Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the conference “Water Unites – New Prospects for Cooperation and Security”Speech by

01.04.2008 - Speech

Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the conference “Water Unites – New Prospects for Cooperation and Security”

Minister Yokubzod,

Deputy Minister Mukanbetov,

Deputy Minister Babayev,

Mr Umarov,

Mr Belka,

Ambassador Morel,


Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me warmly welcome you to the conference “Water Unites – New Prospects for Cooperation and Security”. I'm delighted to have you all as our guests at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin.

Thanks to your keen interest and presence here today, the conference has already scored its first success. Our decision to invite German and international policy-makers as well as representatives of the business and academic communities was a very conscious one. For we know the complex issues connected with water can be resolved only through a discussion process that involves all stakeholders.

Over the past two years we've made such collaboration between policy-makers, business and academics a hallmark of our whole approach. That's what we hope to achieve with this conference, too. We hope also to further strengthen ties with Central Asia, a region which thanks to an initiative launched during our EU Presidency is now a priority region for the European Union.

So I'm particularly pleased to welcome also those among you with whom just a few months ago we discussed the idea of establishing economic partnerships with Central Asia.

Today, too, the spotlight is on all five countries of Central Asia. To my Central Asian colleagues here today let me emphasize that we fully realize what enormous economic and political potential this region has. In political, economic and also cultural terms it is acquiring ever greater importance for the EU, too. At the same time we realize the region also faces problems and challenges. And already now one of its most pressing problems is the unequal distribution and scarcity of water as a natural resource.

So at today's conference we don't want to simply analyze the problems but also to look ahead. On the basis of the EU's Central Asia Strategy, we want to identify and discuss prospects for greater regional cooperation in the water sector.

May I therefore assure my distinguished colleagues from the five Central Asian countries that all of us here, myself included, are most delighted and honoured that you have joined us today to discuss these prospects. We bid you a heartfelt welcome!

It's no coincidence that today's conference is taking place here at the Federal Foreign Office. For water is now firmly on the foreign and security policy agenda. The reason is clear enough and simply stated. Water is peace, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out recently.

Hence water shortages or disputes over water can easily lead to civil unrest, destabilization and conflict.

Access to water is a strategic issue, one of the key challenges of the twenty-first century.

This is a challenge that a far-sighted foreign policy such as I stand for has to address.

Even now 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. According to OECD estimates, this figure could almost double by 2030. Climate change and population growth will make water increasingly scarce and precious – which means it will soon be a strategic resource. So control over water may become an issue of war or peace.

That's why I believe any far-sighted foreign policy must pay more attention to water – in a bilateral as well as a global context. So we fully support UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's initiative in placing water right at the top of the international agenda.

We see it as a special tribute and token of support for our joint efforts that two high-ranking UN diplomats, Marek Belka and Reza Ardakanian, are with us here today.

Access to water, economic development and political stability are inseparably interlinked.

Increasing water shortages with ensuing poor harvests and economic losses can cause considerable social and political tensions – both domestically and vis-à-vis other countries.

That is one of the key conclusions of the report on climate change and international security which was drawn up at German initiative and presented at the recent EU summit by Javier Solana and Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner.

It's rare indeed for water courses to conveniently follow national borders. Usually it's quite the opposite. Which is why already today many riparian states are involved in disputes over scarce and hence doubly precious water resources.

Such disputes tend to be exacerbated, moreover, when they are dominated by traditional nation-based approaches to resource management and cooperative mechanisms are lacking.

In this situation it's easy to lose sight of how much all would benefit from the joint, transparent and cost-covering management of water resources.

Far too often the borders on our political maps also erect borders in our minds!

To overcome these borders we need to work together, I believe. For unless we dismantle these borders in our minds and stop thinking in solely national categories, we won't be able to respond effectively either to the challenges we face today or to those that lie ahead. In this sense, too, we hope our conference will prove a valuable stimulus.

This means a far-sighted foreign and security policy must pay special attention to regions where the consequences of climate change are already clearly visible. The aim of course must be to defuse latent tensions and prevent future conflicts.

