In Central Asia, the problem of the rational use of transboundary water resources is the key to the welfare of the population and to the possibility for sustainable development of the national economy in the region.
During the last 40 years, the water supply situation for multipurpose use has increased tremendously. Рopulation and industry has deteriorated considerably because of the use of regional water resources (more than 90%) for irrigation farming and an orientation toward production of water-consuming crops: cotton and rice.
Dissolution of the USSR and the collapse of a formerly integrated economic system, a catastrophic decline in the economies of the countries of the region, social upheavals in extreme forms like the civil war in Tajikistan and conflicts in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a substantial switch in the priorities of water resources use in the upstream runoff zone (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan) from irrigation to power generation, which resulted in economic loss and significant deterioration of the ecological degradation downstream, especially in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Imperfection of water-resource management systems at all levels; from regional to local levels and high rates of population growth created an aggravation of food security and drinking water supply.
National strategies containing statements infringing the interests of neighbor countries is an additional obstacle in the way to mutually acceptable agreements on the problem of joint usage of regional water resources.
Development of the system of political and legislative documents aimed at strengthening water users interests to increase water-use efficiency, primarily in irrigation farming could provide efficiency of water resources management at all levels from regional to local.
So the problem under consideration is associated with sharing fresh water among the few States.
These kinds of problems exist in many parts of the world and can induce conflicts at various levels.
In Central Asian region, this problem is more pressing because of:
- Country population grow throughout the region
- Real incomes increase(and, therefore, the demand for fresh water by households, industry and commercial users increases) as a result of oil and gas resource exploitation and other positive economic factors
- External interferences from neighboring countries confound efforts to effectively manage these
- Regional resources (e.g., external efforts to influence the development of additional large reservoirs used for hydroelectric power generation).
The Central Asian republics can be classified as either “water producing” such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and “water using” republics such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
As a result of relatively uneven distribution of the naturally occurring sources of fresh water (e.g., glacial snow melt in the more mountainous republics) some republics are more naturally endowed with seasonal sources of fresh water than other republics.
In addition, the relatively lesser water-endowed republics are often heavily agriculturally based countries demanding large amounts of fresh water and irrigation, power generation, and other uses.
Other issues pertaining to the development of new water reservoirs and associated hydroelectric generation plants make the issue of regional water allocation more complicated politically.
The uneven distribution of both water supply and demand create a reasonably high likelihood for regional conflicts to occur over finite water supplies in the future.
Since the early 1960s, mismanagement of water resources has plagued the Aral Sea Basin.
The problem became more complex in 1991 when Soviet Union collapsed and the Aral Sea Basin became transboundary water body and the development of sustainable and equitable water management practice became the shared responsibility of five sovereign nations each with conflicting needs, goals, and priorities.
The procedures such as the transboundary environmental impact assessment (TEIA) can be used to improve environmental management practice and cooperation between nations sharing watercourses. The TEIA approach could be important to realized Millennium Development Goals, requiring the development and refinement of environmental management practices to better handle transboundary water resources.
A number of issues that arise from use of TEIA, largely stemming from its international nature, distinguish it from a domestic environmental impact assessment. These include an increased need for institutional coordination, sensitivity to sovereignty and different languages, public participation across borders and harmonization of varying domestic EIA standards.
An EIA is a report that includes” an assessment of the likely or potential environmental impacts of a proposed activity (The United States National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, of 1969
The TEIA is normally required where there is a risk of significant environmental impact to states other than the “source state”-the State where the environmental harm originates.
The purpose of the Convention on Environmental Impact assessment in a Transboundary Context (the Espoo Convention) is to prevent, decrease and control significant transboundary harm to the environment that could be caused by a proposed activity.
This is to be achieved, inter alia, through establishing a procedure for environmental impact assessment of each Party and to enable States, in a strictly qualified manner, to afflict the preparation of activity which takes place outside their territories and which may have significant adverse impacts on their environment.
Pursuant to the Espoo Convention and with the aim of preventing possible damage, an EIA must be carried out prior to any permission to undertake an activity.
According to the Convention each Party is required to take the necessary legal administrative or other measures to establish an EIA procedure that permits public participation.
Party must also take all appropriate measures to prevent, reduce and control any significant adverse environmental impacts of a proposed activity.
By the year 2050, the human population is expected to increase by more than 35%
Population is facing pressure for an efficient energy increase, while also trying to adhere to an international regime to show climate change. The result is an international struggle between each State’s ability to provide efficient and reliable energy while also doing its part to preserve the atmosphere.
The major complication to all of this is the question of how far each State will go to accomplish such efficient energy: will a State stay within the bounds of its duties presented by international environmental law and adhere to its duties for environmental harm to its own territory or the territory of others?
International environmental law as it applies to the construction and use of hydroelectric dams will show that while there are relevant laws, many times a harmed State still has no recourse.
Hydroelectric dams exist on international watercourses worldwide, and some States even used hydropower as their primary source of energy.
There are approximately 45.000 large dams in the world, including both hydroelectric and no hydroelectric dams.
The main problem is addressing the issues that arise between States given the applicable international environmental law.
While one State may determine that the advantages of a particular hydroelectric dam outweighs the potential disadvantages, another nation affected by the potential dam, may not agree.
The possibility for this scenario is quite likely since nearly fifty percent of Earth’ surface (not including Antarctica) and sixty percent of all fresh water are a part of transboundary water basins, meaning that the majority of Earth’s water is shared water. When faced with disputes, a harmed State is ultimately left only to rely on sources of international law for guidance.
In the past, water-sharing issues in Central Asia were regulated and controlled by the former Soviet system of centralized governance that set limits on water extractions and use among the central Asian republics.
