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2021  N1-2(190-191)
As evidenced by the recent international practice, the Turkmen model of neutrality has become an efficient instrument for constructive interaction in international relations and creating conditions for addressing regional security issues.
Strategies for joint management of water resources remain the most important component of the modern legal system for strengthening security and stability in the Central Asian region. In this important issue for the region as a whole and each regional state individually, Turkmenistan has developed a clear long-term strategy known as water diplomacy of Turkmenistan guided by the foreign policy principles of neutrality.
Issues related to water divide between the Central Asian states emerged not today or even yesterday. Let us try to see the heart of the current water problem in the region to get a more comprehensive understanding of the situation. Almost all water consumed by the regional countries comes from the two main rivers – Syr Darya and Amu Darya – springing from the upstream countries of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Such location allows these countries to combine agricultural and hydro-technical aspects of water use with hydropower. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, located in the lower reaches of these rivers, are the major users of large trans-boundary waterways for irrigated agriculture.
If we look at Central Asia as a whole, there is no shortage of water in the region. The problem lies in the fair and even distribution of water resources between the five states as well as in the low efficiency of the existing coordination mechanisms. The resulting water shortage and decline in quality of river discharge constrain the scope for finding solutions of socio-economic and environmental problems, causing certain disagreements in interstate relations.
And this is not just about the lack of water for farmland. This problem has always existed, mainly as an engineering problem, i.e. how to get water to the right place. One can say that until recently the history of water relations had been the history of irrigation.
With the intensification of water use, the water problem has increasingly turned into an environmental problem, making water a subject of international law and international relations for the first time. For our region, the problem of the Aral Sea has become the symbol of this stage. Thus, the essence and nature of water relations has started changing dramatically since the last quarter of the twentieth century, and water ownership has become the major question.
Over the years of independence, the regional countries have been trying to establish a certain system and mechanisms of regional cooperation in this area. At the same time, there are quite opposite opinions about the accumulated experience. The emergence of new independent states in Central Asia has necessitated discussions of various issues of the trans-boundary nature, and the most difficult issue is about distribution of water resources.
The starting point in the negotiation process between the Central Asian states on the use of water resources of trans-boundary rivers was the Tashkent statement made in 1991 on the joint use of water resources based on general principles, taking into account the interests of all parties. In 1992, in Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan), there was signed the Agreement “On cooperation in the area of joint management and protection of water resources of interstate sources.” Based on this agreement, an Interstate Coordination Water Commission (ICWC) was established with the view of ensuring cooperation in the area of joint management of water resources. Later, international and regional organizations – the UN, OSCE, CIS, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea – joined in solving the existing issues.
However, despite all the agreements adopted in this area, issues related to water are still on the agenda. In this regard, one of the priorities of the Central Asian states is to develop a mechanism that will take into account the interests of all Central Asian states, including the implementation of water-energy potential. In particular, it is important for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to ensure joint management, efficient use and stocktaking of water resources of Amu Darya River.
Over the years of its independent development, Turkmenistan has advocated joining the efforts of the regional countries for conservation and efficient use of water resources. The position of Turkmenistan on this issue is well known and remains unchanged – to solve water use problems on the basis of the universally recognized norms of international law, mutual respect and consideration of interests of all states of the region with the participation of specialized international organizations. Water diplomacy as a political and diplomatic form of multilateral international dialogue is a key instrument for neutral Turkmenistan in this area.
In this context, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said “We must join our efforts on a common ideological platform, the principles of ensuring equal and fair access to water resources as the responsibility of each state. Secondary, local interests should give way to the realization of regional goals and priorities and development on this basis of a common long-term strategy.”
The President of Turkmenistan regularly puts forward initiatives at the high-level international forums aimed at consolidating the efforts of states in the water segment of sustainable development. At the RIO + 20 Conference, the President of Turkmenistan proposed to single out the Aral problem as a separate area of UN work, calling it the UN Special Program for the Aral Sea Basin.
At the VII World Water Forum in the city of Daegu (Republic of Korea), the head of the Turkmen state proposed to develop a long-term specialized UN program on water issues, and establish a Regional Technology Center on Climate Change under the auspices and with the active participation of the UN in view of the consequences of climate change for Central Asia. Water problems could be another area of work of this center. At the same forum, it was proposed to create a new direction in diplomatic activity – water diplomacy. The main goal of this idea is to establish a broad international dialogue on water issues.
At the international high-level conference on the international decade for action “Water for Sustainable Development”, the President of Turkmenistan invited the Central Asian states and the UN secretariat to work on the proposal to establish a specialized UN structure on water issues for Central Asia. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov strongly believes that respect, responsibility, equality and consideration of interests of each country should be the main criteria in relations between countries on water use issues.
