Water is a precious resource in Central Asia, as Masturakhon Saifutdinova knows only too well. She grows pomegranates in the Fergana Valley in eastern Uzbekistan. ‘Without water, there is no life,’ she says, pointing proudly at the sturdy plants. ‘This beautiful pomegranate plantation could not exist without water.’
Walking through the rows of trees, Saifutdinova explains the impact that modern water management has had on her plantation and on her relationship with other farmers in the region. Ever since special measuring instruments were introduced to help channel the water, the fields have been irrigated reliably and do not dry out. This has enabled her to reduce her water consumption by more than 50 per cent. At the same time, she is now convinced that water is being distributed fairly in the region. ‘The farmers used to get too much water sometimes, or too little,’ explains Solizhon Matmurodov, Chief Engineer at the state Water Users’ Association in the far east of Uzbekistan, near the border with Kyrgyzstan: ‘And that caused discord. ‘Now, they accept what I allocate because they can all see that they are in fact getting what they need.’
The progress in water distribution achieved in the Fergana Valley is a very practical example of GIZ’s successful work in cross-border water management in Central Asia. Droughts and other extreme weather events are already confronting people there with huge challenges. Germany began supporting the region back in 2009 to prevent conflicts over water distribution and to respond to climate change. The Green Central Asia initiative launched by the German Federal Foreign Office grew out of this water management drive in the various countries of Central Asia, and out of efforts to strengthen local structures. The initiative focuses even more heavily on cross-border cooperation, which is by no means a given. ‘This has initiated a diplomatic dialogue on the climate, environment and security,’ explains Programme Manager Caroline Milow.
The programme was launched at the Green Central Asia conference held by the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin in 2020. Since then, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have continued to expand their cooperation. In 2021, for example, with support from GIZ, the countries adopted a joint plan of action on water and land management, waste management and international environmental instruments. GIZ supplements this by providing policy advice and training seminars, for example on climate change for administrative staff in the five countries.
GIZ is also networking actors from the academic and research community, politics and civil society. Partners in this project include the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), the Kazakh-German University, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. Joint projects, for example to develop modern and in some cases satellite-assisted tools to predict environmental incidents, are designed to facilitate early responses to anticipated water shortages.
The countries of Central Asia are hotspots for climate change, and the impacts will be felt there even more acutely in future. Germany is supporting the region to make it more resilient: at macro level by promoting cross-border cooperation between policy-makers and the academic and research community, and at micro level by assisting pomegranate farmer Saifutdinova, for instance. ‘People’s awareness about consumption has really changed now that we can measure the amounts of water more accurately,’ she remarks. ‘People have understood that we need to be more economical with water.’
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