Stefan Priesner: Speech at the joint seminar “Integrated Water Resources Management in Central Asia”

18 Apr 2014

Dear Co-organizers, dear delegations from all Central Asian countries, dear participants of the seminar!

Welcome on behalf of the UN in Uzbekistan

It is a pleasure to be here at the regional seminar on the Integrated Water Resources Management. 

Water is at the core of sustainable development.

Globally, individual and community health and wellbeing are intrinsically linked to environmental integrity, water quality, water quantity and water management.

Water scarcity is among the main factors constraining the future development of countries, which are already facing many problems with regards to water shortage, pollution and exhaustion of water sources. One in three people already lives in a country with moderate to high water stress, and by 2030 nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent.

Uzbekistan’s economic growth and its environmental sustainability significantly depend on the availability and quality of water resources. This link is particularly vital because Uzbekistan has the largest area of arable land and the highest population density (with the biggest rural population over 16 million) in the region. Hence, the proper use of water, especially in agriculture is essential for the country. 

Shrinking of the Aral Sea and its delta is recognized globally as one of the largest man-made environmental disasters as a result of unsustainable practices in water management and agriculture. Given the multi-faceted nature of potential impacts, a continued high-level support of the countries present here is vital in facilitating a cross-sectoral response to the Aral Sea disaster.

The present challenges faced in Uzbekistan as well as in many other countries, including drivers such as demographic and climatic changes further increase the stress on water resources. The traditional fragmented approach is no longer viable and a more holistic approach to water management is essential.

This is the rationale for the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach that has now been accepted internationally as the way forward for efficient, equitable and sustainable development and management of the world's limited water resources and for coping with conflicting demands.

In this regard, the United Nations system is fostering collaboration from the global level to the local and grassroots level. 

This also applies for this region, and the UN is proud to be part of the initiatives introducing IWRM. For instance in Uzbekistan, UNDP supported the formulation of the first Water Code, which introduces a major legal change from the traditional supply-based to a demand-driven management paradigm with water conservation as an over-arching objective [the Code has been approved by all line ministries and is currently under consideration of the Cabinet of Ministers].

We will continue our support to the Government in improving water management, including Aral Sea region, by introducing integrated planning and management approaches in water sector. UNDP will call on a multi-donor process for the preparation of a National Water Strategy and will further support with its implementation within framework of a new UN Development Assistance Framework 2016-2020.

Today’s event calls for further promoting of integrated water resources management in a regional context – and there our sister agency UNRCCA is especially active.

Indeed, the issue of water management in the region has to involve every country. Successful regional cooperation on water resources and effective national water management practices are of paramount importance for sustainable development of the whole region.

In the second day of this joint event there will be a meeting of the Inter-state Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC) with participation of all countries of the region. Using this opportunity, I would like to wish all members of the Commission a productive discussion focusing on achievement of tangible results.

As we develop the post-2015 development agenda, our aim is to eradicate poverty and to create a more equitable world of opportunity for all. To do that, we need to give strong consideration to the environmental dimension of sustainable development. We cannot prosper without clean, plentiful freshwater. 

On this occasion where all Central Asian countries are represented here, I appeal for heightened cooperation. Water is a common resource.  Let us use it more intelligently and work together to protect and manage this fragile, finite resource.