Turkmenistan’s Chairmanship of IFAS

Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Most recently, President of Turkmenistan H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov decreed the “Concept of foreign policy of Turkmenistan for 2017-2023” which outlined strategic priorities during 2017-2023. He emphasized that Turkmenistan would actively participate in addressing critical environmental issues, matters of water resources management, prevention and mitigation of natural and man-made disasters. Furthermore, Turkmenistan will assist to attract the United Nations to a wide and effective solution of these problems.

Decree of concept of foreign policy of Turkmenistan for 2017-2023

Decree of concept of foreign policy of Turkmenistan for 2017-2023 also values Turkmenistan concerns for environmental issues and water diplomacy. Since Turkmenistan is Chairman of the International Aral Sea Fund (IFAS) in 2016-2019, it is necessary to make it the part of concept of foreign policy of Turkmenistan 2017-2023 which shows a strong political will and strategic vision of President of Turkmenistan H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for the further development of water resources.

Water is constantly declining and hostilities over water resources are on the rise in the Central Asia region. This crisis is not confined only to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan but it is also significantly affecting Afghanistan and China, the two other stakeholders in Central Asia’s precarious power and water sharing deals.

Global Water Stress Map (2016)

According to a global stress map produced by the Water Resources Institute (2016) Central Asia has one of the world’s highest water-stress levels. The region, with a population of 66 million, gets 90 percent of its water supply from two rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Both river basins fall under the control of upstream countries Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and the downstream countries Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan are fight hard to get sustainable supplies of waters.

Agriculture in the Central Asia region consumes up to 75 percent of fresh water resources, much of which is lost to substandard irrigational systems. Better cultivation practices, higher quality seeds, and exchange of agricultural technology could create a new framework of cooperation between the Central Asian countries. Turkmenistan’s Chairmanship is taking all possible measures to initiate diversified programs for the further development of water resources in the region.

Turkmenistan’s Chairmanship of IFAS

Turkmenistan is Chairman of the International Fund for saving Aral Sea. Under Turkmenistan’s chairmanship all the member countries are trying their levels best to save the sinking Aral Sea. Being chairman Turkmenistan is striving hard to convince all the member countries to work jointly for water resources development in the region. Turkmenistan and all member countries along with international partners are working jointly under Country Water Partnerships [CWPs] of the GWP CACENA region.

IFAS: As a Regional Platform

Turkmenistan intends actively contribute to strengthening the institutional basis of the IFAS as a regional platform for Central Asian countries cooperation in the field of sustainable development. In this context, the activation of work on ratification and entry into force the Framework Convention (2006) for environment protection and sustainable development in Central Asia is foreseen.

Turkmenistan’s Chairmanship and its Associated Socio-Economic Benefits

Turkmenistan is Chairman of the International Fund for saving Aral Sea (IFAS). Turkmenistan’s water diplomacy is making difference in the further development of water resources in the Aral Sea Basin. Its rigorous water diplomacy is the way forward to develop and settle water issues among the founding members states. It protects environment. It cares about climate change. It works for massive regional cooperation and international partnership for the conservation of water resources.
Turkmenistan’s water diplomacy stresses the need to have close socio-politico cooperation and understanding to develop depleting resources of water in the region. It ensures equitable water sharing among the members states.

Turkmenistan’s Chairmanship’s Potentials & Utilities

Being Chairman of IFAS, Turkmenistan works hard to achieve an effective water agreements based on adaptive management structures, clear and flexible rules for water allocation and management, equal distribution of benefits, conflict resolution and enforcement mechanisms between the Central Asian Countries. It is striving for achieving a transboundary water agreement which may be shifted from a “rights based” stance to a “needs based” practical approach. It has been crucial to identify shared benefits in transboundary water agreements as was accomplished in the agreement between so many countries around the globe.

Turkmenistan’s Concept

Turkmenistan is the energy leader in the region which is blessed with unlimited resources. Since its inception, development of water resources has been one of its key strategic priorities. Turkmenistan has always been one of the main advocators and facilitators of water cooperation in the region. It has been considered and associated with its practical implementation of Sustainable Development Goals in the country as well as in the region.

