The way forward
All over the world, countries that share waters strive to find adequate joint management mechanisms. In Central Asia, the disastrous consequences of the drying up of the Aral Sea, the impacts of climate change, the economic needs in times of transition and crisis, the challenge of building up regional cooperation simultaneously with internal state-building-all these factors pose an additional challenge to the management of transboundary water courses.
Being a vital resource for various economic sectors, sound water management has to account for all these interests and needs. As this has not been done sufficiently so far, regional agreements and organizations have lacked unanimous and long-term support from their members. The experience has shown that when agreements do not take the interests of all parties into account and are not perceived as fair by all parties, implementation and compliance soon cease and they fail to achieve their objectives.
Water is, in fact, a precious resource for the people and the states of the region. With this knowledge, further steps still need to be taken with regards to professional water-related planning, water saving and water productivity linked to food security. Contributions to the financing of water infrastructure and its rehabilitation by the international community increases the amount of water available and may contribute to buying time for further structural changes introduced to respective economic sectors by national policies. International players have been and continue to be willing to support Central Asian countries with these structural changes. As member countries of the UNECE, the Central Asian states can benefit from the tools and assistance provided under its environmental conventions, especially the Water Convention. It offers a framework of shared principles, a platform for dialogue and concrete capacity-building measures and assistance, while leaving room for specific agreements appropriate to the situation in the respective countries.
Cooperation on transboundary water resources yields a considerable peace dividend. It is up to the Central Asian states to realize the benefits of mutual cooperation in this field: stability and better socioeconomic development perspectives, as opposed to the high costs of fully self-reliant policies and security risks attached to a lack of cooperation. But in order to realise these benefits, transparency and equal participation in regional decision-making is necessary so that all interests and needs are taken into account. A regional organization like IFAS can provide the appropriate platform to support such a process. Structural deficits so far have prevented IFAS from living up to its potential. The reform process initiated with the statements of the heads of states in 2009 has opened a historic window of opportunity to revive regional cooperation and put its foundation on a more robust basis. It will be a long and challenging path to overcome old patterns of regional mistrust. Donors have been supporting this and there is a great need for them to continue doing so. Nevertheless, while international actors can foster cooperation by «paving the way», it is the Central Asian players that will have to walk the walk.