Under the OSCE’s Economic and Environmental Dimension, the Centre in Bishkek focuses on developing good governance, supporting anti-corruption activities and promoting the equal distribution and proper use of scarce environmental resources such as water and land. These activities contribute to preventing tensions and potential conflicts, particularly in the southern border regions of Kyrgyzstan.
Over the past two years, the Centre has worked with Kyrgyzstan’s water-user associations in the rural southern part of the country in order to improve the management of irrigation water and prevent potential conflicts arising from competition over this scarce resource. A unique system of mentors and mentees, based on the peer-to-peer principle, has been used in this project. In 2011 and 2012, the members of 91 water-user associations were trained on how to address irrigation problems and passed on that knowledge to other associations.
Following this training, many associations were able to rehabilitate the irrigation systems in their communities, and many of them installed OSCE-donated sluice gates that, on average, cut water loss nearly in half. In addition, the collection of fees from water users increased by up to 80 per cent, thus providing additional revenue that allowed the associations to pay off their debts to the social insurance fund and to carry out rehabilitation work on their own, without requiring additional loans.
As a result of better management, more water was available, thereby mitigating possible conflicts. Nonetheless, water remains a limited resource. With growing demands from irrigation, industrial use, and drinking-water needs, combined with potentially reduced supplies because of climate change, renewed competition over water is already a serious problem that is likely to become more serious over time.
The OSCE Centre has also been carrying out another project involving so-called water task forces, focusing on training high school students to monitor the water quality in their communities and to inform the public and the local authorities about water-related problems. As a result, the students have gained expertise, and local communities are better informed, which helps them focus their efforts on improving their communities. Students have also been working with their communities to implement small-scale improvements and demonstration projects using small grants.
Maintaining peace in a community is not simply a question of resource management. It is also a matter of managing competition, as well as competing perspectives and goals, in a way that avoids conflict and violence. The Centre in Bishkek helps strengthens the ability of governments to manage competition over resources, to allocate them in a transparent manner and to handle and resolve emerging conflicts peacefully.
In this context, one recent success was the Centre’s support for bodies of local self-governance. In March 2011, for example, the Centre launched training courses for civil servants that reached 80 municipalities, almost one-quarter of all municipalities in the country. The training covered a variety of issues that were relevant at the municipal level, including the management of agricultural land, budgeting transparency, municipal property management, and the prevention of conflicts related to land allocation and land use.
Following the training, 30 municipalities compiled registers of municipal property for the first time, while also adding a total of 218 hectares of unregistered or self-occupied land plots to the municipal land rolls. Twenty-three municipalities started to use competitive bidding processes when leasing land for agricultural or other use. As a result, the leasing process has become more transparent for the local population and potential bidders, increasing municipalities’ accountability to their citizens. In addition, municipalities increased their revenues by an average of 25 per cent, which, in turn, has allowed them to provide more public services.
The Centre has also sponsored a diverse range of activities aimed directly at combating corruption. In 2012, the Centre’s awareness-raising activities included sponsoring a popular new television show that focussed on how individuals can combat the corruption they deal with in everyday life. The Centre also assisted in the development of ethics training for civil servants. In working with more specialized issues, the Centre fostered the development of the State Financial Intelligence Services Unit, which is responsible for investigating a range of economic crimes, including activities such as money laundering.