Salient Features

Turkmenistan’s Chairmanship in IFAS has multiplier socio-economic effects. One of the main goals of Turkmenistan chairmanship in IFAS is the further development and strengthening of cooperation between the countries of the Aral Sea basin on improving the socio-economic and environmental situation in the Aral Sea region, rational water use and ensuring a high level of environmental protection in this region.

Strategic Priorities

(a) Development of a new Action Program to assist countries of the Aral Sea basin (ASBP-4)
(b) Strengthening the legal basis of IFAS activities and its legal framework in the field of water management and environmental protection in Central Asia
(c) Promoting regional programs and projects in the field of integrated water resources management, environmental protection and sustainable development
(d) Providing support in information exchange activities, as well as support in setting up unified regional information system and database of the Aral Sea basin and ASBP monitoring
(e) Provide support in activation and expansion of cooperation of countries in the region with the largest international organizations, primarily with the United Nations and its specialized agencies and institutions in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development.
(f) Promote the further enhancement of the international reputation of the Fund, its positive role in modern global processes on sustainable development.

Strategic Importance of Aral Sea Basin Action Plan (ASBP-4)

The Aral Sea, one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the world is under serious consideration of the IFAS and Turkmenistan’s Chairmanship is working tirelessly to speed-up efforts to achieve the desired goals to this end.

At one point the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest landlocked body of water in the world, occupying an area of about 66,000km2 and a volume of 1,062 km3. Now it has split into two separate bodies: Little Aral Sea, which is in Kazakhstan, and Big Aral Sea, which is in Uzbekistan.

Achievements of IFAS

International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) was established in 1992 on the initiative of the Heads of the Central Asian States for the purpose of improving the social and economic, ecological situation in the basin of the Aral Sea.

IFAS was also created to attract funds from the five states needed to carry out projects and inform the international community about the crisis and gain its support in addressing it. Since its inception, IFAS has partaken in a number of projects, such as the 1993-1997 Aral Sea Basin Program. This project’s four main objectives focused on stabilizing and rehabilitating the surrounding area, developing better water management strategies, and increasing the ability for regional and national organizations to advance their projects. Another key initiative was the 1998 and 2002 Water and Environment Management Project. IFAS, in collaboration with the World Bank, attempted to create both a regional and individual strategy with the help of a group of neutral experts.

Turkmenistan with collaboration of other regional countries proposes the development of the new phase of the Aral Sea Basin Action Plan (ASBP-4), strengthening the political, legal and institutional components of the program. It will contribute to the implementation of initial initiative stage on “water diplomacy”. In this context, multilateral consultations, seminars and conferences are planned to be convened in Central Asia countries.

Turkmenistan’s Water Diplomacy

Right from the beginning, Turkmenistan believes in neutrality and dialogue to resolve any conflicting issue. Its water diplomacy is the extension of its strong political will to resolve the looming problem of water sharing and further development. It is a blue print of achieving better political understanding, social harmony and economic needs among all the regional countries on the burning issue of water sharing.

Under visionary leadership of President of Turkmenistan H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Turkmenistan has been staunch advocator of water diplomacy and moreover, Turkmenistan is the “pioneer of water diplomacy in the region too. Turkmenistan has also been highlighted the potential of “water diplomacy” and which needs to be promoted in the region.

Cross-Border Cooperation

Turkmenistan’s water diplomacy is based on cross-border cooperation on water and it considers the growing importance of water in maintaining peace and political stability. It is also crucial to promote dialogue and continued cooperation, and to contribute to peace and security in the region.

Turkmenistan’s Policies of Water Conservation & Restoration
Turkmenistan has been taking all possible measures for the conservation and restoration of water and other natural resources, combating desertification, land degradation and the last but not the least, climate change since its inception. It has been one of the key directions of international cooperation of Turkmenistan as the initiator of constructive solutions to global environmental problems for the well-being of present and future generations.
Turkmenistan’s Pledges Support to International Agencies & Forums
Turkmenistan supports the UN development program, UN on Environment Program, the global environment fund and other authoritative international organizations at the national and regional levels implemented dozens of programs and projects.

International Community Supports Turkmenistan Initiatives for Water Security

Turkmenistan has received immense support from the international community for its positive initiatives announced by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov at the international forums, including the United Nations Conference on sustainable development, Rio +20, the Summit on sustainable development for the period after 2015 year, held under the 70-th session of the United Nations General Assembly, (III) the UN World Conference on disaster reduction (Japan) and VII World Water Forum (the Republic of Korea).

