The challenges of effective regional water cooperation

IFAS is the only regional organization in which all five Central Asian states are members. It is proof that shared water resources can foster cooperation. In contrast to many other regional Central Asian organizations, IFAS and its subordinated bodies have functioned for 20 years. It is well understood in the region that programs and agreements did not always meet the expectations of the member countries and the donor community. This is not surprising giving the conditions under which the regional water cooperation had to evolve in Central Asia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian countries had to develop new structures, institutions and policies to govern the formerly Moscow-managed natural resources in a situation of economic and political collapse and without the necessary technical, financial, administrative and political capacities at their disposal. These conditions led to weaknesses in the regional structure like the lack of a coherent legal foundation and an effective organizational structure, weak coordination and inefficient implementation of decisions. And it must not be forgotten that there are always risks and benefits involved when it comes to long-term commitments on all sides. However, the fact that IFAS has been instrumental in guaranteeing peaceful and prosperous development should not be underestimated.

When trying to assess the performance of IFAS until today, it is useful to look at the Declaration of the Heads of States of all Central Asian countries, which was issued in Almaty in 2009 (see p. 53–55). They express very clearly that IFAS has more potential and subsequently they tasked the EC IFAS with working out proposals for an administrative reform of the institutions in order to improve their performance. The heads of states also believe in international cooperation and invited the international donor community to become more active in working out joint programs and solutions for the water issues in Central Asia. Better regional cooperation and the creation of trust in the field of transboundary water management is a long-term process. Experience in other river basins shows that it often took decades to develop the necessary trust and adequate working mechanisms for effective joint cooperation. In this respect, IFAS is still a young organisation in its institutional development.