Water for Sustainable Development

Emomali Rahmon, President of the Republic of Tajikistan at the Nurek Dam and hydroelectric station. ©President of Tajikistan Office's archive. 

 

Water plays a crucial role in the development of mankind. From time immemorial people have settled near water, which has always been a source of life and well-being. Humanity has praised and glorified it as a sacred resource for thousands of years.

Today, due to rapid population growth, economic development and other challenges that impact the natural resources, the value of water has increased dramatically.

In my statement at the First Asia-Pacific Water Summit in 2007, I noted that “...the world development trends suggest that the cost of water might exceed the cost of oil, gas, coal and other natural resources essential for the sustainable future of each country and region”. Numerous studies conducted over the past 10 years proved, with facts and figures, the accuracy of that statement and encouraged the international community to focus on addressing water issues.

As an essential resource for sustainable development, water has been included in numerous documents and strategies for development at the regional, national and global levels. As a result, various aspects of water issues were incorporated into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Such an accomplishment was made possible thanks to the hard work and tireless efforts of various stakeholders.

I am pleased and proud that my country, the Republic of Tajikistan, has made and continues to make a substantial contribution to this process. From 2000 to 2016, at the initiative of Tajikistan, the United Nations General Assembly adopted seven resolutions on water. Among them are International Year of Freshwater (2003);1 International Decade for Action, “Water for Life”, 2005-2015;2 International Year of Water Cooperation, 2013;3 and International Decade for Action, “Water for Sustainable Development”, 2018-2028;4 which deserve special attention. Throughout this period, Tajikistan has repeatedly provided a platform for discussing global water issues.

We continue pursuing this course by actively promoting water issues identified in the 2030 Agenda. As a member of the High-level Panel on Water, Tajikistan, in cooperation with other panel members, has proposed a number of initiatives and is advancing them by demonstrating political leadership and commitment. The recently published outcome document of the Panel calls for further mobilization of efforts of all stakeholders, especially political leaders, in the adoption and implementation of measures aimed at ensuring the sustainable use and management of water resources. The Friends of Water group, established at the initiative of Tajikistan in 2010, currently comprises 51 United Nations Member States, making a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion of water-related issues, as well as to the adoption of relevant decisions within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly.

Tajikistan has also been an important player in solving water problems at the regional level. About 60 per cent of water resources of the rivers in Central Asia (the Aral Sea basin) are formed in Tajikistan, and our country generously shares this vital resource with our neighbours. Tajikistan is a co-founder of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea and its two commissions, the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC) and the Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD), which provide platforms for discussing urgent transboundary water issues in the region.

In Central Asia, where the water source mainly originates from within the territories of the two upstream countries—Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—and the lion’s share of this water is used by the downstream countries—Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan—intergovernmental water cooperation is the key not only for addressing water problems and issues of social and economic development, but also for ensuring peace, stability and security.

Water cooperation acquires even more significance today against the backdrop of the ever-increasing impact on the region of challenges such as climate change and population growth. For instance, in Central Asia in the 1960s per capita water supply was equal to 8.4 thousand m3 per year, while today it has experienced a fourfold decrease, accounting for up to 2.1 thousand m3 per year. This amount exceeds the global indicators by almost eight times.

Meanwhile, the population growth rate in the region, at more than 2 per cent per year, is among the highest in the world, and freshwater resources are steadily depleting.

According to experts, the Central Asian glaciers, which are the main source of water for the rivers in the region, have been diminishing on average by 0.6 to 0.8 per cent per year in terms of glacial area, and by 0.1 per cent per year in terms of ice volume. The current situation demands that urgent measures be undertaken to adapt to the dramatic effects of climate change and to promote the sustainable management of water resources in the region. This can be achieved only through the coordinated actions of all countries involved in constructive regional cooperation, with due consideration to their respective interests, the improvement of the institutional and legal framework, and a significant increase in investment in infrastructure.

The introduction of integrated water resources management (IWRM) at both the regional and national levels is an essential component of this process. Tajikistan has already begun reforming its water sector, taking into account the basic principles of IWRM, including the introduction of basin water resources management. To this end, in 2015, the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan adopted the Water Sector Reform Programme for the period of 2016-2025. It is aimed at improving the legal framework and institutional mechanisms, developing infrastructure and creating a relevant base of implementation tools, including database and information systems, scientific and research works, capacity development and other water management tools.

In Tajikistan, where over 95 per cent of electricity is generated by hydroelectric power stations, water and energy are closely interrelated. Development of agriculture is also primarily based on the use of water resources, since more than 80 per cent of agricultural products are produced through irrigation.