H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov Keynote Speech to 7th World Water Forum

While addressing participants of the VII World Water Forum held in Daegu, South Korea in 2015 H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov emphasized that today water problems could not be considered in isolation from global development plans, environmental and food security and creation of an integrated system of sustainable energy.

Formation of High-Level Interactive Dialogue

Turkmenistan also considered it useful to hold high-level interactive dialogue dedicated to the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”, that took place recently at the United Nations Headquarters, the results of which can serve as a foundation for development of the long-term UN Specialized Program on Water Issues, the President added.

Turkmenistan’s Strategic Proposal

H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov shared opportunities for establishing a systematic multi-level dialogue to address all problems related to formation and restoration of water resources and their efficient use in the creation of a new political and diplomatic form of multilateral communication, which could be water diplomacy”. President of Turkmenistan expressed belief in that such a joint activity could be the foundation for a comprehensive document of the United Nations on water. The President proposed participants of the World Water Forum to consider the initiative put forward by Turkmenistan i.e. “Water Diplomacy”,

Access of Water

President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov also focused on such important moment as access to water. The Turkmen leader expressed support to the UN initiative on the recognition of water accessibility as a fundamental human right and noted that the water right and liability for efficient water resources management laid the foundation for this approach.

Strategic Importance of Water in CIS

“Water related issues are the major problems in Central Asia and in some cases a determining factor for development. Under such circumstances, obtaining consensus at the regional level is the only acceptable platform for effective cooperation between states. Turkmenistan has consistently supported this approach, in particular consideration and resolution of water and energy issues in Central Asia on the basis of universally recognized norms of international law, mutual respect interests of all states in the region with participation of international organizations”, said President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Role of Climate Change and Water Issue

The President recognized that solution of water issues in a global scale was complicated due to climate change. He put forward an initiative on creation of a UN specialized structure the Regional Centre for technologies related to climate change under the auspices and with the active participation of the United Nations Organisation. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said that water problems could be a separate area of work of the centre.

Environmental Degradation of the Aral Sea in Central Asia

Environmental degradation of the Aral Sea in Central Asia has caused a loss of livelihoods and led to resource competition over water amongst the states sharing the basin, especially Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The conflict over water has been non-violent and mostly diplomatic.

Being the Chairman of the IFAS and to realize the idea of water diplomacy initiates the development of Central Asian Water Strategy. It is also considered reasonable to consolidate in this document the basic principles and rules of the political and diplomatic cooperation of the Central Asian states on water issues that fully take into account the interests of all countries in the region. In perspectives, the Central Asian Water Strategy would serve as a basis for UN Global Water Strategy elaboration.

Revision of the Regional Action Plan for Environmental Protection of Central Asia (REAP)

Turkmenistan will also prepare and officially send to all founding member countries of IFAS proposals for the revision of the Regional Action Plan for Environmental Protection of Central Asia (REAP) adopted within the framework of the Interstate Commission for Sustainable Development of IFAS in order to include main provisions of this Plan as an environmental component to new Action Program for Assistance to the Aral Sea Basin Countries (ASBP).

Practical Implementation of Specific Initiatives of IFAS
Being Chairman of IFAS Turkmenistan will continue to advocate the practical implementation of specific initiatives of IFAS founding countries which are aimed at enhancing regional cooperation and development of systemic mechanisms for cooperation in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development. In particular, Turkmenistan will make all necessary efforts to promote the issues on the establishment of the Regional Centre for technologies related to climate change. In this regard, during the chairmanship in the IFAS Turkmenistan in cooperation with specialized agencies and UN institutions, will take all necessary measures to continue working on сenter establishment.

More Opportunities

The activities of Turkmenistan during its chairmanship in IFAS will also focus on creating good conditions for the countries of Aral Sea basin as well as providing them with more opportunities to consider jointly with the international community the issues on attracting investments for solving the problems of the Aral Sea.

