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Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 30 May -1 June 2005

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to welcome you all to Dushanbe, our capital city, and to the International Conference on Regional Cooperation in Transboundary River Basins.

This conference is the first major event in support of the declared by the UN International Decade of Action, 'Water for Life', 2005-2015, which was initiated by Tajikistan following the International Year of Freshwater and within its frame the International Freshwater Forum in Dushanbe.

It is quite logical that lately the world leaders and governments have often focus on the issue of water, as this strategically important resource is crucial for addressing the issues in three areas, that are the pillars of sustainable development: environmental, social and economic.

The major task which the international community is facing today in the field of water resources is the transfer of committed obligations into concrete actions that need to be implemented on the ground for the benefit of the people.

The water goals agreed upon at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and also the resolutions approved by the recent session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development that are directed to their timely and folly realization have formed a specific water 'road map'. Now the members of the international community have clear and concrete time-bound targets within which to implement the undertaken political commitments on work out and implementation of integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans. These plans should incorporate strategies for integrated river basin, watershed and groundwater management.

The International Decade of Action 'Water for Life', 2005-2015 provides an excellent institutional infrastructure to ensure real progress in implementing the water resources agenda approved by the international community through combined efforts of all the partners concerned, namely, governments, UN agencies, international financial institutions, civil society.

My hope is that the representatives of the governments, civil society, experts and researchers that gathered at this Conference will help us all to find coordinated approaches towards the solution of problems related, in particular, to trans boundary water facilities.

Brief History of Regional Cooperation in Transboundary River Basins

From time immemorial, human beings have preferred to settle along rivers and lakes that provided them the water essential for food and life. There are many transboundary water facilities that cross the political boundaries of two or more countries. These are vast territories equal to one-third of the earth's surface and where approximately 2.5 billion people, or 40 per cent of the world's population, live. They totally accumulate about 60 per cent of global freshwater resources.

Archive data show a long history of regional cooperation of states along international rivers. The earliest recorded treaty of this kind was an agreement on shared water between two city-states of Mesopotamia, Umma and Lagash, in 3500 ВС. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 3,600 treaties related to international water resources have been concluded since 805 A.D.

It is appropriate to say that since then a lot of water had run under the bridges. The modern world has witnessed a large number of treaties on shared water management. These treaties emerged because they were vitally urgent. According to the available statistics, during the last 50 years 150 treaties of cooperation have been signed in the water field.

Nations value these agreements because they make international relations over water more stable and predictable. It is worthy to note that since the international community realized the need to employ patterns of sustainable development, dictated by nature itself, the subject and scope of such agreements have substantially broadened, and the focus has gradually shifted away from navigation towards the management, use, and conservation of water resources.

It is my sincere hope that the participants to this conference can have a substantial discussion on all the aspects related to the above problem, while having in mind the most important thing - how we can by collective efforts ensure management, use and conservation of transboundary waters in the most effective and mutually beneficial way.

In order to develop coordinated approaches we could focus our discussions on the following urgent issues.

Cooperation for Peace and Security

At the global scale, the effective and mutually beneficial solution of the water resources-related problems underlies peace, security and stability of our nations. Fortunately, upon objective index, our planet has actually sufficient water recourses to provide 'water security' for all. But this can become a reality only if we, according to the currently new requirements will change the conceptual approaches to manage water resources.

Throughout history, nations have learned how to share the benefits of the river. The key issue here has always been and remains to be the development of rules of conduct to handle disputes peacefully. It is known, that legal agreements on water sharing have been concluded and strictly observed even among bitter enemies and maintained even as conflicts have persisted over other issues. There a few examples that can prove this statement.

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, supported by the United Nations, have been able to cooperate since 1957 within the framework of the Mekong River Commission. Vietnam War did not hinder them regularly to have technical exchanges. Since 1955 Israel and Jordan, with United States involvement, have held regular talks on sharing the Jordan River, even when they were de-jure in a legal state of war. The Hind River Commission, established with World Bank support, survived two wars and continuing unrest between India and Pakistan.

