(Address by H.E. Mr. Emomali Rahmon, the President of Tajikistan, at the Opening Session of the High Level International Conference on Water Cooperation)

20 August 2013, Dushanbe

Excellencies, Heads of Government,
Under Secretary Generals of the United Nations,
Honorable Ministers,
Heads of Delegations,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor and distinct pleasure to welcome you all in Dushanbe at the High Level International Conference on Water Cooperation.

Today's event which is being held in accordance with the Resolution of the UN General Assembly provides unique opportunity to assess the current state and the prospects of water cooperation with the view of facilitating a comprehensive implementation of commitments and decisions taken previously at the global level.

 

 

Before I specifically mention the key objectives of today’s conference, I would like to highlight the major milestones of our collective actions we have undertaken over the last decade.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of our first joint project of global significance - the International Year of Freshwater proclaimed in 2003 which adds a value of such analysis.

International Year of Freshwater served to strengthen and expand efforts for effective conservation and fresh water resources management, promoted greater awareness of the role of water in achieving sustainable development and in the preparation and the release of the first comprehensive report on the World Water Development entitled "Water for People, Water for Life". 

In our view, major contribution to the International Year was the fact that it has laid a solid foundation for the second, long-run global project in the field of water resources - the International Decade for Action "Water for Life 2005-2015".

The key objective of the Decade is the promotion of efforts aimed at the implementation of the international commitments in the field of water and of the resources associated with water by 2015, including the goal of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

In 2010, here in Dushanbe city, we have jointly conducted a comprehensive mid-term review of the implementation of the International Decade for Action "Water for Life".

At the Dushanbe Declaration, adopted at the conclusion of the 2010 review, we have renewed our determination to the implementation of commitments taken earlier in the field of water resources.

On this basis, in 2010, Republic of Tajikistan has launched a new Resolution of the UN General Assembly to proclaim 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation.

By promoting this initiative together with other countries sponsoring the resolution, we proceeded from the fact that this international year will promote inclusive dialogue and mutual understanding, expand cooperation and will cement a partnership on the basis of multi-dimensional and integrated approaches towards water problems.

The first half of the International Year of Water Cooperation is over.

Over the course of this period, we have successfully held a number of international, regional and national events aiming to discuss and agree the most feasible and effective ways of water partnership and collaboration, and an overall dissemination of knowledge and skills about the tools of water diplomacy.

We positively valued the outcomes of conferences held in Zaragoza, Abu Dhabi, Paris, New York, the Hague, Chiang Mai and other cities which were aiming to promote the effective implementation of the International Year of Water Cooperation.

Today's conference is the next step forward and - at the same time - a consolidating event of the International Year, for which, we do believe, will be followed by other important international forums.

I take this opportunity to thank all of our partners, including governments, institutions of the UN family, international and regional organizations, the private sector and representatives of civil society for notable contribution they have made to the implementation of the International Year of Water Cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The main challenge the international community is now facing with is how to link declared commitments to actions and plans in the field of water cooperation in order to ensure their full exercise in practice in the name of improving the lives of everyone.

The same task was standing in front of us when we started our journey together under the International Decade for Action "Water for Life" which is inseparably linked with the Millennium Development Goals. As it is known, water resources play a central role in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Our efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger, the achievement of equality, livelihoods, reduce vulnerability, and address health challenges depend on proper development and effective water resources management at a time when safe drinking water in many parts of the world in terms of price has become more expensive than fuel.

Efforts undertaken in this direction have so far not yielded scale effect, which we all expected at the dawn of the millennium. Nevertheless, progress is evident and undeniable.

As noted in the report on the MDGs for 2013, more than 2,1 billion people over the past two decades gained access to improved drinking water and 1,9 billion people have improved sanitation.

Despite this, 768 million people worldwide still use water from unsafe sources, and nearly 2,5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.

Meanwhile, progress is uneven not only among regions and countries, but also between rural and urban populations in the countries.

For example, here in Tajikistan today only 58,5% of the population has access to improved sources of safe drinking water and 30% to improved sanitation.

To address the challenges associated with water resources the Government of the country has endorsed more than 15 programs, strategies and action plans over the past five years, within the scope of which several projects are implemented totaling over 500 million US Dollars.

However, as our experience shows, for the timely achievement of these goals, efforts should be made to expand the funding and attract investment to improve the country's water infrastructure.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the implementation of the International Decade for Action "Water for Life" is approaching.

