Interview with Gurban Khommadov, head of the research department of the Turkmensuvylymtaslam Institute, candidate of technical sciences
This year is marked for Turkmenistan and the entire world community with a historically important date – the 25th anniversary of the status of permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan. As time has shown, our model of neutrality has become a significant factor for constructive interaction in international relations, in creating conditions for resolving issues of ensuring regional security. As part of the paradigm of modern security and stability in Central Asia and each of the countries of the region at the level of heads of state and international organizations, the most important and topical issues are the strengthening of joint management of water resources. In this key issue for the region and each of the states, Turkmenistan, based in its foreign policy on the principles of neutrality, has developed a clear strategy of action for the long term, known as water diplomacy of Turkmenistan. About the goals, objectives, principles of water diplomacy and other questions are answered by Gurban Khommadov, head of the research department of the Turkmensuvylymtaslam Institute, candidate of technical sciences in an interview with journalist Irina IMAMKULIEVA.
Issues related to water sharing did not arise for the Central Asian states today or even yesterday. For a more complete understanding of the subject of our conversation, let’s first outline the essence of the modern water problem.
– In short, I would like to note the following. Almost all the water used in the region comes from the two main rivers, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, which form in the upstream countries, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which allows them to combine agricultural and hydrotechnical aspects of water use with hydropower. Downstream, Turkmenistan, like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, are the main users of the waters of these two large transboundary rivers for irrigated agriculture. And if we consider Central Asia as a whole, then there is no shortage of water in the region. The crux of the matter lies in the fair distribution of water resources between the five states and in the low efficiency of the existing coordination mechanisms. The resulting shortage of water and a decrease in the quality of river flow limit the solution of socio-economic and environmental problems, which causes certain disagreements in interstate relations.
And this is not just about the lack of water for farmland. This problem has always existed, and mainly in the form of an engineering problem: how to get water to the right place. It can be said that the history of water relations until recently was the history of irrigation. With the intensification of water use, the water problem begins to appear more and more as an environmental problem, which for the first time made water a subject of international law and international relations. For our region, the symbol of this stage has become the problem of the Aral Sea. Thus, since the last quarter of the twentieth century, the essence and nature of water relations begin to dramatically and radically change. Their main content is the question of water ownership.
Having become sovereign, the countries of the region have been striving for all these years to form a certain system and mechanisms of regional cooperation in this area. But directly opposite opinions are expressed about the accumulated experience.
– The formation of new independent states in Central Asia made it necessary to solve various transboundary issues, and the most difficult issue was the issue of water resources distribution. The starting point of the negotiation process between the Central Asian states in the use of water resources of transboundary rivers was the Tashkent statement made in 1991 on the joint use of water resources on common principles, taking into account the interests of all parties. In 1992, in Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan), an agreement was signed “On cooperation in the field of joint management of the use and protection of water resources of interstate sources” and, by agreement, an Interstate Coordination Water Commission (ICWC) was established. Its task was to implement cooperation in the field of joint water resources management. Then international and regional organizations – the UN, the OSCE, the CIS, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea – joined in solving the existing issues.
But despite all the agreements adopted in this area, the issues related to water are not removed from the agenda. Accordingly, the development of a mechanism that takes into account the interests of all Central Asian countries, including the use of water and energy potential, remains among the priorities of the Central Asian states.
For Turkmenistan, in particular, the issue of joint management with Uzbekistan, rational use and accounting of water resources of the Amu Darya River is important.
On the basis of what principles does Turkmenistan strive to develop cooperation in the use of transboundary watercourses?
– Throughout all the years of its independent development, our country has advocated uniting the efforts of the countries of the region in order to conserve and efficiently use water resources. The position of Turkmenistan on this issue is well known and remains unchanged – to solve the problems of water use on the basis of generally recognized norms of international law, mutual respect and consideration of the interests of all states of the region with the participation of specialized international organizations.
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov emphasizes in his speeches: “I believe that we must unite our efforts on a common ideological platform, the principles of ensuring equal and fair access to water resources as the responsibility of every state. Secondary, local interests should give way to an understanding of regional goals and priorities and the development on this basis of a single strategy of action for the long term.” Thus, water diplomacy as a political and diplomatic form of multilateral international dialogue is decisive for neutral Turkmenistan in this area.
How is Turkmenistan contributing to advancing political dialogue to strengthen integrated water resources management?
– At high forums, the leader of the nation constantly comes out with initiatives aimed at consolidating the efforts of states in the water segment of sustainable development. At the RIO + 20 conference, the President of Turkmenistan proposed to single out the Aral problem as a separate area of UN activity, calling it the UN Special Program for the Aral Sea Basin Countries.
At the 7th World Water Forum in the city of Daegu (Republic of Korea), the head of the Turkmen state made a proposal to develop a long-term UN Specialized Program on Water Issues, and in connection with the consequences of climate change for Central Asia – to create a Regional Center under the auspices and with the active participation of the UN on technologies related to climate change. A separate area of activity of this center could be water problems. At the same time, the question was raised of creating a new direction in diplomatic activity – water diplomacy. The main goal of this idea is to establish a broad international dialogue on water issues.
At the international high-level conference on the international decade for action “Water for Sustainable Development”, the President of Turkmenistan invited the states of the Central Asian region and the UN secretariat to substantively consider the proposal to establish a specialized UN structure on water issues for Central Asia. According to the firm conviction of the President of Turkmenistan, the determining criteria in relations between countries in matters of water use should be respect, responsibility, equality, and consideration of the interests of each country.
In the context of the consistent implementation of water diplomacy, Turkmenistan initiated the adoption by the UN General Assembly in April 2018 and May 2019 of the Resolutions “Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea”. These documents create a legal basis for interaction between the UN and IFAS on a systematic basis; in particular, to study the possibilities of creating a UN Special Program for the Aral Sea. The fact that our country has become a party to the UN Economic Commission for Europe Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes is directly strengthening the partnership of Turkmenistan with the UN.
