A high-level panel session of the XII Astana Economic Forum on “Water as a factor of economic growth and security in Central Asia” discussed the national needs and visions towards sustainable water management through the regional lens.
The panel session, chaired by Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan Saparkhan Omarov and moderated by Dr Guy Bonvin, the Swiss Special Envoy for Water in Central Asia, convened high-level officials from key ministries of the five countries of Central Asia as well as international experts.
In his welcoming speech to the participants of the session, Saparkhan Omarov noted: “Considering that in the Central Asian region the main sources of water resources are transboundary, the issue of water management in the region requires a holistic approach. The water sector of the region, which combines water, food and energy, should be seen as inextricably linked with national security, regional stability and sustainable economic growth”.
The importance of water availability as a key factor for sustainable economic development worldwide and also in Central Asia was evidenced through expert contributions from the World Bank, the European Union and the Geneva Water Hub.
Experts estimate that worldwide Central Asia is the region that could gain the most from the implementation of forward-looking water management approaches, increased water productivity and through enhanced and systemic transboundary water cooperation, based on strengthened national water resources management capacities.
As the World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan, Ato Brown, highlighted, “Today the Central Asian economies are not water constrained, however, we see the region produces far below its water resources potential. The cumulative effects of climate change and the near-disappearance of the Aral Sea are further increasing the water-related stress. With current water management policies in place water scarcity could lead to a significant slowdown in economic performance. While more efficient water use presents significant gains for the region economies.”
During the event, Vice-Minister of Agriculture, Yerlan Nyssanbayev told about the main steps to create an international water and energy consortium in Central Asia. The first step he proposed was to discuss the development of a concept for creating a new financial and economic mechanism for interaction among countries in the Aral Sea basin with the support of international partners.
"The EU welcomes a growing recognition that national approaches are insufficient to address effectively the complex water, energy, food and environment challenges and will support together with other development partners improved regional cooperation which is crucial for sustainable water management in the region," noted Luc Devigne, Director of the European External Action Service Directorate for Russia, Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, Regional cooperation and OSCE.
Christophe Bösch from the Geneva Water Hub illustrated a way forward to implement a shared benefits approach in transboundary and intersectoral water contexts: “Investments for Watershed Services (IWS) is a now a well-established mechanism globally, that was pioneered in Central Asia with the Chu-Talas agreement of 2000. IWS is an economic agreement between different stakeholders in a watershed, in which one party invests in or buys a service from the other, with a view to better manage their collective water resources and foster growth and security".
The panel session was the first step towards developing a common vision on a water security in Central Asia, where strengthened national water resources management and systemic transboundary water cooperation will generate multiple benefits for all the countries based on the principles of common management of shared resources. Under the lead of the participating countries and with support of the development partners involved more concrete steps towards this common vision will be discussed in the nearest future.
*The event was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Switzerland’s Blue Peace Central Asia initiative, in partnership with the European Union, the World Bank and the International Water Assessment Centre.