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Water Diplomacy 01.09.2014

UN Special, lehekülg 24

At national level there are normally traditions and mechanisms to determine water allocation between different economic sectors such as agriculture or hydropower production. However, as over 45 percent of the land surface of the world is covered by river basins that are shared by two or more countries, need for bilateral agreements arises. The UNECE Water Convention offers some of the tools for what is increasingly described with the concept of ’water diplomacy’. 

The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes has provided framework for agreements on joint water management between neighbouring countries since 1992. In Western Europe, the UNECE Member States have long history of multilateral cooperation for join management of shared rivers such as Danube or Rhine. Today there is increasing need to apply similar approaches in subregions of Caucasus and Central Asia. Kazakh-Kyrgyz inter-state Chu-Talas river basin commission constitutes a good example on fruitful cooperation on water allocation that UNECE has been helping to develop. UNECE is currently supporting the bilateral negotiations between Azerbaijan and Georgia that wish to reach water cooperation agreement on the shared Kura river basin. Possibilities for joint projects on other transboundary rivers will be explored, potentially including Ural river between Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.

Central Asia is an example of a subregion where tensions around water security are common and where water diplomacy can contribute to peace. It was not without reason that in its 2013 paper on water diplomacy, the Council of the European Union outlined Central Asia as one of the key regions, requiring attention. Following the recent lessons from the pilot inter-sectoral (or nexus) assessment in Alazani basin of the Caucasus region, the UNECE is planning to start similar assessment of truly transboundary and complex Syr Darya basin in Central Asia. The National Policy Dialogues (NPDs) on water sector reforms that UNECE is conducting in the region since 2006 is considering water diplomacy as one of the future priorities.

 As UNECE Water Convention is becoming global, there will be new opportunities for transboundary cooperation with countries on Southern borders of UNECE region. A project on joint hydrological monitoring in river Pyanch between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is a pioneering case of such cooperation. Transboundary water diplomacy also benefits from activities which promote water efficiency and water quality management in upstream countries. National NPD processes are open to provide input into wider regional discussions for water resource management, such as in the framework of IFAS, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. The IFAS and its subsidiary bodies, the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia (ICWC) and the Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development of Central Asia (ICSD) are key regional bodies to enhance water diplomacy and thus security in the region. Considerable economic and population growth of the region can lead to water scarcity and efforts for reaching collaborative arrangements on management of freshwater resources are very timely.