The High Level International Conference on Water Cooperation was held on the 20and 21 of August 2013 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.Â It was a remarkable event focusing on an issue of enormous significance both in the region and the world, an issue that despite its importance is too often pushed to the sidelines.
Recognizing the necessity of international cooperation on the use and management of water and its related risks, organizers aimed to promote dialogue and mutual understanding and to strengthen partnerships on water issues among all stakeholders at all levels.Â The Government of the Republic of Tajikistan convened the Conference according to General Assembly Resolution A/67/204 “Implementation of the International Year of Water Cooperation, 2013,” adopted on 21 December 2012, with the intention of mobilizing all stakeholders’ efforts to achieve these internationally agreed goals. Accordingly, subsequent steps must be taken to ensure the issue is placed highly on the international agenda.
More than 900 high-ranking guests, including Prime Ministers, Ministers, Deputy Ministers and the President-Elect of the 68th General Assembly participated at the conference.Â United Nations (UN) Ambassadors represented countries as diverse as the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Guyana, Jamaica, Namibia, Thailand, Cape Verde and Afghanistan. The former Ambassador of Kiribati and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Fiji also attended the conference. In addition heads of UN agencies, funds, programs and the UN Secretariat, well-known specialists and experts from over 70 countries, representatives of numerous regional and international organizations, and delegations from many countries including Afghanistan took part.
Opening the conference, the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, welcomed participants from around the world. â€œTajikistan has always been in favor of mutually beneficial cooperation and good neighbourly relations,â€ he stated in his introductory remarks. â€œWe understand clearly that only civilized cooperation and political will can ensure for all of us a progress in this direction. Tajikistan is completely ready for such cooperation.â€
Ambassador Dr. Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN, attended the conference as a member of the â€œFriends of Water,â€ a group of UN Ambassadors who played a central role in promoting General Assembly Resolution A/67/204 “Implementation of the International Year of Water Cooperation, 2013.”Â Ambassadors in this group participated in a special High Level Panel Discussion on the margins of the conference entitled â€œSharing Lessons and Experiences on Water and Disasters.â€Â The Mr. Kenzo Hiroki, Principle of the International Center for Water Hazard and Special Advisor of the United Nationâ€™s Secretary-Generalâ€™s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, facilitated the panel.
Ambassador Tanin of Afghanistan, speaking on the High Level Panel, offered lessons from the Afghan experience. He reflected that while the world often thinks of Afghanistan in terms of security and insurgency, another crisis exists in Afghanistan as well. â€œToday,â€ he explained, â€œmillions of Afghans are without access to safe drinking water and sanitation.â€
Yet Afghanistan, he said, is not a water-scarce country.Â The country is endowed with sufficient water to meet domestic, agricultural-industrial and environmental needs. However, he said, Afghanistan â€œhas limited capacity to make full use of potentially available resources.â€
Ambassador Tanin explained that lack of access to water is primarily caused by poor water management.Â For example, Afghanistan has the lowest water storage capacity in the region.Â He explained, â€œif water becomes abundant during certain periods in the year, it cannot be stored to meet demand during periods of shortage,â€ which renders the country more vulnerable to drought and other climate shocks.
Ambassador Tanin pointed out that while water is seen as an essential public good, it is also a source of major disasters and climate shocks.Â Afghanistan is particularly sensitive to the effects of drought and flood.Â In 2002, for example, after four years with little or no rain, an estimated 60 percent of households were extremely debt insecure.Â Following the dry year of 2004, 37 percent of the population across several heavily affected provinces became food insecure, he pointed out.
Such issues demonstrate the necessity of water cooperation and transboundary water management.Â This is particularly true in the River basin area, where most of Afghanistanâ€™s neighbors depend on surface resources originating from within the country.Â Taking this into account, Ambassador Tanin stressed the importance of water diplomacy and impressed upon participants the necessity of legal cooperation and water sharing in the region and the world.
Looking to the future, Ambassador Tanin noted the importance of seeing water from a human development perspective. He stressed two human development challenges in particular: the necessity of securing access to water for allâ€”regardless of gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic statusâ€”and the need to provide protection against water-related shocks.Â In addition, Ambassador Tanin remarked that climate change would have a powerful impact on water needs, particularly in terms of crop irrigation, seasonal behaviour of rivers, and increases in the incidence and intensity of drought. Scarcity and climate shocks must therefore be well managed, he said.
On conclusion of the Special High Level Panel and the other High Level Panels, Plenary Sessions, and Special Focus Events, participants put forward proposals for the future.Â These included priority areas for action such as addressing the needs of the poor and enabling mechanisms for action such as fostering South-South exchanges of best cooperative practices.Â The proposals represent important, concrete outcomes of the conference, and governments, international organizations and other relevant stakeholders are encouraged to refer to them for inspiration and follow up.
After the formal conclusion of the conference, UN Ambassadors participated in an official program that highlighted the unique water resources and needs of both Tajikistan and the region.Â The Government of Tajikistan escorted these Ambassadors to Sarez Lake in the Pamir region, which is situated in the middle of 2,416 meter high mountain ranges stretching from Afghanistan to Tajikistan.Â Sarez Lake, which not only flows through Tajikistan but Afghanistan as well, exemplifies the need for transboundary water cooperation. UN Ambassadors also visited the Usoi Dam, a natural landslide dam held by Sarez Lake.Â At 567 meters high, the dam constitutes the highest among both natural and artificial dams in the world.
Afterwards, the UN Permanent Representatives also visited the Pamir Mountains, the center of Tajikistans Badakhshan region where they were welcomed by officials from Darwaz, a district neighboring the Afghan river Pyanj. From Darwaz, Ambassadors were able to see the villages of Afghanistan. Another day, Ambassadors visited the Nurek Dam, which was completed in 1980 after almost two decades of work while Tajikistan was still a republic of the USSR.Â Nurek is currently the tallest man-made dam in the world, and generates energy that supports Tajikistan as well as the greater region.