A framework for the Nile River Basin, home to 160 million people and shared among 10 countries, was agreed in 1999 in order to fight poverty and spur economic development in the region by promoting equitable use of, and benefits from, common water resources. This initiative, supported by the World Bank and the USAID, is a transitional arrangement until a permanent framework is put in place.

At the same time it is necessary to remember that the last 50 years have seen only 37 acute water disputes involving violence. Though some analysts focus exclusively on negative scenarios, predicting that in future conflicts over water will persist, however many countries by their actions refute this thesis and successfully negotiate on the water resources issues. By doing so they vividly demonstrate that the efficient response to the challenges in this area can contribute to uprooting the sources of conflicts and can also be a powerful catalyst for international cooperation for the benefit of the people of all the nations involved.

Cooperation and Sustainable Development

At the same time, one can not hide oneself from the reality and ignore the fact that the world might face a serious water crisis. Not only has the use of renewable water resources increased six-fold in the last century, but also the availability of clean water has declined due to waste and pollution. In urban areas all over the world, water is lost through leakage and illegal connections. Efficiency levels of water use in agriculture of the Central Asia region are around 50%. Industries and agriculture and degrade surface with toxic pollutants, and as a result degrade entire ecosystems, including the water ones.

Beyond meeting basic human needs, water contributes to sustainable development in other important ways. It is a major source of energy, and is necessary for agriculture and for many industrial processes. Moreover, rivers are often an integral part of transport systems and water-related ecosystems provide flood control to storm protection and water purification.

Thus, as the key to sustainable development, water has value from a social, economic and environmental perspective and needs to be managed within a sound, integrated socio-economic framework.

"Upstream and downstream "water stakeholders" will have to be involved in the management decisions.

Cooperation and Poverty Alleviation

In developing countries water is crucial for economic development and poverty alleviation. And yet at the end of 2002 over one billion people lacked access to safe drinking water, while over 2.6 billion lacked access to basic sanitation services. The internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals in water and sanitation pledge to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by the year 2015.

It is estimated that the additional investment required to meet the goals for basic water supply and sanitation in the countries with low access rates is $20-30 billion a year, twice what is now being spent in those developing countries. Reaching these goals is achievable and would cost far less than the health care required to treat people suffering from preventable diseases related to poor water and sanitation.

I believe to attain the interrelated goals on poverty reduction, education, water and sanitation, and women's equality, would be greatly facilitated by cooperation at the river basin level.

Cooperation on Environment

Depleted freshwater supplies and degraded water supply infrastructure caused by rapid population growth and poorly managed development already cause serious tensions among major water users - farmers, industry and urban consumers - within many countries. Conservation and stewardship of water resources have become more critical to our survival in recent years.

It is essential to fully realize the obvious truth: one can not use all the river water before it flows to the sea. Using the entire flow of a river causes land degradation and cuts off nutrients to the sea, resulting in the decline of fish populations. More care should be taken about coastal zones that are among the most productive ecosystems on earth and depend vitally on the inflow of freshwater in the estuaries, deltas and wetlands.

River water that crosses national borders takes on an even more strategic importance. It is important to establish efficient interaction among nations to avoid the pollution of international waters caused by the economic and other types of activities.

In our Central Asia region, agricultural production cannot be sustained in an effective and stable manner without addressing the issues of water resources quality and quantity. Protection of the quality and supply of freshwater resources is a common priority for all countries in Central and South Asia. The Aral Sea offers a distressing example of what can happen when every riparian takes as much water as it can. Terrible development of lands at Aral Sea basin caused not only a catastrophic swallowing of ones live-giving sea, but the tragedy of thousands of people, who lost their future.

In my capacity of the President of the International Fund Save Aral I would like once more to call upon international community to provide to the Central Asian states the effective assistance in mitigating the consequences of this global ecological catastrophe and in realization of Programme of concrete actions to enhance the ecological and socio-economic situation in Aral basin designed till 2010. We hope that the special session on Aral issues within the framework of coming in 2006 World Fourth Water Forum in Mexico will be the turning point in the sad history of Aral, which unfortunately, is full of declarations on assistance, but not actions directed to its save.

