2008 was an extremely water-stressed year, in particular for the Syr Darya Basin. A very cold winter in 2007/08 forced Kyrgyzstan to discharge more water than usual for energy production. It was followed by an unusually dry spring and summer, in which the downstream states could not receive sufficient water for irrigation due to the low water level in the Toktogul reservoir. It became obvious that the existing institutions and regulations were not able to prevent or even manage such a crisis. It was only thanks to an extraordinary meeting of the Central Asian presidents in October 2008 that a preliminary solution was found for the upcoming year, with deliveries of extra energy from downstream countries to upstream ones in winter in exchange for sufficient water releases in summer. In this situation, Kazakhstan took over the rotating presidency of IFAS and the EC IFAS moved from Dushanbe to Almaty.
On 29 April 2009, the Central Asian heads of states met for an IFAS summit in Almaty. In their joint statement, they emphasized the importance of IFAS, expressed their readiness to improve its organizational structure and tasked IFAS' bodies to develop a third phase of the Aral Sea Basin Program.
In 2010, EC-IFAS started the elaboration of the third phase of the Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP-3), covering the years 2011–2015. This time, the project preparation process involved extensive consultation with national and international experts. EC IFAS was in continual dialogue with the donor community (in particular with the World Bank, the European Union, USAID, GIZ, and SDC) in order to solicit their comments and ideas on program priorities and project proposals. Several coordination meetings with regional organizations and key donors were held. Additionally, the World Bank, GIZ and the European Union supported the preparation with consultants. The ultimate objective of ASBP-3 is to improve the socioeconomic and environmental situation by applying the principles of integrated water resources management, to develop a mutually acceptable mechanism for a multi-purpose use of water resources and to protect the environment in Central Asia while taking into account the interests of all the states in the region.
ASBP-3 works in four directions:
1. Integrated water resources management;
2. Environmental protection;
3. Socioeconomic development;
4. Improving institutional and legal instruments.
Based on these objectives, a list of criteria for project proposals to be included in the program was agreed upon during the consultation:
- National projects to be implemented within one state and primarily financed from the national budget;
- Regional projects to be implemented in the territory of two or more states;
- Meeting the ASBP goals and objectives;
- Meeting one of the directions of ASBP;
- Linking with the corresponding national and regional policy goals and programs.
EC IFAS received a total of 335 project proposals. In a consultative process with the donor community and all stakeholders, the proposed projects were put in clusters and were aggregated. As a result, 45 projects were identified and are now part of the ASBP-3. These projects are ready for financing and EC IFAS is looking to raise the required funds for them.
In December 2010, the draft ASBP-3 was presented to the donor community and the IFAS Board. Donors and implementing agencies have expressed their full support for ASBP-3 in a joint statement, which appreciates the close cooperation between IFAS and the donor community.