Kazakh President Outlines Priorities for Resolving Water Issues, Aral Sea Crisis

ASTANA – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev reaffirmed the country’s readiness to make every effort to strengthen the work of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) during a Sept. 15 meeting of the Council of Heads of the IFAS Founding States in Dushanbe (Tajikistan), reported the Akorda press service.

Photo credit: Akorda.

Tokayev said this year marks 30 years since the creation of the fund, emphasizing that IFAS has become the most important institution for regional cooperation in matters of joint use of transboundary water resources, solving environmental and socio-economic problems in the Aral Sea basin.

“It is difficult to overestimate the role of the fund in ensuring security, stability and sustainable development of Central Asia. Moreover, IFAS is one of the few successful mechanisms of regional cooperation that demonstrates the region’s ability to act independently and autonomously in the international arena,” he said.                                                                                     

Addressing the environmental challenges, Tokayev said that global climate change, including low water and lack of irrigation water, poses threats to the security of Central Asia.

Photo credit: Akorda.

According to international experts, temperatures in the region are rising much faster than the global average. This leads to a reduction in the area of glaciers, the main source of water in the Aral Sea basin. Its volume has decreased by 30% over the past 50 years. Analysts estimate that by 2050, droughts in Central Asia may cause damage of 1.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) per year, which will lead to climate migration of nearly 5 million people. 

“We also face problems of inefficient use of water and ignorance of environmental harm. The degree of flow regulation  of the region’s two main rivers – the Syr Darya and Amu Darya – is extremely high. More than 80 reservoirs have been built in their basins, the total volume of which reaches almost 65 cubic kilometers,” said Tokayev.

While developing water policy, Tokayev emphasized that countries should proceed from the fact that water is a limited natural resource, which affects the well-being and sustainable development of the entire region.

The President focused on prioritizing water conservation through the introduction of digital technologies for regional cooperation.

“In my recent state-of-the-nation address, I focused on water issues. Following my directives, Kazakhstan established the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, which will closely deal with pressing issues in this sector. We look forward to constructive interaction with all our neighboring states,” Tokayev said, sharing his vision for the fund’s development.

First, Tokayev called for the completion of the process of improving the organizational structure and legal framework of IFAS, proposing to expand the powers and responsibilities of the board and the executive committee of the fund. He also initiated the transformation of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia into the Interstate Commission for Water and Energy to enhance the effectiveness of IFAS.

“The second important task includes the creation of a long-term and sustainable regional cooperation mechanism for the effective use of water and energy resources in Central Asia, taking into account the interests of all countries in the region in irrigation, hydropower and ecology. The International Water and Energy Consortium could solve this task,” Tokayev said.

The President proposed to develop a work plan for the implementation of a unified automated system for accounting, monitoring, management and distribution of water resources in the Aral Sea basin.

“The implementation of this initiative will ensure transparency of water use in the region and will contribute to strengthening dialogue and friendship between the countries of Central Asia,” the President said.

Another important initiative became the creation of a project office for Central Asian countries on climate issues. This step will ensure effective measures to adapt to climate change and mitigate its consequences.

“We positively assess Bishkek’s participation in the activities of the working group to improve the fund. We hope that the Kyrgyz Republic will resume its full membership in IFAS. In the future, we will be glad to see the fraternal country chair the fund,” he said.

Tokayev underlined that close cooperation, mutually beneficial partnership and respect for each other’s interests can ensure stable development, security and economic self-sufficiency of the region.

“I am confident that our meeting will allow us to make timely and consolidated decisions that will strengthen regional cooperation in the water sector,” he said, proposing to hold the next summit in Kazakhstan in 2026, combining it with the Regional Climate Summit under the auspices of the United Nations.

President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdymukhamedov, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and First Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic Adylbek Kasymaliyev also spoke at the meeting.

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