I consider that one of the practical steps in this direction can be the implementation of the pilot project in the Aral Sea basin by international community, the project that could meet the criterias of the Millennium Development Goals.

Without an overall strategy of water resources management it is impossible to maintain the integrity of a balanced ecosystem. We all have a shared responsibility for protecting the environment surrounding shared river and lake basins and watersheds. We need to conserve the water, the flora and the fauna, and protect these resources as a shared concern.

Cooperation on Freshwater

Good governance is at the heart of sustainable water use management. Each responsible government should provide a solid regulatory framework and implementation structure to manage the use of its water resources. Regional cooperation could be very instrumental in dealing with these issues.

The dialogue of all those concerned should continue within a framework of integrated water resources management, involving discussions on economic, environmental, technical and social policies and related measures. To reach solutions acceptable to all, we all need to work together - governments, the United Nations agencies, regional organizations, civil society and other interested parties.

In our discussions at the conference we need to consider the most effective utilization and protection of the whole extent of a river and its water resources. This includes the productivity and value of water in all its uses, including ecosystem needs.

Cooperation on international watercourses is crucial to reaching all the above objectives. Upstream nations, such as Tajikistan, have an important role to play in ensuring that their neighbors are full partners in the use and conservation of our precious resources, especially during times of shortage.

As it is known more then 80% of water resources of Central Asia are generated in out countries. One can hear on several occasions that water is the wealth gifted to the human by God. One can not but agrees to this. However, it does not mean that that the gift has no value and accordingly not valued. Oil, gas, diamond and gold as all the other earths' treasures are also gifted by God. There was a time when the humanity could live without them, but not without water. And this is not to be forgotten.

Management of international rivers and lakes is a very politically sensitive issue. But we should view it not as a source of conflict, but as an opportunity, a catalyst for cooperation. Agreement on international waters can be a means to stimulate peace and development in Central Asia. The United Nations, as a 'trusted broker' can assist us in establishing riparian partnerships, starting at the technical level and moving to the political level.

Existing international watercourse agreements can provide models for us, although one should not forget that they reveal significant weaknesses. The 1997 United Nations Convention on Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses established a number of key principles to guide the conduct of nations regarding shared watercourses, and the major are 'equitable and reasonable use and participation' and 'the obligation not to cause significant harm'. However, it is up to countries themselves to determine what these terms mean in their own watersheds.

Our opinion is that both the substance and the form of agreements need to be more concrete. In particular, they need to set out scientifically substantiated criteria for water allocations and water quality management; equitable distribution of benefits; concrete mechanisms to enforce treaty provisions; and detailed conflict resolution mechanisms in case disputes erupt. Sustainable management and use of international watercourse may also require some compensation mechanisms, such as payments for transfer of water rights.

Distinguished participants to the conference,

We all have an opportunity to focus on the specific institution building needs within the world's international river basins and thereby promote stronger more resilient water management networks.

Cooperation to meet the commitments made at World Summit on sustainable development and to follow up agreements made at other conferences and sessions of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development will be needed. The regional commissions, development banks, river basin organizations and other partnerships can make their contributions to this cooperation.

Such a new promising international mechanism as the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation supported by the interagency UN "water group" is well suited to provide broad policy guidance, particularly as part of the programs for the International Decade of Action 'Water for Life'.

In conclusion, I wish to thank the United Nations Organisation and other international organizations, governments of partner-countries for their generous support to have made this event possible.

We look forward to working together with all of you to examine the potential cooperative solutions, which will allow us to make the best use of our shared water resources to improve the lives of everyone during the decade launched in March 2005, which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly as the International Decade of Action 'Water for Life', 2005-2015.

Thank you for attention and best wishes for your work and pleasant impression of your stay in sunny and hospitable Tajik land.

Source: "Khovar" News Agency, 2.06.2005