5 million people live, will be flooded. With transition of Rogun water reservoir to energy mode of operation, water shortages in the vegetation season will increase on average by more than 22%, and nearly twice in dry years. This will lead to drought and emergence of vast desert areas, and in winter to flooding of arable lands and settlements. Thus, it was emphasized at the conference, the implementation of such projects is fraught with a new environmental disaster, much more dangerous in its scope than the Aral Sea crisis.
In this regard, the participants highlighted the wise and visionary approach of President Islam Karimov to address issues related to use of transboundary river resources. As the head of the state repeatedly stressed, an independent environmental and technical expertise of such projects with participation of international experts needs to be conducted to clearly define their compliance with the principles and norms of international law on use of transboundary watercourses, as well as identify any possible negative consequences of their implementation for the population, economy and ecosystems of all countries in the basins of these rivers.
The conference program, in addition to plenary sessions, includes seven round tables on key topics of particular relevance to the Central Asian region. Two of them – “Guaranteeing water for future generations” and “Achieving sustainable water supply for drinking needs” – were held on the first day of the forum.