Utility of Turkmenistan’s Chairmanship

Successful implementation of the Fund goals and objectives by Turkmenistan as a country-chairman will provide necessary conditions for the countries of the region in their active participation in strategic planning and implementation of regional and international policies aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

New System of Distribution of the Water Resources

After obtaining the Independence, the countries of the Central Asia created a new system for distribution of the water resources. The Ministers of water resources of the Independent state signed the Agreement on September 12, 1992, in which, the parties declared that joint management of the water resources will be carried out in accordance with the principles of equality and mutual benefit.

Formation of Interstate Organizations

Within period from 1992 up to 1994, these interstate organizations were established with the assistance of the donors: the International Fund to Save the Aral Sea (IFAS) with headquarters situated in Almaty city and Interstate Council for the Aral Sea Basin (ICAB) with the Executive committee under the chairmanship of the Minister of Water economy of Turkmenistan, having its headquarters in Tashkent city. Main role of the IFAS was to raising and accumulating funds and the ICAB was targeted at preparation and implementation of the Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP).

Meeting of the Heads of the IFAS Founder-States

The meeting of the Heads of the IFAS founder-states in 1997 resulted in making fundamental decisions, which are connected with the restructuring and merging of the IFAS and ICAB.

Important decisions were taken regarding the chairmanship in the Executive Committee, its rotation, the whereabouts of the Executive committee and the amount of the payment to the Fund. The major objectives of the IFAS were determined: development of the draft proposals, which are aimed at working out a mutually acceptable mechanism for making complex use of the water resources and environmental protection, preservation of the biological fund of the Aral Sea region, decreasing the harmful impact of the ecological crisis on the environment and the main thing is to eliminate the impact on the people living in the region.
Ashgabat 1999
In April 1999, Ashgabat hosted the meeting of the Heads of the Central Asian States, at which, the Provision on IFAS and the Agreement on the status of the IFAS was adopted and Ashgabat Declaration was signed. By now the outcomes of the IFAS activity has become development, adoption and implementation of the three Programs on rendering assistance to the countries of the Aral Sea Basin (ASBP-1, ASBP-2, ASBP-3)

There are commissions operating within IFAS the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia (ICWC) and Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD) of Central Asian countries.

Strategic Utility of ICWC

The Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia (ICWC) was established by the countries of the Central Asia in accordance with the Agreement on cooperation in the field of joint water management and protection of the waters of the interstate water sources, signed on behalf of the sovereign states on the 18th of February, 1992 in Almaty city.

ICWC’s Main Purpose

The main purpose of ICWC creation is elaboration and approval of the limits of the annual water’s usage for each state according to the main water sources, modes of operation at the large water reservoirs and management of the water distribution under the conditions of the actual water content and the emerging situation in terms of water economy, also working out and implementation of the ecological programs related to the drying of the Aral Sea and depletion of the water resources, and setting up annual volumes of water supply to the river deltas and Aral Sea.

Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD)

Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD) was established as per the decision of the Interstate Council for the Aral Sea Basin (ICAB) (dated 19th July 1994, Ashgabat). At the Commission was entrusted with the mission of coordination and management of the regional cooperation in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development of the Central Asian states.

ICSD’s Main Goal

The main goal of the Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD) is elaboration of the regional sustainable development strategy, management of the regional programs, action plans and project management in the field of environment and sustainable development, as well as coordination of the steps in fulfilling the obligations by the Central Asian states as concerns the implementation of the nature protection conventions that have trans-border aspect.

Concluding Remarks

Turkmenistan is Chairman of the International Fund for saving Aral Sea (IFAS). Under the visionary leadership of H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Turkmenistan has already taken meaningful initiatives for the further development of water resources including saving of Aral Sea. Water has a binding force and Turkmenistan is a pioneer country for water diplomacy in the region.

Turkmenistan is striving hard for the further development and strengthening of cooperation between the countries of the Aral Sea basin on improving the socio-economic and environmental situation in the Aral Sea region, rational water use and ensuring a high level of environmental protection in this region. Being Chairman of IFAS, Turkmenistan has many priority tasks which need to be completed for achieving desired goals of sustainable development.
Easy and smooth supply of water is directly correlated with the socio-economic prosperity of the CIS due to which Chairmanship of Turkmenistan is taking serious steps for equitable water sharing through rigorous water diplomacy. Water connects humanity and Turkmenistan is creating harmony in the distribution of water resources through its dynamic water diplomacy. Water ensures survival of humanity and being Chairman of the IFAS, Turkmenistan supports water diplomacy to resolve water issues in the region.