In other words, there are just very few days to the end of the two inextricably associated global projects aimed at eradicating poverty and inequality, improving the quality of life and the provision of basic human needs.

During the remaining short time we should seek every possible way and to step up efforts in order to bring in maximum progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. This is particularly important in the current critical juncture of condition, when financial and economic slowdown, food and energy crises and climate change undermine the already unstable and this uneven progress.

However, today we can say that the International Decade for Action "Water for Life 2005-2015" has logically and harmoniously fit into the process of implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and contributed remarkably to their achievement.

On this basis, taking advantage of this opportunity, I would suggest to consider declaring a new international decade aimed at facilitating and promoting water cooperation.

I am convinced that the new decade should give further added impetus to efforts at all levels and serve as an increased partnership and productive water cooperation for the post-2015 period.

Along with this, we should take into account that Sustainable Development Goals will be elaborated and approved by 2015. I in this connection hope that this proposal will be supported by esteemed participants of this conference.

There is an ongoing intergovernmental process to blueprint Sustainable Development Goals, which is considered a cornerstone achievement of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20).

We are encouraged by the fact that the outcome document of Rio +20 has recognized the key role of water in achieving sustainable development and issues of Sustainable Development Goals in the water sector are being actively discussed in various forums.

We support the process by promoting the idea of ​​the need for a sustainable development in the field of water resources.

We believe that the following components should be taken into account when Sustainable Development Goals are elaborated:

- Ensuring universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation;

-  Introduction of integrated water resources management at the national and regional levels;

- Improving the efficiency of water use and re-utilization of water;

-  Adequate funding and investment in water facilities and infrastructure, transmission and introduction of the state-of-the-art technologies;

-  Establishment of a mutually acceptable mechanism for the collection and exchange of information and data.

We hope that in the course of discussions, participants of the conference will present specific recommendations on this issue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Experience shows that the goals are achievable only if efficient mechanisms and concrete plans for implementation and review are developed. In this context, the recently established High Level Policy Forum on Sustainable Development should play a central role and establish a versatile and dynamic platform for continuous dialogue on a wide spectrum of issues related to sustainable development.

In this connection, I wish to propose distinguished participants of the conference to consider and discuss ways to develop a global water vision for the period beyond 2015, which could have served as a "road map" for the implementation of sustainable development goals related to water resources.

In our view, whilst developing a new water vision we should necessarily take into account the following factors that determine the future scope and opportunities for interaction and strong partnership:

First, climate change adversely affects water resources and undermines our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Over the past few decades, glaciers in Tajikistan, which are one of the most important water sources in the region, have lost almost 30% of an aggregate volume, and this trend is steadily continuing.

During that period, one thousand out of total 14,000 of our glaciers are completely vanished. Only “Fedchenko” - the largest continental glacier – over this course of time retreated nearly 1 km, and on the area decreased by 11 km2, losing ice-cap in the amount of approximately 2 km3.

Given the fact that about 60% of water resources of the Aral Sea basin is originated on the territory of Tajikistan, such situation causes a serious concern and necessitates immediate actions to adapt and achieve resilience to climate change.

Due to the impact of climate change, there is an increased frequency of natural disasters related to water resources over the recent years in Tajikistan, 93 percent of which is mountainous, that cause enormous economic and moral damage.

Natural disasters in our mountains, along with unforeseen damage, as well as jeopardize our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and cause additional difficulties in reducing poverty.

In this context, it would be advisable to regularly discuss the challenges of natural disasters related to water resources at the global level.

Second, population growth and water needs pose new and complex challenges. For example, in Central Asia, the irrigated area increased from 2,2 million hectares at the beginning of XX century to 9,000,000 hectares today, while the population grew from 20 million in 1956 to 63 million in 2010.

Need for water throughout the world is growing rapidly, which in turn causes serious tensions between the sectors of the economy. Increased competition for water resources in a growing water scarcity can lead to negative consequences, even within a country.

Third, gender aspect of water problems should also be taken into consideration. We need to actively involve women in the development process, by empowering and strengthening the role of women in the management and protection of water resources.

Yesterday, Women's Forum on Water Cooperation was held on the margins of the Conference, which developed recommendations for further actions.

Fourth, our plans and actions must be secured with and buttressed by adequate means of implementation, particularly by financial resources, investment and advanced technology.

In this context, we should double efforts to strengthen the global partnership for development. It is obvious that in the new conditions and realities there is a need to update and optimize the global partnership for sustainable development.

Co-operation in the field of education and culture for sustainable water use and consumption could be an important vector of our joint and concerted efforts. The enhancement of public-private partnership opens up new opportunities for achieving goals in the field of water supply and sanitation.

Fifth, cross-border component of water cooperation plays a pivotal role in bringing lasting peace, genuine stability and development.

Today there are more than 276 international river basins covering the territory of 148 countries, which are home to more than 40% of the population.

Efficiently established water co-operation can be a catalyst for development, and its absence can cause serious risks and costs, negatively affecting the economic and social situation in all countries sharing common basins.

In many parts of the world, enhanced capacity of trans-boundary water cooperation contributes to the harmonious and common development of all riparian countries.

I take this opportunity to briefly dwell on the example of trans-boundary water cooperation in Central Asia.

As is known, countries of the region share water resources from the two major rivers - the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, as well as from a number of small trans-boundary watercourses.

In the conditions of the region, where much of the water resources of Central Asia is formed on the territory of one state, but its maximum use are in other states, the appropriate cooperation for the sustainable management and effective water resources management is the key to long-term development.

Thus, out of the 64 km3 of water formed on the territory of Tajikistan, our country uses only 10-11 km3, that makes up 10% of the total flow of the basin. Meanwhile, specific performance of the country in terms of the volume of water and irrigated area per capita in Central Asia is the lowest.

In this context, Tajikistan since the first days of independence, is taking steps to promote and strengthen regional cooperation, especially on water issues. In particular, the country in 1992, along with other Central Asian countries signed the Agreement on cooperation in the field of joint management and protection of trans-boundary water resources and in 1993 co-founded the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea.

Tajikistan, along with other countries in the region annually provides additional water to support eco-system of Aral and the Aral Sea.

I would like to reiterate that, in order to provide the people of Central Asia with safe drinking water, we proposed the establishment of the International Consortium for the use of pure freshwater from alpine Sarez Lake. Against the background of growing water scarcity we today witness in the region, this project certainly deserves special attention.

Tajikistan has repeatedly put forward the initiative for the joint development of its tremendous hydropower resources.

Our hydro-power potential is estimated at 527 billion kWh per year, when only 3 – 4 percent of this enormous reserve is exploited so far.

Further development of this vast, environmentally friendly potential, which is ranked at the top in the world, could contribute to a comprehensive solution to many current and future challenges in the region, including water supply, energy and food security.

Solution to these problems, in turn, would contribute to poverty reduction and, in general, would accelerate the achievement of sustainable development of the region.

By establishing the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, and via signing a number of important agreements, the countries of the region could ensure the functioning of the water sector in the difficult conditions of the transition to a market economy. Nonetheless, there is still a great, untapped potential in the region for cooperation in the field of water resources, which could be of great benefit to all involved countries.

I take this opportunity to reiterate that Tajikistan has always been, is and will remain a strong supporter of mutually beneficial cooperation and good neighborly relations.

We realize that the only civilized cooperation and robust political will can open the way for all of us to progress and development in this walk of life. Tajikistan will always welcome such cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion of my statement, I would like to emphasize that in the current context of the growing influence of global processes in the water sector and a sharp increase in water consumption for the needs of the people, economies and eco-systems, only the establishment of effective and rational water cooperation, based on mutual trust, fair account of the needs and requirements and involvement of all stakeholders, as well as continued search for improvement of water dialogue and partnership facilitates achievement of sustainable development, reduction of poverty and inequality, environmental sustainability and, in general, strengthens peace and security.

I hope that the Dushanbe conference on water cooperation will give a new, powerful impetus to the revitalization of efforts in these directions.

Tajikistan will further continue to actively promote water cooperation - on a par with other aspects of water agenda - at different levels and in this regard, intends together with other stakeholders to establish the International Centre for Water Diplomacy in Dushanbe.

We call on the whole international community to cooperation in this noble cause – on the protection and rational use of water resources. Water - is life, water - is a source of livelihood. Our shared duty - to keep this invaluable resource in better condition for the generations to come!

I wish all participants a successful conference and a pleasant stay in the hospitable land of Tajikistan.

Thank you!