Water Institute Could Help Solve Central Asian Disputes

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, April 5, 2007 (ENS) - A proposal by Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev to establish a regional research institute for water and energy could help end the persistent political wrangling over cross-border water use in Central Asia.

During a meeting between European Union delegates and foreign ministers from all five central Asian states in Astana on March 28, held to consult on the new EU strategy for the region, the Kyrgyz foreign minister put forward a proposal to set up a Water and Energy Academy in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, with the EU's support.
Karabaev

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev proposes to establish a Central Asian water and energy research institute in Bishkek. (Photo courtesy Government of Kyrgyzstan)
The new institute would train experts from all the Central Asian countries on hydroelectric power, while undertaking research that will benefit the region, Karabaev said.

Central Asia's largest rivers have their sources in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. These two countries use the water flow mainly to generate electricity, whereas Uzbekistan and Kazakstan further downstream rely on the water for crop irrigation.

Although numerous mechanisms and plans have been produced to manage water use, the upstream and downstream countries have failed to agree on terms that would be acceptable to all.

Political and water analysts in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan say developing a regional-level academic centre for water management could help Central Asia reach a common view of how the resource should be distributed.

Erkin Orolbaev, a Kyrgyz expert on water issues, said the institute may well achieve this goal if it is internationally recognized and recruits capable lecturers and researchers from the region and the rest of the world.

Anatoliy Kholmatov, technical director at the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea based in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, points out that a similar initiative was launched in 2003 at an international forum on fresh water.

The plan then was to have an International Water Center based in Dushanbe to look at water, related social issues, and electricity generation. The center is currently under construction.

dam

One of several hydropower dams on the Naryn River, the largest river in Kyrgyzstan (Photo by Ian Gill courtesy Asian Development Bank)
But Kholmatov says the Kyrgyz initiative is a good one, as a great deal of research is needed to develop the economic mechanisms for shared water use.

According to a senior official in the Tajik Ministry of Energy and Industry, the academy should be a place where experienced energy officials can get advanced training and network rather than a college for training new people from scratch.

"If this is an academy for advanced training, something serious may come of it… Personal connections, which often count for a lot, will be able to have a major impact on decision-making," he said.

Almost all the experts interviewed agree that simply strengthening research capacity will not solve water disputes – there must also be the political will to do so.

Bazarbay Mambetov, a Kyrgyz energy expert said, "The problem can be solved through constructive talks among the regional states, provided their leaders are willing and ready to do this."

{Published in cooperation with News Briefing Central Asia, an independent network of journalists based in Bishkek. NBCentralAsia is a project of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR.}