It is also important to note the negative impact of climate change that causes water-related disasters such as floods and mudflows. Providing the population with access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation remains the top priority for the water sector. This issue is especially urgent in rural areas, where over 70 per cent of the country’s population lives. Accordingly, water, among other key issues, is given priority in the National Development Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan for the Period up to 2030. To systematize all water-related goals and objectives of sustainable development, the country is currently drafting its 2030 National Water Strategy. A new draft of the Water Code of the Republic of Tajikistan that accounts for current trends and requirements has been introduced and is currently under consideration. The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is given priority in these documents.

Numerous studies and analyses of the impact of global challenges such as climate change, population growth and urbanization have been done. It is clear that these challenges will affect global demand for fresh water. By 2030 it will increase by 50 per cent, creating a 40 per cent deficit in available freshwater resources.

According to various institutions and experts, over 844 million people in the world still do not have access to safe drinking water, 1.8 billion people drink water from sources contaminated by faeces, and 2.4 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation. It is projected that by 2050, 2.3 billion more people will be living in regions with increased stress on water resources.

A significant impact of climate change is manifested in the form of water-related natural disasters. Between 2000 and 2016, due to floods and landslides, over 107,000 people died. According to preliminary estimates, by 2050, the value of assets that will be subject to risk because of floods, may amount to $45 trillion. One of the serious consequences of such phenomena is the destruction and disabling of various infrastructure of the national economy.

There are many other problems and challenges that exacerbate the current situation and undermine our efforts to achieve the SDGs. These trends will persist in the coming decades and humanity needs to take all necessary measures to address them.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and the Paris Agreement have already laid a solid foundation for further advancement of water issues at various levels. However, political will, mobilization of efforts of all stakeholders and adequate approaches and tools are required for their successful implementation.

In our view, a number of issues must be taken into consideration before further steps are made in this direction.

1. Financing. The financial and economic crises of recent years continue to negatively affect the efforts of Member States to ensure adequate financing for the water sector. In this regard, support of initiatives aimed at improving financing for the water sector, including the use of existing global investment funds, such as the Green Climate Fund, is essential and timely. This is especially relevant for developing countries. It is estimated that an investment of $15 to $30 billion in improving water management in developing countries could yield an immediate economic gain of up to $60 billion. In this context, increased funding for the water sector from the state budget acquires special significance. It should also be noted that despite a steady increase in the share of official development assistance (ODA) in the water sector, the total amount allocated for ODA remains unchanged and has not exceeded 5 per cent since 2005.

2. Investment and infrastructure. Modernization of existing infrastructure and the building of a new one, as well as the integration of new technologies, will undoubtedly play a key role in ensuring reliable regulation and effective use of water resources, therefore making a significant contribution to improved water security. For example, the construction of large and medium-sized reservoirs and hydropower plants allows for a reliable regulation of run-off during climate variability, generates inexpensive and environmentally sound electricity, protects territories and population from mudflows and floods, assists in mitigating the effects of drought and significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. A properly designed infrastructure project can help resolve an entire range of problems. The private sector can play an important role in this process by creating public-private partnerships and other mechanisms.

3. The transition to “green growth “ and the nexus approach. As a renewable source of energy, water significantly contributes to ensuring green growth, which presupposes that the economy will gradually refuse to use non-renewable sources of energy. Today, hydropower accounts for about 20 per cent of the world’s electricity production. Meanwhile, available resources and opportunities can allow to significantly increase this number. An integrated approach is necessary for addressing the issues of population growth, such as an increase in food and electricity production, and meeting other needs. For this reason, the transition to integrated water resources management and the application of the nexus approach are essential to achieving these goals.

4. Involvement of all stakeholders. The establishment of a multilateral partnership mechanism involving all stakeholders in the discussion of water-related issues will ensure balanced decisions, with due consideration to everyone’s interests. Women can play a vital role in this process.

5. Transboundary cooperation issues. The development of water diplomacy is a key tool for resolving intergovernmental water-related issues. A total of 145 countries are located in international river basins, and the well-being of their populations depends on the availability of well-established water cooperation. Lack of such cooperation poses serious risks and costs, leaving many problems unresolved, which has a negative impact on the economic and social situations in countries that share common river basins.

The outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), “The future we want”, identified improved water resources management as the basis for achieving sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development included an SDG dedicated to water. As a logical continuation of these ideas, the Republic of Tajikistan made a proposal to declare the period from 2018 to 2028 as the International Decade for Action, “Water for Sustainable Development”, which was unanimously supported by all United Nations Member States. The Decade will provide an important platform for political dialogue and the exchange of information and experience, becoming an important tool for promoting the achievement of internationally agreed goals and targets related to water resources, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda.

We are confident that the international community will take advantage of the opportunities provided by the new International Decade for Action and address water-related issues at all levels, including the achievement of the water-related goals and objectives of sustainable development.

Notes

  1. A/RES/55/196.
  2. A/RES/58/217.
  3. A/RES/65/154.
  4. A/RES/71/222.