On the eve of the upcoming summit of the leaders of the countries of Central Asia in Tashkent, it is possible to say with confidence what will be one of the main topics of the meeting. The heads of the five Asian states need to find a joint solution to the problems of using transboundary rivers.
For the first time, the leaders of the countries of Central Asia spoke about the internal problems of the region at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, which was remembered by many different events. But for Central Asia, this is a historical session. Several speeches were immediately devoted to one of the most important topic for the region – the water and energy problem.
The current situation on the use of water and energy resources in Central Asia “shows the need to develop new approaches,” said Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. He noted that “Kyrgyzstan has consistently advocated the development and implementation in Central Asia of mutually beneficial economic mechanisms in this area.”
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov voiced his position. “Our country firmly adheres to the principle that water is the common property of all the peoples of the world, and equal and fair access to clean drinking water is a fundamental human right,” he said.
This problem certainly deserves to be voiced at this level. These speeches say rather that the countries are finally ready to solve it constructively.
In Central Asia, all the major rivers are transboundary. Kyrgyzstan is the only country whose water resources are formed on its own territory, all other countries of the region to one degree or another depend on the flow of water from the territory of neighboring states. The situation is particularly difficult in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – almost 90% of their renewable water resources come from outside. In Kazakhstan, more than 40% of the annual renewable surface water resources come from the territory of neighboring states.
Simply put, the subject of the dispute in Central Asia is two large rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, in which there is not enough water for all the needs of the region. At the same time, the countries located in the upper reaches of the rivers have the same interests, and those that are located in the lower reaches – others. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan generate electricity at the expense of water, and are interested in storing water in the summer. And Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan grow agricultural products, and these countries need water in the summer.
During the time of the Soviet Union, barter was the solution. In summer, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan lowered water to their neighbors, and in winter, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan supplied them with fuel.
But with the collapse of the USSR, the centralized planned economy ceased to exist, the former Union republics had to make other decisions in order to survive, and the issue of water management in Central Asia was particularly acute.
On its basis, an Interstate Coordination Water Management Commission (ICWC) was created, the executive bodies of which were the Amudarya and Syrdarya basin water management associations (BWOs). By the way, between the statement of intent to conclude an agreement that the leaders of countries expressed in 1991 and its actual signing did not take much time, which indicates the manifestation of political initiative and its implementation in a short time.
In the history of international water law, such agreements often take a very long time. For example, it took about 10 years to conclude an agreement on the Indus River between India and Pakistan with the cooperation of the IBRD, 30 years on the Ganges River between India and Bangladesh, 40 years on the Jordan River between Israel and Jordan.
Despite the positive potential of this agreement, it is noted that the document did not provide for mechanisms for implementation, taking into account the interests of each of the parties.
In 1993, an important document was adopted: the agreement “On joint actions to solve the problem of the Aral Sea and the Aral Sea basin, ecological rehabilitation and ensuring the socio-economic development of the Aral region”. According to the document, additional structures of ICWC were also created.
The next key document regulating water relations between the Syrdarya river basin states after 1992 is the Agreement on the Use of Water and Energy Resources of the Syrdarya River Basin signed on March 17, 1998.
One of the most successful indicators of relations in the field of water use is cooperation between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – in 2000, an agreement was signed “On the use of water facilities of interstate use on the Chu and Talas rivers”.
However, the presence of interstate structures and a number of agreements has not yet become an indicator of successful cooperation. At the regional level, there are many common approaches adopted by countries on many issues, nevertheless, this does not ensure favorable cooperation with political and economic differences.
With the coming to power in Uzbekistan of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, much has changed. At the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly (in 2017), the new president of Uzbekistan, at that time occupying this position a little less than a year, stated the following: “Peaceful and economically prosperous Central Asia is our most important goal and key task. We are ready for a reasonable compromise with the countries of Central Asia on all issues without exception. ”
A little later, Mirziyoyev signed landmark agreements on the establishment of borders during his visit to Kyrgyzstan – this visit was the first such trip of the Uzbek leader in 17 years. The transaction was followed by the opening of checkpoints and the removal of many restrictions on movement.
In the spring of 2018, Mirziyoyev took part in the summit of the heads of Central Asian states in Astana. Such a meeting was held for the first time in 9 years, and this event in the press was called “Reset in Central Asia”.
At the same time, among other things, the presidents did not ignore the discussion of water problems, namely the use of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers.
“The main issue is water problems. Our states are 70 million people living here in the alignment of two large rivers – the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Here we agreed that there should be no political bargaining on this isssue. We have to jointly decide in the interests of all states – both hydraulic structures, water use, and electricity, said then-President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.
In August 2018, at the meeting of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), the Tajik leader Emomali Rahmon called on his colleagues to “introduce economic mechanisms for water use”. And the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed to create a water-energy consortium that will regulate the flow of water in rivers. For the first time, Nazarbayev expressed this initiative in the early 2000s, but the proposal did not find a response at the regional level.
Summarizing, it becomes clear that the request for a solution to the old problem in Central Asia is clear. In addition, there was a unique opportunity to work together to find a solution to the problem. This is indicated by all these friendly statements by the leaders. If successful, the foundation will be laid for many years of interstate cooperation. But there is one “but”: there is no ready-made recipe for how to solve the problem. All proposals are still in the nature of ideas and require detailed study. Central Asian republics have to find a solution. And the future summit in Tashkent is another step towards a “big deal”. /// nCa, 4 April 2019