High-level government representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan met in Berlin on 7 and 8 September at the invitation of the Federal Foreign Office. The Conference on Water and Good Neighbourly Relations in Central Asia was part of the so-called Berlin Process established in 2008 as a channel for Germany’s commitment to regional cooperation on matters relating to water in Central Asia.
Water – an extremely precious resource in Central Asia
Safe drinking water is a precious commodity all around the world, but particularly in the countries of Central Asia. Although water is not (yet) scarce in the region as a whole, it is unequally distributed, and intensive use is made of it. For example, river water, predominantly from the two major rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya, is used to provide drinking water, irrigation for agriculture and electricity as well. When Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan became independent at the beginning of the 1990s, many rivers became international and the young countries faced the task of developing cross-border mechanisms to ensure balanced and fair distribution and use of their water.
A long-term water initiative for Central Asia
Germany has tremendous know-how when it comes to water management and also enjoys very good relations with the region. Both aspects fed into the Central Asia Water Initiative which launched the so-called Berlin Process in 2008 with the aim of boosting regional cooperation on matters relating to water and promoting sustainable water management. In Phase I (2008-2011) the focus was primarily on the management of cross-border rivers. Phase II (2012-2014) developed approaches to dealing with the increasing effects of climate change on water resources in Central Asia. The Conference on Water and Good Neighbourly Relations in Central Asia on 7 and 8 September marks the start of Phase III (2015-2017). Over this period, the priority is to durably strengthen regional institutions, especially the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS). The aim is to create an institutional framework within which the Central Asian states can manage their own water cooperation.
High-level guests at the Federal Foreign Office
The conference at the Federal Foreign Office was attended by high-level representatives of the five Central Asian states along with representatives of the EU as well as German and international organisations (UN, OSCE, World Bank, GIZ). The Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Eastern Partnership Countries, Gernot Erler, opened the conference on the afternoon of 7 September, reading a speech on behalf of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in which he said:
Water is becoming scarcer. Climate change and population growth are putting increasing pressure on this precious resource. Poor water management and inadequate environmental protection make the situation even worse. So water is becoming a strategically relevant commodity, also in security policy. It is not only individuals who suffer due to water shortages, they hamper the economic development of entire regions. That can lead to social as well as political tensions, and can threaten peace and stability. Access to water is thus a strategic issue, a key challenge for the 21st century. And therefore also a task for forward-looking foreign policy.