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Focus on water: press about Forum

Souce: The Times of Central Asia

World leaders sign water statement, missing key players from Central Asia

Millions of refugees streaming across borders in search of water, governments taken from within by water riots, hostile nations pushed over the edge in open warfare by conflicts over scarce water. This frightening scenario described by a Scripps Howard News Service writer, Joan Lowy, in 2002 could actually happen in the coming decades if present water consumption patterns continue.

Two-thirds of the planet is expected to live in water stressed conditions by 2025 unless worldwide efforts solve water scarcity problems now.

Government officials and water experts, along with sanitation and climate change professionals from 180 nations, gathered for the Fifth World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey on March 15-22, aimed at promoting new ideas for conserving and better managing the world's water resources.

However, the forum missed to include discussion of Central Asian regional water issues while holding regional sessions of other parts of the world despite high-ranking government officials from Central Asia attended the event including the President of Tajikistan.

Experts state that Central Asia is home to longstanding water disputes that have the potential to further destabilize the region. It is particularly true considering that the regional states do not have an agreement for usage of water since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The harsh winter of 2007-2008 forced Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to use a far greater than normal amount of water for energy generation. As a result, last summer's water shortages in downstream Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were acute. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov stated last April that "the lack of regulation in questions of joint use of water resources could lead to difficult consequences in the region".

During the forum, the Istanbul statement was adopted by ministers and heads of delegations of participating nations, calling for efforts internationally to "adapt the water management to all global changes and improve cooperation at all levels".

Leaders said the increasing world population, migration, uncontrolled urbanization, changes in commercial tender cies, and the climate change have had a negative impact on the world's water resources, and threatened access to water and its quality.

They also said that there was a need for new policies, adjustment strategies and institutional reforms regarding water. They said that the statement would be sent to the G-8 countries and the United Nations for further consideration.

The forum attracted a record number of 25,000 participants from all over the world, including a number of heads of state, more than 90 ministers, 63 mayors, 156 delegations and 148 parliamentarians.

There were some 100 discussions during the week-long event, covering a wide range of topics from global climate change to water-related risk management, from managing and protecting water resources to water investment.

In his opening speech to the forum, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said that half of the world's 6.8 billion people already have water problems, and 1 billion do not have access to clean water.

The forum, held every three years, has been foreshadowed by a report issued by UN agencies. In 348 pages, the document, published ahead of the Istanbul forum, warned of a triple whammy in which supplies of freshwater were being viciously squeezed by demographic pressure, waste and drought. It spoke of a "global water crisis" with plenty of potential for instability and conflict.

Rakhmon declares 2012 the International Year of Water Diplomacy

Speaking at the World Water Forum in Istanbul, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon highlighted the need to reconsider the fundamental, international legislation governing water management in light of modern requirements and challenges, CA-News reported. He took the opportunity to announce 2012 to be the In-national Year of Water Diplomacy to strengthen cooperation in questions of water resources.

"The International Year of Water Diplomacy will ensure that progress is made towards achieving the objectives of the International Decade for Action Water for Life' (2005-2015) and the Millennium Development Goals," said the Tajik president. "Tajikistan is interested in its success, and in order to carry out a progress assessment of the first half of the decade, and to identify targets for the second phase, we are proposing to hold an International Conference in Dushanbe in 2010 to discuss preliminary achievements, challenges and lessons learned," said Rakhmon. He invited all of the states to participate in both the preparation and in the conference itself. While stressing that the main challenge to water resources remains climate change, Rakhmon noted that in Central Asia these processes are further exacerbated by a "demographic explosion". Scientists 'findings state that there are long term effects which lead to significant reduction of water. As a result of intense economic development in the region, water consumption by 2030 will grow by at least 15-20%.

World water at a glance

Source: www.greatlakesdirectory.org

  • Agriculture accounts for two-thirds of water use worldwide and 80 percent to 90 percent in many developing countries By 2015, nearly 3 billion people 40 percent oftheproected world population are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to satisfy the food, industrial and domestic needs of citizens
  • Half of the world's 6 billion people lack proper sanitation, and I billion cannot get safe drinking water. Three-quarters of these people live in Asia
  • An estimated 5 million people die each year from water-borne diseases, most of them children
  • Since 1950, the global renewable freshwater supply per person has fallen 58 percent as world population has swelled from 2.5 billion to 6 billion

Can 'wet' countries export water to 'dry' ones?

Source: The Times of Central Asia, Charles Recknagel

As officials, activists, and entrepreneurs from 130 nations met last week in Istanbul to seek better ways to manage the world's water problems, there is one solution under discussion that might seem obvious: exporting water from wet countries to dry ones.

Many parts of the northern hemisphere such as the sponge-like summer tundra of Siberia and Canada are soaked in water. But a few thousand kilometers south, the much more arid regions of Central Asia, North Africa, and the American southwest suffer regular water shortages and frequent droughts.

One recurring proposal is to build a 2,000 kilometer canal to send water from the Ob River in Siberia to the Aral Sea basin in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The idea was first proposed in the 1960s and resurfaced as recently as 2002 in regional discussions.

Uzbekistan is particularly interested in such a possibility. The country, which is fed by rivers originating in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, is in constant dispute with its upstream neighbors because it wants more water. Its population is growing and its biggest cash crop, cotton, requires four to five tons of water for each ton of produce.

Parts of Europe suffer similar shortages. The European Commission is looking into the feasibility of sending water from the snow-capped Austrian Alps through pipelines to Spain and Greece.

And, separately, the same company that built the Suez Canal in the mid-1800s has proposed building a canal to take water from France's Rhone River to Barcelona.

Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, says all these ideas have merit. But they also have something else in common: huge price tags.

"Transferring water from a wet region to a dry region in general is at least one of the solutions that needs to be considered, but it is a very expensive solution," he said. "There are very high costs to building pipelines or constructing canals or whatever technical solution is chosen."

Additionally, he says, transnational projects require a lot of political will, not only to find the funding but also overcome what are usually strong local objections in the water-supplying country. People tend to feel possessive of their water resources, and they often fear that tinkering with them may create environmental problems for the future.

Regional deals

Still, some smaller-scale, water-transfer efforts are going ahead.

Turkey has built a $150 million water export hub at the mouth of its Manavgat River, which flows into the Mediterranean near Antalya. Converted oil tankers fill up with either refined or unrefined water from the river and deliver it to regional buyers.

Israel signed a 20-year deal in 2002 to buy 50 million cubic meters of water a year by ship from Turkey for a price of up to $1 billion.

Given the many political and economic problems with transferring water, some experts recommend that countries explore less expensive ways to share their "blue gold." One is a formula known as benefit sharing.

Berntell explains: "If you have a situation where an upstream country has a lot of water and the downstream country has very good possibilities for food production, then maybe the upstream country can let more of its water go to the downstream country for the benefit of food production there and rhen, in a trade agreement with the downstream country, buy these food products at a subsidized price."

Could such a formula work for upstream countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and downstream countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan?

As with proposals to transfer water from Siberia to Central Asia, the key factor is political will.

The difficulties of getting countries to share water resources should never be underestimated. But cooperating over existing rivers is certainly less expensive than creating rivers that never existed before.