In the context of the consistent implementation of water diplomacy, Turkmenistan initiated the adoption by the UN General Assembly in April 2018 and May 2019 of the Resolutions “Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea”. These documents provide a legal framework for interaction between the UN and IFAS on a systematic basis, namely on exploring the opportunities for establishing a UN Special Program for the Aral Sea. The fact that Turkmenistan has become a party to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Trans-boundary Watercourses and International Lakes of the UN Economic Commission for Europe facilitates strengthening Turkmenistan’s partnership with the UN.
This demonstrates that the priorities of Turkmenistan’s water diplomacy strategy fully comply with the Global Agenda for the period up to 2030 adopted by the international community known as the Sustainable Development Goals. Aimed at consolidating efforts and beneficial exchange of experience, Turkmenistan’s water diplomacy brings new important priorities to the work of the UN and serves the prosperity and progress in the national, regional and global dimensions. The political will and determination of the President of Turkmenistan make it possible to fully implement the creative potential of water diplomacy and the policy of positive neutrality. This is confirmed by both heads of state and heads of international organizations. The successes of Turkmenistan’s water diplomacy are largely determined by the creative potential of the policy of positive neutrality.
Issues relating to conservation and efficient use of every drop of water are the most important priority of the state policy of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov with its main point as follows: “Given limited water resources, we must rationally use them for irrigating crops, learn to use every drop of water wisely, introduce water-saving technologies and be able to get maximum yields with minimum water consumption. We must exclude wasteful use of water, improve reclamation of sown areas, technical condition and quality of construction of hydro-economic facilities.”
The priorities of the state policy in the area of conservation and efficient use of water resources outlined by the national leader have been enacted in the legislation of Turkmenistan. They are being implemented as part of relevant projects and programs. For example, the President of Turkmenistan approved the “Program of Work for 2015–2020 on the rational use of water resources in Turkmenistan and increasing the throughput capacity of Karakum River”. Construction of the Turkmen lake “Altyn Asyr” continues in the Central Karakum Desert. This man-made lake, being the largest hydraulic structure, plays an important role in improving the ecological situation in the Central Asian region, contributes to preventing collector-drainage water pollution of the lower reaches of Amu Darya.
Turkmenistan actively introduces modern water-saving technologies in irrigated agriculture, construction and operation of industrial and hydraulic facilities. Particular attention is paid to providing the population with clean drinking water. On the instructions of the head of state, a special program was adopted. According to this program, drinking water plants have been built everywhere in the country. Desalination plants have been built on the Caspian Sea coast. Turkmenistan spends more than half a billion dollars annually to maintain and develop clean ecology and various environmental and water projects.
The Turkmen water diplomacy is characterized by utmost transparency of intentions and actions. Information on water resources of Turkmenistan is reflected in all state programs on development of water resources.
Respecting the existing structure and principles of distribution of water resources of interstate water sources, the independent states of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan signed an Agreement in January 1996 on the 50/50 division of water of Amu Darya River along the actual river flow at the Kerki gauging station. The 1996 agreement became the basis for signing an agreement between the Ministries of Agriculture and Water Resources of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of Turkmenistan on cooperation on water management issues in March 2017, as well as other agreements regarding the joint use of water resources in the lower reaches of Amu Darya and water facilities, repair and restoration work and exchange of experience.
Turkmenistan consistently pursues its water diplomacy strategy by proposing specific actions. As is known, the situation in the Aral Sea region is aggravating against the backdrop of the pandemic, and this situation necessitates greater objectivity, concrete practical help and support to the people living there. Working on the establishment of an international legal framework for solving the Aral Sea problem, namely the UN Special Program for the Aral Sea Basin, Turkmenistan is ready to present a draft concept and structure of the future Special Program for the Aral Sea at a regular session of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in May 2021 and calls on all states and interested international organizations to discuss these documents.
Turkmenistan has consistently maintained that it is important to consolidate efforts to strengthen the role of international law, multilateral legal instruments of the existing system of global security and ensure strict observance by all countries of universally recognized norms arising from the UN Charter. Turkmenistan believes that one of the ways to achieve this goal is to restore trust in international politics and establish the culture of respectful dialogue. In this regard, Turkmenistan looks forward to the opportunities that will open up following the declaration of 2021 the International Year of Peace and Trust. This was the initiative of Turkmenistan supported by the UN General Assembly Resolution.
In the light of the implementation of the provisions of this document, Turkmenistan came up with the initiative to hold an International Forum of Peace and Trust in 2021. The President of Turkmenistan stated in this context “We are convinced that the forum will provide a powerful impetus to the constructive and respectful multilateral dialogue on the most pressing topics on the modern global agenda.”
Trust, as an important instrument of dialogue, is indispensable for solving water problems as well. After all, the water resources of the trans-boundary rivers of Central Asia are the common property and good of the peoples. In this regard, stability and well-being of the entire region largely depend on the rational and fair use of these water resources. It is important to maintain an effective and rational approach, a responsible attitude and joint actions within the framework of regional cooperation in the area of water resources management and conservation on the basis of a peaceful and constructive dialogue and mutual trust.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005