As you can see, the priorities of the water diplomacy strategy of Turkmenistan fully comply with the Global Agenda for the period until 2030, adopted by the world community and formulated in the Sustainable Development Goals. Aimed at consolidating common efforts and mutually beneficial exchange of experience, water diplomacy of Turkmenistan brings new important priorities to the work of the UN and serves for prosperity and progress in the national, regional and global dimensions. The political will and determination of the President of Turkmenistan make it possible to fully realize the creative potential of water diplomacy and the policy of positive neutrality. This is stated by both the heads of state and the heads of international organizations.
The successes of our country’s water diplomacy are due to the creative potential of the policy of positive neutrality. This year, Turkmenistan celebrates the 25th anniversary of the status of its permanent neutrality, recognized by the entire world community and enshrined in the UN General Assembly Resolutions in 1995 and 2015.
What steps is being taken by Turkmenistan at the national level in matters of rational water use?
– The issues of conservation and rational use of every drop of water are the most important priority of the state policy of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Its essence was clearly formulated as follows: “In conditions of limited water resources, we must rationally use them for irrigating agricultural crops, learn to use every drop of water wisely, introduce water-saving technologies, and be able to obtain maximum yields with minimal water consumption. We must exclude wasteful use of water, and improve the reclamation state of sown areas, the technical condition and quality of water management construction.”
The priorities of the state policy in the field of conservation and rational use of water resources outlined by the leader of the nation have received legal confirmation in the legislation of Turkmenistan and are embodied in the relevant projects and programs being implemented in practice. For example, the President of Turkmenistan adopted the Work Program for 2015-2020 on the rational use of water resources in Turkmenistan and increasing the carrying capacity of the Karakum River, and construction continues in the Central Karakum of the Turkmen lake Altyn Asyr.
The country is actively introducing modern water-saving technologies in irrigated agriculture, construction and operation of industrial and hydraulic structures. Particular attention is paid to providing the population with clean drinking water. On behalf of the President, a special program was adopted, according to which plants for the production of drinking water were built everywhere. Desalination plants have been built on the Caspian coast. Turkmenistan spends more than half a billion dollars annually to maintain and develop the ecological environment and various environmental and water projects.
It is no secret that in some public circles abroad, the building up of water infrastructure by Turkmenistan raises certain concerns. How justified is this?
-Yes, this is the case, and we are always ready to clarify our positions. Information on water resources of Turkmenistan is reflected in all state programs for the development of water resources.
As I said above, the issue of joint management with Uzbekistan on the rational use and accounting of the water resources of the Amu Darya River is important for Turkmenistan. Water use along the Amu Darya between the republics of Central Asia during the times of the union state was distributed in accordance with protocol N 566 of the meeting of the Scientific and Technical Council of the Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Management of the USSR from 1987 on the basis of an updated scheme for the integrated use and protection of water resources of the Amudarya River. All points of the protocol were agreed upon and adopted by all republics.
Yes, but that was during the days of the union state. After gaining independence, the countries acquired their own national interests. How did this change the nature of the agreement?
– Respecting the existing structure and principles of the distribution of water resources of interstate water sources, the independent states of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in January 1996 signed an Agreement on the division of the water of the Amu Darya River according to the reduced flow of the Kerki gauging station on the principle of 50/50. The 1996 agreement became the basis for the signing in March 2017 of the Agreement between the Ministries of Agriculture and Water Resources of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of Turkmenistan on cooperation on water management issues, as well as other agreements regarding the joint use of water resources in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya and water facilities, repair and restoration work and exchange of experience.
In his video address at the jubilee session of the UN General Assembly, the President of Turkmenistan once again focused on the issues of cooperation to further improve the water situation in Central Asia, in particular, in the Aral Sea basin.
– Yes, Turkmenistan is consistent in its water diplomacy and in terms of specific proposals. As you know, against the backdrop of a pandemic, the situation in the Aral Sea region is aggravating and there is a need for greater objectivity, concrete practical help and support to people living there. Developing activities to create an international legal framework for solving the Aral Sea problem, in particular, the creation of a UN Special Program for the Aral Sea Basin in May 2021 within the framework of the regular session of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Turkmenistan will present an initial draft concept and structure of the future Special Program for the Aral Sea and calls on all states and interested international organizations to discuss these documents.
Our country also once again drew attention to the need to consolidate efforts aimed at strengthening the role of international law, multilateral legal instruments of the existing global security system, strict observance by all countries of generally recognized norms arising from the UN Charter. And one of the ways to achieve this goal considers the restoration of trust in international politics, the establishment of a culture of respectful dialogue. In this regard, Turkmenistan counts on the opportunities provided by the announcement of 2021 as the International Year of Peace and Trust. This was the initiative of Turkmenistan, which found support in the UN General Assembly Resolution.
In the light of the implementation of the provisions of this document, Turkmenistan came up with an initiative to hold an International Forum of Peace and Trust next year. The President of Turkmenistan stated in this context – “We are convinced that he will be able to give a powerful impetus to a constructive and respectful multilateral dialogue on the most pressing topics of the modern global agenda.”
In the context of our conversation, I would like to emphasize that peace and trust are necessary conditions for solving water problems. After all, the water resources of the transboundary rivers of Central Asia are the common property and good of the peoples, and in many respects the stability and well-being of the entire region depend on their reasonable and fair use. On the basis of a peaceful and constructive dialogue and mutual trust, it is necessary to maintain an effective and rational approach, a responsible attitude and joint actions within the framework of regional cooperation in the field of water resources management and conservation. /// MFA Turkmenistan, 1 December 2020