Water is life and energy too and Turkmenistan is trying its level best to maintain sustainable supplies of waters. Water is one the keys strategic asset for human survival on the planet and effective tool of achieving micro or macro socio-economic goals around the globe and Turkmenistan has many national, regional as well as international programs for further development of water.
From ancient civilizations to modern times of to-day, water has had been remained driving force for collaboration, integration, development, stability, sustainability, peace, and the last not the least green revolutions which is under the visionary leadership of Turkmenistan President H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov initiating workable solutions for the maximum utility, consumption and conservation of regional water development.

Equal water sharing is a complex phenomenon which requires a gigantic effort on part of all member countries for the further development of water resources which are given below as:

(a) There is urgent need of serious dialogue and sincere to improve governance to ensure equitable water distribution within the member countries so that all areas and all sectors of the population can benefit from a just and efficient planning mechanism
(b) Effective monitoring and regulation of any water sharing arrangement may be point convergence among the member states which must be an essential part of the national policy fully backed by legislative measures adopted through the support of the public representatives
(c) Holistic approach to merge these national policies in a broader regional framework with the support of the political leadership in the Central Asian States so that the system of successful water sharing could work successfully
(d) All agreements and efforts must be crystal clear and transparent and any arrangement thus achieved must be supported by regional organizations, civil society and the media giving it the necessary validity and political endorsement
(e) For achieving maximum socio-economic utility and benefits of an integrated water management system all member countries must try to make compromise and make some concessions for the larger public good
(f) Scope of bilateral arrangements could prove more effective and durable
(g) In view of divergent positions of States acceptable agreements could be promoted through third party mediation as a well-established world practice
(h) For improved efficiency in water use and management it is critical for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Kyrgyz Republic to complete their IWRM plans and integrate them into national laws. On part of Turkmenistan’s government it has already taken all possible measures to integrate national laws according to the instructions and policies of IWRM.

(i) To find a solution to the Aral Sea and the overall water crisis effort ought to be made to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental rehabilitation
(j) Extensive reforms should be introduced to resolve the major water related issues and must include substitution of heavy water intensive crops like cotton by crops requiring

much less water. There is an urgent need to have an advanced agricultural system in all the member states
(k) Climate changes is a looming threat in the Central Asian States and all member states should seek the assistance of the Clean Development Mechanism from the Kyoto Protocol and other climate finance funds through the World Bank
(l) Formation of a pool of technical experts capable of handling the growing water related issues is must
(m) The 1992 Almaty Agreement should be revised to reflect current water levels and the water needs of each state
(n) Any long term water scheme must include Afghanistan as an important stakeholder in view of its increasing demand for water.
(o) Constant information sharing for monitoring water utilization, irrigated agriculture, watershed management, flood management and small-to-Medium hydro power options exploration is the need of the hour.
(p) Creation of an International Fund for the upkeep and strengthening of the infrastructure of water distribution among the member states
(q) An international group of water/climate/environmental experts, preferably from neutral states, be established to provide technical advice to the policy makers on all matters relating to water sharing and utilization in a way that cooperation and understanding are enhanced allowing for equitable and acceptable arrangements
(r) In view of the growing importance of water related issues and their political impact in the Central Asian region, it is advisable to create a multilateral organization with representation from all member states of the United Nations with the purpose of granting the Group of Experts the much needed political backing and its decisions necessary validity
(s) Expanded role of IFAS and SPECA be considered as a viable option and their interaction with the Group of Experts and the proposed multilateral body be encouraged
(t) Best potential of existing regional intergovernmental mechanisms such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and international and regional financial institutions should also be utilized for resolving existing and emerging problems among the Central Asian States on the issues of water
(u) Further diversification of economies of downstream countries along with adoption and implementation of more rational policies for water use and crop substitution along with adapting modern irrigation practices
(v) Comprehensive bilateral agreements among the member states i.e. South-South, North-South and triangular cooperation for water management should be fostered by sharing of experiences, best practices and lessons learnt as well as benefiting from environmentally sound technologies and technical expertise
(w) International donor community can incorporate water into the broader framework of development cooperation and focus on the often neglected water related components of the Millennium Development Goals

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