Water diplomacy: based on law, mutual respect and consideration of the interests of the parties

Water diplomacy: based on law, mutual respect and consideration of the interests of the parties

“Moving forward on the basis of universal right and responsibility” – this is the title on the website of the State Committee for Water Resources of Turkmenistan published an interview with the head of the research department of the Institute “Turkmenvodoproekt”, Ph.D. Gurban Hommadov.

Here is an abridged overview of this publication, which details the objectives and principles of water diplomacy in Turkmenistan and the strengthening of joint water resources management in Central Asia.

Outlining the essence of the issue, the expert noted that almost all the water used in the region comes from the two main rivers – the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, which are formed in the upstream countries – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which allows countries to combine agricultural and hydrotechnical aspects of water use with hydropower.

Downstream Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the main users 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 water shortage and a decrease in the quality of river flow limit the solution of socio-economic and environmental problems, which causes certain disagreements.

– This problem has always existed, and mainly in the form of an engineering problem: how to deliver water to the right place. We can say that the history of water relations until recently was the history of irrigation, says the scientist.

With the intensification of water use, the 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 the CA region, the symbol of this stage has become the problem of the Aral Sea. Thus, starting from the last quarter of the 20th century, the essence and nature of water relations begin to change dramatically and radically. Their main content is the question of water ownership.

– 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, – says Hommadov.

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 carry out cooperation in the field of joint water resources management. Then international and regional organizations – the UN, OSCE, CIS, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea – joined in solving the existing issues.

But, despite all the agreements adopted in this area, 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 states of the region.

“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,” the specialist noted.

He emphasized that throughout all the years of its independent development, Turkmenistan has been in favor of uniting the efforts of the countries of the region in order to conserve and efficiently use water resources. The country’s position is to solve water use problems on the basis of generally recognized norms of international law, mutual respect and consideration of the interests of all states in the region with the participation of specialized international organizations.

President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov calls for uniting 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 understanding the general regional goals and priorities and developing on this basis a unified strategy of action for the long term,” the Turkmen leader said.

Thus, water diplomacy as a political and diplomatic form of multilateral international dialogue is decisive for neutral Turkmenistan in this area.

At the RIO + 20 conference, the head of Turkmenistan proposed to single out the Aral problem as a separate area of ​​UN activity, calling it the UN Special Program for the countries of the Aral Sea basin.

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. Water issues could become a separate area of ​​activity of this center.

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 on cooperation between the UN and IFAS.

“The fact that our country has joined 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,” Hommadov comments.

Returning to the issue of joint management and accounting of water resources of the Amu Darya by Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, he clarified that water use along this river between the republics of Central Asia during the times of the union state was distributed in accordance with the minutes of the meeting of the Scientific and Technical Council of the Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Resources of the USSR from 1987. All points of the protocol were agreed upon and adopted by all republics.

– 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 Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on cooperation on water issues, as well as other agreements regarding the joint use of water resources in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya and water facilities, the scientist explained.

Against the background of the pandemic, the situation in the Aral Sea region is exacerbating and there is a need for greater objectivity, concrete practical help and support to the people living there.

“In May 2021, within the framework of the regular session of ESCAP, Turkmenistan will present an initial draft of the 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,” Hommadov said.

In the context of the conversation, he also noted that the next year, at the initiative of Turkmenistan, was declared by the UN as the International Year of Peace and Trust.

– 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, Gurban Hommadov summed up.