Lessons on Cooperation Building to Manage Water Conflicts in the Aral Sea Basin

Summary

The Aral Sea Basin became notorious as an example of the rapacious attitude to nature of the Soviet command system of water management. There are many similar examples in the “western world,” even in such powerful countries as the United States, which cannot rehabilitate the deltas of the Colorado and San Khoakin rivers, or Lake Mono and others to restore them to their original natural condition. During the past ten years Central Asia has established conditions for independent development on the basis of mutual respect, mutual cooperation, and the clear political will of the presidents and governments of the five states concerned to preserve and strengthen joint water management. The framework for this was based on earlier soviet practice and principles, which should be transformed under new economic conditions. The water authorities of the five countries facilitate cooperation under the umbrella of the ICWC – Interstate Commission for Water Coordination – which celebrated its ten-year anniversary in February 2002. This cooperation is progressing in spite of complexities and differences in the social, political, and environmental conditions in the different states and their different levels development.

It carries the promise of future success, giving objective appraisal to achievements and setbacks as well as finding ways of survival. These commitments have led to the belief, reflected in official documents of UNESCO, OSCE, and other international agencies, that the ICWC as a body of five states, even in such conditions, can find ways to develop well-controlled and progressive collaboration. This experiment is unique, because five states are not only working together in planning, but also in operating and managing transboundary rivers in real time. For these reasons the Aral Sea Basin has been selected as an acceptable case study for the PCCP program. The expected outcomes of the case study are the lessons to be learned from the difficult and complex conditions that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union. That collapse led to an intricate environmental problem, and the countries of the basin are working through cooperation to find an effective way to manage water resources.

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