Technical mechanisms: data and knowledge management, technical cooperation

The operational core of 1FAS is the ICWC with the BWOs and the Scientific Information Centre. We differentiate between two important technical mechanisms of IFAS: (1) data and knowledge management (and sharing), and (2) technical cooperation in the operation of transboundary water infrastructure, each of which is discussed in turn below.

First, in terms of data and knowledge management, information exchange is part of the mandate of ICWC. In theory, data on water quantity and quality in the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers are collected by the two BWOs and compiled by SIC ICWC on a ten-day, monthly, and annual basis. However, not all riparian states perceive SIC ICWC as a neutral regional body. Its use of knowledge is seen as politicized and one-sided.6 There is widespread mutual distrust in information sources and in organizations engaged in the provision and consolidation of information at both national and regional levels.7 Because of this lack of trust in SIC ICWC, in particular Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan opposed the open exchange of information and open access to all data on flow discharge. The joint development of the regional information system (the CAREWIB project) by SIC ICWC faced severe challenges in terms of legitimacy, and ultimately the major donor withdrew from it. Besides the political challenges, problems are also related to insufficient human resources and funding for collecting and managing information at national level, which makes it difficult to achieve reliable and regular information exchange even domestically.

How can the distrust in SIC 1CWC and other institutions be explained? As mentioned earlier, the BWOs were established in Soviet times, and the SIC ICWC was formed by merging three units of the highly prestigious former Central Asian Scientific Institute for Irrigation (SANIIRI). In accordance with the priority given to irrigation in Soviet Central Asia, all these organizations were based in the downstream regions, namely in Uzbekistan. On the one hand, this allowed the integration of the existing scientific and technical expertise into the new institutions. On the other hand, it perpetuated the domination of the agriculture and irrigation sector’s interests.8

In 2011, an EC IFAS working group proposed to develop a joint information space on water resources, environment, energy, and hydrometeorology. However, like the other reform proposals during these years,9 it was blocked by a lack of consensus. No interstate agreement on the exchange of hydrological information in the Aral Sea Basin has been signed. This impedes not only planning and forecasting by the regional and national bodies, but also dilutes the impacts of international projects and investments in technical and professional capacities.

Second, in terms of technical cooperation in operation of transboundary water infrastructure, despite the challenges related to data management, technical and professional communication between the countries constitutes a major strength of water cooperation within the IFAS framework. This concerns especially the operational management of water infrastructure and short-term issues. An example are the pumping stations of the Karshi and Amu-Bukhara canals, which are located on Turkmen territory but owned and maintained by Uzbekistan. The daily cooperation between Uzbek and Turkmen staff in the framework of the BWO Amudarya is very trustful and smooth.10 In general, discussions among technical level representatives of countries tend to be more pragmatic and oriented toward cooperation than at political level.11

When implementing joint projects of the ASBP, in the operational management of water infrastructure, or when being trained together, water specialists maintain contacts and exchange information in the framework of IFAS despite the often divisive and nationalistic discourse at the political level. Partly, this is owed to long-standing personal networks based on joint education in the Soviet Union and a common identity among Central Asian water experts. The IFAS contributed to this by giving a steady structure that helped to sustain these networks and dialogue after the Soviet Union broke up and even in politically tense times.

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