Together with the Middle East and Africa, Central Asia is a real case-study in the problems posed – particularly with regard to drinking water – by a combination of water shortages, overexploitation of resources and environmental degradation.

We all know what the Aral Sea now looks like – its dramatic drop in water level is symbolic of the precarious state of water resources throughout the region. And we all know the efforts of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination – the ICWC – have been pretty ineffective to date.

We're all well aware, too, that water shortages threaten not only agricultural production but energy security as well, putting economic growth and also social and political stability at risk.

That's why both the Federal Government and the European Union want to help make water a nexus for cooperation in Central Asia. So our intention with today's conference is to offer close, sustained cooperation between the EU and Central Asia on water issues. What we want to do is launch a fairly long-term political process with the region and also within it.

For as we Europeans see it, one of the lessons of our own history is that the best way forward when resources are scarce is to cooperate. Only then can we build a future from which we all stand to gain.

So water can and must – in Central Asia especially – become a reason to intensify regional cooperation.

For some that may sound like a rather strange idea. Yet there are a host of examples of successful regional water cooperation. Also here in Europe.

Existing cooperation arrangements to manage the Rivers Rhine, Elbe or Danube all highlight the fact that everyone benefits if they work together. There's close cooperation, for instance, between all 12 nations of the Danube river basin: this entails joint river basin management, measures to improve water quality and a system for the prompt notification of accidental pollution. And it works from east to west, from Ukraine all the way to Germany. From the efficient management of scarce resources everyone stands to gain. Business, agriculture, consumers and ultimately the environment, too – they all benefit in equal measure.

In the light of our experience here in Europe, let me outline five possible parameters for a Central Asia water initiative. An initiative which we see as a German contribution to and part and parcel of the EU's Central Asia strategy and whose aim would be to promote regional water cooperation in Central Asia.

Firstly, we're keen to support transboundary water management in Central Asia. A number of very interesting proposals have emerged from inside the region – for a water management academy, for example, or a network of national water management centres. We greatly welcome such ideas. Regional training and research networks, transboundary dam security, improving drinking water quality and the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination are further important components of regional water cooperation, for which we want to step up support over the years ahead.

Secondly, by intensifying the transfer of know-how we want to promote knowledge and expertise in the region as regards sustainable water management. In future German and Central Asian research institutions will collaborate more closely and conduct joint research on water issues and weather events such as droughts and floods. Here in Germany the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam will take this project forward with Foreign Office assistance.

Thirdly, we plan to start a new course on sustainable water management in addition to those currently on offer at the Kazakh-German University in Almaty. This could become a centre for students and young academics from the region to learn more about water issues and explore them in greater depth. Both for us and the countries of Central Asia that would be a real investment in the future.

Fourthly, we want to encourage networking among water experts from Germany, the EU and Central Asia. That applies just as much to experts from private-sector utilities as those from municipally-owned utilities and local politicians. We plan to organize a series of visits to Germany for Central Asian experts, which will take them to several water management projects of special interest to them. They will be introduced to the latest technologies and helped to identify potential efficiency gains throughout the region.

Fifthly, we plan to increase our support for the many different activities in Central Asia undertaken by Germany's water industry, which is a world leader in this field and now represented by a new umbrella organization, German Water. Here I firmly believe private-sector expertise is going to be even more important in future than it already is today. I do realize, however, that especially for SMEs in the water sector Central Asia is by no means an easy place to do business. Nevertheless, know-how transfer and investment promotion are crucial if people in the region are to have better access to water. And there'll be no breakthroughs on this without the skills and expertise of the private sector.

These five points could serve as parameters for the Central Asia water initiative we plan to present as a German contribution to the EU's Central Asia Strategy. And also as a starting-point for a structured, longer-term water partnership between Central Asia and the EU.

In the course of today's discussions I'm sure you yourselves will come up with a host of other ideas and proposals for strengthening water cooperation in Central Asia. And I can assure you that you can count on our support.

On this note let me wish us all most stimulating and productive discussions.

Thank you for your attention.

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