JOIN TOGETHER EFFORTS TO SAVE ARAL SEA
Water and water-energy issues that are closely related to the Central Asian environmental security goals have increasingly become one of the priority issues on the regional agenda. It is clear that addressing these issues requires the regional states to join their efforts, develop coordinated, responsible and far-sighted approaches and establish substantive and purposeful cooperation with international organizations, primarily with the special bodies of the United Nations. This is what guides Turkmenistan's position on one of the main environmental and socio-economic problems of Central Asia - the Aral Sea disaster.
In this sense, one can scarcely overestimate the importance of the Summit of the Founding States of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) that took place in the city of Turkmenbashi, bringing together the heads of all five Central Asian countries. It was not only for the fact that IFAS turned 25 years since its establishment, which in itself was a good reason to sum up some results and make objective assessment of the work done over the past years. More importantly, the Summit proved that time has come to make extremely efficient and quick decisions. The Aral Sea issues can no longer be handled in a simple general ecological context. It requires a targeted, focused attention on the part of the regional states and the entire international community, as well as joining the political, diplomatic, intellectual, financial and organizational resources.
This is exactly what the President of Turkmenistan noted in his speech at the Summit. He stressed that the preservation of the Aral Sea could no longer be considered an internal, regional problem and the successful resolution of this problem depends on the support of the international community. It needs a new, focused and integrated international approach, a proactive and systematic participation of the United Nations in this work. In this regard, at the Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (RIO + 20) in June 2012, Turkmenistan proposed to establish a separate area of UN work, calling it a UN Special Program for the Aral Sea that would oversee specific plans for stabilization and improvement of the situation in the Aral Sea basin. This initiative should be revived and implemented.
The UN General Assembly Resolution "Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea" adopted on 12 April 2018 at Turkmenistan's initiative can be a good platform for this process. This document notes the importance of strengthening interaction and coordination between the UN and IFAS and invites the UN Secretary General, specialized agencies and other organizations, programs and funds of the United Nations and international financial institutions to develop partnerships with the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. The document also says that IFAS should provide annual information for the UN Secretary General's report.
It should be noted that having assumed chairmanship in IFAS for 2017-2019 and having developed a substantive concept of its chairmanship, Turkmenistan has done a lot to turn all IFAS activities to this direction.
The IFAS Board, its Interstate Commission for Water Coordination and Interstate Commission for Sustainable Development held their meetings in Ashgabat in the past year and the year before. In addition, the IFAS Executive Committee works on a permanent basis. The Central Asian International Environmental Forum was held in Turkmenistan this February.
Under the chairmanship of Turkmenistan and with the support of national experts from the founding states and international partners, IFAS prepared a concept of the Program of Action for Assistance to the Countries of the Aral Sea Basin (Phase Four). IFAS oversees the work on improving the Regional Action Plan for Protection of Environment in Central Asia. Being in charge of coordinating the IFAS work, Turkmenistan is making efforts to accelerate the process of accession of the regional countries to the Framework Convention for Protection of Environment for Sustainable Development in Central Asia.
The main objective of the above-mentioned Program is to enhance cooperation between IFAS and the United Nations for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in the Aral Basin region. In the future, the UN Special Program for the Aral Sea could also provide a basis for development of multilateral UN documents on inland water problems. A concept of such Special Program has already been developed by now. In his speech, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov called on the international community, the Central Asian countries to support Turkmenistan's proposal and begin its implementation.
At the same time, Turkmenistan is confident that international cooperation on water and environmental issues must be firmly rooted in the relevant criteria of work at the national level. These are mutually complementary, inseparable processes, in which each state should fully understand its role and responsibility.
Following this principle consistently, Turkmenistan develops national plans in various sectors in strict correlation with the ecological component of the Sustainable Development Goals, namely the efficient use of water resources. This is the most important aspect of the policy pursued by Turkmenistan that, in turn, is closely linked to the preservation of environmental well-being and environmental protection as an integral factor of global sustainable development. Turkmenistan has vast experience in introducing modern water-saving technologies in irrigated agriculture, construction and operation of hydraulic structures. The successful implementation of large-scale water management projects contributes to the efficient development of the agricultural sector and increasing the production of grain, cotton and other agricultural products.
Turkmenistan is implementing the Strategic Program on Providing the Population with Clean Drinking Water. New water treatment plants are being built and put into operation in the country as part of this Program. Turkmenistan is carrying out work on desalination of sea water, taking into account high environmental standards.
The commissioning of the first stage of the Turkmen lake "Altyn Asyr" resulted in connecting the drainage and sewage collectors from the oases into a single hydraulic system. By now, as a result of natural biological processes, purity of water has reached acceptable standards. There appeared vegetation and a large number of fish and birds. The construction of this man-made reservoir, which is in fact a very complex hydro-technical system, makes it possible to successfully solve pressing environmental, economic and social issues.
Combating desertification and improving land reclamation are of great importance in the context of solving the Aral Sea issues. In this regard, a set of measures has been developed and implemented in the country, including large-scale tree planting work, with the support of international organizations. For example, in the last twenty years alone, more than 90 million trees have been planted in Turkmenistan as part of the National Program "Green Zone".
During the Summit, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov once again clearly and unequivocally stated his country's position on water and environmental issues in the region, saying that Turkmenistan has always advocated their consideration and resolution on the basis of universally recognized norms of international law, taking into account the interests of all countries of the region and with participation of international organizations, recognizing that a regional consensus on this issue would be the only acceptable form of the efficient interstate interaction.
The Joint Communique adopted at the Summit reflected Turkmenistan's fundamental approaches to addressing the Aral Sea problem. In particular, the heads of the founding states noted the importance of exploring the possibility of developing a special UN Program for the Aral Sea Basin and instructed the IFAS Executive Committee to hold consultations on this topic with the states of the region, the UN member states, the United Nations and its agencies.
The heads of the founding states expressed willingness to improve further the organizational structure and legal framework of IFAS to ensure an efficient and sustainable institutional mechanism capable of timely responding to new challenges. They also pledged to ensure mutually beneficial cooperation in implementing regional projects and programs aimed at saving the Aral Sea, ecological rehabilitation of the Aral Sea and the Aral Sea basin as well as the integrated use and protection of trans-boundary water resources, water management, energy and socio-economic development.
They confirmed their commitment to decisions made earlier on joint and integrated management and efficient use of water resources and environmental protection in the Aral Sea basin, taking into account the interests of all countries of the region based on the principles of good-neighborliness and mutual respect.
A number of other specific decisions were made, including the elaboration of a Program of Action to support the countries of the Aral Sea basin.
As part of the Summit, the President of Turkmenistan held meetings with the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, during which the sides exchanged views on topical issues related to bilateral relations and international politics, interaction of the neighboring states in the sphere of water use and management of water resources and preservation of the environment. The sides also noted that cooperation in the bilateral format remains an important factor for the efficient resolution of environmental issues in the region, including the preservation of the Aral Sea.
"Time is passing, and the Aral Sea problem needs new approaches in line with modern requirements." This quotation from the speech of the President of Turkmenistan at the Summit most accurately reflects the essence and direction of the further steps to overcome one of the most serious and urgent challenges of our time.