In addition, and to some extent most importantly, these Soviet regulations governed the extent to which water was to be “shared” with “downstream” republics, as well as the compensations schemes that were to be used among the republics for water sharing.
The rules developed by the Soviets for “water sharing” in Central Asia were based almost exclusively on production/engineering criteria that reflected the production needs for agricultural production and power generation.
These engineering based criteria, however, did not generally reflect the ecological and social benefits of the resource, leading to inefficient use and growing conflicts over resource.
Some economists claim that mechanisms involving “water pricing,” “water markets” and other innovative multi-republic compensation schemes based on modern economic theories are needed most to address water resource allocation problems in Central Asia.
As mentioned previously, in the absence of these innovative alternatives, many former Soviet consumption quotas are still adhered to by the Central Asian republics resulting in a relatively inefficient, non-sustainable and inequitable utilization of this scarce environmental resource.
More money is also needed to solve the region’s water problems.
An additional point of importance relates to the collapse of the Soviet system itself.
With the elimination of the Soviet central government, the mechanism of “higher authority” to mediate and enforce water conflicts among the republics in central Asia was eliminated.
(NATO Science for Peace and Security Series-C:Environmental Security, Transboundary Water Resources: A Foundation for regional Stability in Central Asia, Edited by John E.Moerlins,Mikhail K.Khankhasayev,Steven F.Leitman,Ernazar J.Makhmudov)
The new state borders of the republics do not correspond with their borders. This, in the future, could serve as a reason for interstate conflicts. This potential for cross boundary tensions and conflict cannot be ignored. While most countries have institutional mechanisms for allocating water and resolving conflict within countries, cross-border institutional mechanisms are far weaker.
With hydrological interdependence comes deeper interdependence. As a productive resource, water is unique in that it can never be managed for a single use: it flows between sectors and users.
Due to the activity of the Interstate Coordination Water Communion (ICWC) established in 1992, chaos has been avoided in regional water resources and a possibility for a constructive dialogue on this problem has been provided.
The results of the ICWC activities, estimations and suggestions, prepared with ICWC participation, form the basis for numerous interstate agreements on the problems of water resource use.
There are e.g. 25 agreements signed in the last decade on joint usage of the Syrdarya water resources.
In addition, an important role is played by the efforts of international organizations aimed at the solution of regional problems, among which water problems are foremost.
Well-known projects of the World Bank, UNEP,UNESCO,UNDP, and a number of research and applied projects funded by INTAS,NATO,TACIS,INCO COPERNICUS, have greatly contributed to the understanding of the situation at all levels from regional to local.
The most pressing problem is water quotas. It is becoming more and more difficult to preserve quotas established in the Soviet period. The problem is so pressing that the International Crisis Group (ICG) experts state; the problems of coordination of water and energy resources in the Central Asian region as a current source of tension are so important that they can be considered only less important than Islamic extremism” It is still clear that the solution to this problem is to be sought not in the technical but in the political sphere, and requires development of a set of political and legislative decisions and measures that take into account not only interrelated problems of water-energy resources, but also the demographic, socioeconomic and ecological problems of the region. According to GIWA assessment estimation, freshwater shortage is responsible for about 70% of the development problems in the region.
The current economy is developing under conditions of increasing water deficiency. In spite of increasing efforts by the Government of the countries in the region, and by the international community, the situation in regard to water supply and economic objectives in the countries of Central Asia remains tense and shows clear tendencies towards aggravation and conflict.
Problem of joint use of transboundary water resources more and more often leads to conflicts and are the subject of increasingly complicated interstate negotiations.
The countries of the region that proclaimed their independence- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan—were forced to solve the broad present-day state problems under conditions of the break-up of the former economic relations, economic decline and transition to the new methods of economic management based on free-market practices.
The necessity to rely largely on their own resources predetermined the differences in strategies and rates of economic development of the countries in the region. The most difficult situation is observed in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan where 80–90% of the national economies depend on water resources coming from Transboundary Rivers that originate in neighboring states.
Difficulties with the water supply caused by the fact that the main rivers in the region are Transboundary Rivers, but also by the prevailing hydrological regimes, which are characterized by an extremely irregular territorial distribution of renewable water resources and a high degree of runoff variation from year to year. Most renewable surface water resources are formed in the mountains in the territory of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and the main consumers of water resources are Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
In conclusion I would like to insist that it is the serious need for application of international transboundary environmental impact assessment report (Espoo convention) as a solution to potential conflict resolution in Central Asian region around transboundary water problem.
The mechanism that can help to resolve the situation of interstate conflicts should be the application of convention of international transboundary environmental impact assessment report, because the main idea behind the concept of environmental impact assessment is to consider the possible environmental impact of an activity in advance, during the preparation phase of a proposed undertaking.
When the EIA is not done an adverse impact could arise in an uncontrolled way, potentially causing damage to the environment of human health. Moreover, attempting to mitigate such a situation by disassembling a project and restoring a site to its original state can be extremely expensive.
In some cases, the proposed activity is of such great extent that it could have environmental impacts more than one country. In these instances, it is appropriate to carry out an EIA at an international level. This issue has therefore been identified within UN/ECE policy as a regional environmental problem requiring international cooperation.
The way how this Convention can be applied could be studied on the case of relationship between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as well as the other cases where implementation of Espoo Convention has its positive impact such as case of Slovakia when a transboundary EIA was carried out between the Slovak Republic and Austria with respect to a proposed activity-the construction of a loading ramp’ on the banks of the Morava River. EIA’s to EIAs carried out at the national level in the Slovak Republic 397 EIA processes have been finalized of which have been transboundary.
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Saida Arifkhnova is a project manager in the publishing department of the SMI-Asia Group. She ressidess in Uzbekistan.