The role of IFAS in regional water diplomacy

As the description above shows, the region enjoys a legal, institutional, and technical framework for cooperation between the countries with respect to the use and protection of transboundary watercourses. In the rest of this chapter, we want to assess how IFAS works in practice and how effective it is as an actor in water diplomacy, i.e., how successful it has been in preventing or mitigating tensions and disputes on water allocation and use in an impartial way. As Anoulak Kittoulak and Susanne Schmeier outlined in the Introduction to this volume, this requires technical mechanisms (e.g., providing impartial science and knowledge), strategic mechanisms (e.g., basin-wide strategies that transcend national interests), legal mechanisms (e.g., obligations and procedures), and institutional mechanisms (e.g., a clear mandate and governance structure to provide a legitimate forum for negotiations). Below we look at these four dimensions to assess how IFAS acts in addressing water challenges among the countries and resolving conflicts.

Strategic mechanisms: the Aral Sea Basin program

We start examining the four dimensions by looking at the strategic mechanisms since one of the reasons for establishing IFAS and one of its main activities has been developing and implementing four regional comprehensive Aral Sea Basin Programs (ASBP-1 for 1995— 2001, ASBP-2 for 2002-2010, ASBP-3 for 2011-2015, and ASBP-4 since 2018). Their aim has been to finance joint interstate projects directed at saving the Aral Sea and improving the environmental situation in the areas affected by the Aral Sea disaster, addressing common social and environmental problems in the region, establishing and maintaining an interstate environmental monitoring system, financing joint research and engineering projects, and improving the management of transboundary water resources. The ASBP is a major coordinating framework among the Central Asian states and international actors. Initially developed together with the UN Environment Programme, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Bank, it has been receiving support from numerous multilateral and bilateral donors who are closely involved in defining the priorities and funding the implementation (see Table 11.1 below).

Table 11.1 Phases of the Aral Sea Basin Program




Funds (planned)


ASBP-1 approved in 1994

1994-1996 preparatory phase

  • • Stabilizing the environment in the Aral Sea basin
  • • Restoring the disaster zone around the Sea
  • • Improving management of transboundary waters in the basin
  • • Developing the capacity of the regional organizations to plan and implement the Program

USS 32 million for regional projects

USAID (USS 7 million), Netherlands (USS 6 million), EU TACIS (USS 7 million). World Bank (USS 5.5 million), UNDP (USS 2 million), other donors such as Canada, Finland. Switzerland. UK. Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Japanese PHRD funds and the Kuwait Fund (USS 6 million)


Water and

Environmental Management Project, WEMP

USS 21.2 million

GEF (USS 12.2 million), 5 Central Asian countries (USS 4.1 million), Netherlands (USS 2.3 million), EU TACIS (USS 1.4 million), SIDA (USS 0.3 million). Unidentified (USS 0.9 million)

ASBP-2 approved in 2003


  • • Water management
  • • Socioeconomic development
  • • Ecology
  • • Environmental monitoring

Between 2 million - 1 billion USS (different sources),

of which USS 35 million by I FAS member countries

IFAS members, UNDP, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, USAID. Switzerland, Japan, Finland, Norway, and others

ASBP-3 approved in 2009


  • • Integrated Use of Water Resources
  • • Environmental protection
  • • Socioeconomic development
  • • Improving institutional and legal instruments

USS 15.4 billion, incl.

USS 15 billion for 501 national and USS 386 million for 90 regional projects

National budgets (invested USS 13.3 million for 374 projects as of 2016), World Bank, GIZ, ADB, SDC, EU, USAID (invested and/or committed to USS 96.79 as of 2016)

ASBP-4 mandated in


Under development

  • • Integrated Use of Water Resources
  • • Environmental protection.
  • • Socioeconomic development.
  • • Improving the institutional and legal instruments.



Source: Table by the authors, adapted from Shira Babow, "Knowledge as Power: The Role of Scientific Data in Transboundary Water Governance. The Case of the Syr Darya River Basin,” unpublished master’s thesis. University of Geneva, 2018

The ASBP has the aim of aligning activities and strategies in the basin countries toward joint objectives. However, development, coordination, and implementation of the ASBP faced challenges and it has not managed to provide a long-term basin-wide strategy. After ASBP-2 was considered to have too many national projects, it was decided that ASBP-3 should include only projects “of regional significance.” This then led to a clash of different national interests; Kyrgyzstan complained that most of its projects were rejected. That is an indicator for one of the weaknesses of the ASBP: it has been focused on projects, and the potential for funding is an incentive for buy-in by all riparians. Taken together, these projects do not transcend national interests and shape a joint vision for the basin, but rather represent a conglomerate of different priorities.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >