Since they gained their independence 20 years ago, Central Asian states have undertaken tremendous efforts to cope with the environmental legacies of the past and to get prepared for the challenges of the future.
Although some successes have been achieved in building up regional cooperation and preventing conflicts about water, the southern Aral Sea is still dying and a sustainable mechanism for water use and distribution has not been found. Afghanistan is so far not included in the regional agreements. Furthermore, regional agreements and actions mainly address ad hoc the question of water distribution but not of water quality and reservoir working regimes. Monitoring systems exist neither for the water quality of transboundary rivers nor for transboundary aquifers. Finally, the water-energy nexus is neglected by the existing regional approaches or has failed when it has been tried.
Nevertheless, the Aral Sea Basin also provides an example of how shared water resources can stimulate a process of cooperation, even under difficult circumstances. Although the results of this cooperation are still not satisfactory, the institutions have served as a safety valve1 to prevent water conflicts. The presidents of the Central Asian countries have repeatedly stated their commitment to joint water management, as with the Almaty Declaration in 2009. International players have helped to build up the structure and space for cooperation and provided incentives. Strong and effective regional water institutions, especially IFAS, are an important pillar for regional stability.
Notwithstanding the challenges of the past and of the future, mutually beneficial cooperation on water and energy resources is possible in Central Asia. In fact, joint action is the only way to meet these challenges and turn them from obstacles into opportunities for sustainable development of the region as a whole.