Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued the following statement on the conference starting at the Federal Foreign Office today (7 September):
The phrase 'water is life' has been one of man’s wise sayings for thousands of years. Nevertheless, around the world we often do not manage water properly. Water crises pose some of the greatest risks possible. 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.
Water supply will be a key topic in the 21st century and is a task to be addressed by any forward-looking foreign policy. That is why Germany conducts active water diplomacy and, together with the five Central Asian states, promotes regional cooperation on matters relating to water. Together we now want to initiate the third phase of the 'Berlin Process'.
After the Second World War, we Europeans opted for the path of promoting peace, stability and economic growth through regional cooperation on the use of scarce and strategically important resources, and we are happy to share our experience. Regional cooperation on water matters can lay the foundation for more trusting cooperation in favour of stability and growth in Central Asia, too.
The Berlin Process – water foreign policy as a part of forward-looking foreign policy
In 2008 the Federal Foreign Office set up the Central Asia Water Initiative (Berlin Process) in order to boost regional cooperation in the field of water, thus promoting sustainable water management. In Phase I (2008-2011) the focus was on political advisory services and strengthening institutions tasked with managing cross-border rivers. Phase II (2012-2014) prioritised support for the development of 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 2015 marks the start of Phase III (2015-2017), which is set to durably strengthen regional institutions and processes – above all the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), an organisation which deals with regional water management. The aim is to create an institutional framework within which the Central Asian states can manage their own water cooperation.
Unequal water distribution in Central Asia
Water is a valuable asset to the Central Asian states. Although there is no water shortage in the overall region (yet), unequal distribution leads to competition over the use of water. River water, which comes predominantly from the two major rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya, provides drinking water, irrigation for agriculture and is used to generate hydropower.
Whilst the northern states Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which have few raw materials, have to generate most of their energy in winter, in the southern countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan water is primarily required in summer to irrigate fields.
In the 1950s the irrigation areas, for instance for cotton fields, were greatly expanded – the Central Asian republics supplied the entire Soviet Union with cotton. As cotton is one of the most water‑intensive crops in existence, this expansion provoked a steep increase in water usage. That was primarily what caused the Aral Sea to dry up, something which had a catastrophic impact on the whole region.
When Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan became independent at the beginning of the 1990s, many rivers became 'international' and the young countries faced the task of developing cooperation mechanisms to ensure balanced and fair distribution and use of their water. At the beginning, Soviet‑era decision making processes continued to be used, yet they started falling out of favour towards the end of the 1990s against the backdrop of competition over agriculture versus energy generation which led to an increasingly national perspective on water resources.