Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the conference “Water Diplomacy in Central Asia” at the Federal Foreign Office

07.03.2012 - Speech

-- Tranlation of advance text --

Ladies and gentlemen,

Just now we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Germany and the countries of Central Asia.

Over these 20 years, Germany has actively followed and supported your countries’ development. Today we can boast a dense and varied network of relations. I look forward to intensifying this successful cooperation.

Today you are our guests in a peaceful, united Europe. Europe has a long and painful history punctuated by many wars – wars over territory or ideologies, but also over resources. Shortly after the Second World War, France suggested that it and its “archenemy”, Germany, should together administer the most important strategic resources. A year later, in 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community was established, with the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy as additional members. Just a few years earlier, Germany had been at war with these countries. Nevertheless, they dared to take this step, thereby laying the foundation for the European Union.

Regional cooperation and agreement on vital resources were the foundation for peace and prosperity in Europe. We are convinced that they can also provide a solid basis for lasting stability and economic prosperity in Central Asia. This will require development within the region as well as the participation of all key social groups in the sovereign, economic and political decision-making processes.

The Federal Government’s support therefore aims to promote the development of democratic, rule of law, market-economy structures in the long term, as well as to ensure protection for human rights. The rule of law is crucial for your countries’ development and for reliable regional cooperation.

Everyone will benefit from this. Enhanced economic cooperation also affords tremendous development potential, for instance by simplifying cross border trade or developing transport routes. Modern, cooperative border management can facilitate both the exchange of goods and cooperation on combating drug trafficking and organized crime.

The Federal Foreign Office’s Central Asia water initiative, the Berlin process, is a German contribution to the European Union’s Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia which takes account of the region’s growing importance. The field of environment and water is one of three regional initiatives in which the EU is active here. We would like to share our experiences of building up a united Europe with you. Not by lecturing you, but so as to give you incentive and inspiration.

During my visits to the region, and in my talks with your politicians, I have learnt that water is a strategic resource in Central Asia. It is the life blood of agriculture and of the energy supply. At the same time, we all know that water is scarce. The dried up Aral Sea, over-salinated fields due to poor irrigation, increasing desertification – these provide more than enough proof of this.

Today we can see in your countries attempts at sustainable water management: modern technologies, institutional reform or financial incentives to save water. Much can be done at purely national level. But water does not stop at national borders in Central Asia either: nature has its own laws. Central Asia’s two major rivers, Amu Darya and Syr Darya, flow across many borders. This necessitates cross border agreement on the use of water.

In many of the world’s 263 international river basins there are no clear agreements. But in Central Asia you signed a first agreement on water distribution as early as 1992, just a year after independence. Other agreements followed. This achievement deserves great respect.

However, an agreement is not the end, but rather the beginning, of deeper cooperation. If this enhanced cooperation is successful, conflicts can be avoided and regional development promoted. And this is precisely where the Berlin Process comes in.

The catchment area of the major rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya stretches beyond the Central Asian region: Afghanistan is part of the Aral Sea basin. This is a great opportunity to intensify cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours, to build confidence for a common future in peace and security. The states of Central Asia have a special role to play here. We discussed this at the Afghanistan Conference on 5 December last year. We need increased regional cooperation. And so I am delighted to welcome the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, His Excellency Abdul Ashraf, to today’s conference.

It is almost four years since the Federal Foreign Office launched the Central Asia water initiative here in the Europasaal. Our aim was and still is to make a contribution towards sustainable economic development and regional stability. We have come closer to achieving this goal.

The Federal Foreign Office has supported the Berlin Process with funding of over 15 million euro to date. In doing so, we have worked closely together with you, our partners in Central Asia: at scientific level, to create a reliable database; at political level, to build up effective administrative structures; and in training for the next generation, to develop urgently needed personnel capacities.

Our implementing organizations, GIZ and GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, as well as their partners UNECE, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Kazakh-German University, have invested time and commitment to make the Berlin Process a success. For that I thank them.

I have invited you here to Berlin because we want to continue this cooperation. And we have been hearing from your countries too that you would like to develop the Central Asian water initiative further. In a second phase, we would like to carry on with things that have proven their worth, and to give our activities a stronger focus. The key concern should be to meet two crucial challenges.

The first challenge is change. We have to face up to big changes. In Central Asia, climate change will lead to higher temperatures and increased evaporation. If glaciers melt, water will no longer flow in the same quantities or at the same time of year.

But it is also a matter of economic change. Your countries are developing very dynamically. The agricultural sector has seen and will continue to see tremendous change thanks to reform and privatization.

Water policy must react flexibly to these changes. Reliable data is an important precondition in this regard. Science can help us respond to these changes with high resolution climate models and scenarios. Technical and economic innovations improve water and energy efficiency. Investment in renewable energies which have less impact on flow volume – such as solar and wind power, biomass or geothermal energy, as well as small-scale hydro power – relieve the pressure on scarce water resources. German businesses have wide experience in this field and are keen to get more involved in Central Asia.

How we shape all this change is one of the key questions for the future. How can we shape the necessary worldwide switch to a sustainable economy so as to alleviate poverty and preserve our environmental resources? We want to support the countries of Central Asia as they look for viable solutions for the future.

The second challenge: water is used in many different ways. Agriculture, energy and sanitation are regarded as competing uses. In many places there are still no sensible, fair distribution mechanisms. The Federal Government organized the international conference “The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus – Solutions for a Green Economy” in Bonn last November. The conference showed how the various ways water is used affect each other, and also highlighted the need for a coherent policy. We want to pick up from here, which is why we will be presenting the results of the “Nexus Conference” this afternoon.

The Berlin Process is not primarily a technical project, but a political one. The dialogue at political level is a key prerequisite for success. Only if there is a shared political will and a common understanding of the aims will the water initiative projects have a lasting impact. Our goal is to promote the creative potentials that exist in your countries and thus to contribute to a regional approach to solving the problem.

In this context, we want to coordinate our activities closely with those of other donors and international organizations with which we have built up excellent cooperation over recent years. For this reason, I am delighted that representatives of these international players are with us here today.

Regional cooperation on water offers a major cooperation dividend: it increases prosperity in Central Asia. It improves the security of the supply of drinking water, energy and foodstuffs and ensures health and social peace. We hope this conference will provide some impetus. That will require all participants to be willing to cooperate.

Thank you for your attention. I wish the conference every success! I’d now like to hand over to my State Secretary, Dr Harald Braun, who will be chairing the meeting.

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