Creating platforms for dialogue

The history of IFAS and other regional institutions has shown that mutual mistrust and lack of positive perceptions of benefits are a major obstacle to regional cooperation. Therefore, international actors also finance and organise regional conferences and meetings as platforms for political dialogue. Based on its 2007 Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia, the European Union has established an EU-Central Asia Platform on Environment and Water with regular high-level conferences as well as working group meetings for senior officials. The UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia (UNRCCA) regularly engages the political leadership in dialogue on water. The UNECE Water Convention brings together water experts from Central Asia and the Caucasus, including from countries not party to the convention. The World Bank, in conjunction with its involvement in the preparation of two assessment studies on the controversial Roghun hydropower plant in Tajikistan, facilitates a structured process for riparian involvement, including information exchange meetings with representatives of governments as well as civil society from all riparian states.[See http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/where/asia/regional-cooperation-central-asia/index_en.htm,
http://unrcca.unmissions.org/, http://go.worldbank.org/ZQXIA8J0H0.]

These conferences and their joint statements often have no binding character and no concrete results. But one must not underestimate their contribution to regional confidence-building, reduction of mutual mistrust and acquainting Central Asia water experts with international principles and practices. In fact, cooperation failure is often not rooted in an unwillingness to cooperate or to share but in a reluctance to trust. From this point of view, it is of significant value that international players provide forums where high-level politicians as well as bureaucrats can meet and exchange views.

 

On 1 April 2008, the German Federal Foreign Office announced the launch of a water initiative for Central Asia at the Berlin water conference «Water Unites-New Perspectives for Cooperation and Security». The initiative was conceived as an integral component of the EU Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia, adopted in June 2007, during the German EU presidency. The Berlin Process, as it became known, presents an offer by the German Federal Government to the countries of Central Asia to support them in water management and to make water a subject of intensified transboundary cooperation. The primary goal is to set in motion a process of political rapprochement in Central Asia that leads to closer cooperation on the use of water resources and that may result in joint water and energy management in the long term.

The most extensive element of the Berlin Process is the Transboundary Water Management in Central Asia Programme, which the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is carrying out on behalf of the German Federal Foreign Office. GIZ is collaborating closely to that end with national and international partners such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Under that programme, measures have been implemented since 2009 that not only optimise cooperation in the Central Asian water sector, but also improve the lives of people in the region.

These were just some examples and not an exhaustive list of the wide range of activities and the deep engagement of donors. Their activities, when good coordination is in place, are not competing but rather complementary. Third parties can play a supportive role in fostering regional water cooperation when they are perceived as neutral. International players have supported cooperative actions and provided additional incentives and benefits to the riparian states. But though they can create enabling conditions for regional cooperation, the cooperation itself has to develop from within and depends upon the actions and will of the riparian countries.