The Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities will present four projects on water management at a seminar during the World Water Week in Stockholm from 12 to 18 August, the leading annual event focused on implementing international processes and programmes in water and development.
The OSCE will host the seminar together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), one of its partners in the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC), which promotes environmental management as a strategy for reducing insecurity in South-eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The UNECE, which is also the host of the Secretariat of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, will focus on some of the results of the Chu and Talas Rivers project and, together with a Moldovan non-governmental organization (NGO), the Dniester River project.
The Dniester project, an ENVSEC project led by the OSCE and UNECE, has institutionalized co-operation along the River basin, developed an action programme to improve the legal framework covering the River's water resources and supported confidence-building activities and the exchange of information between Ukraine and Moldova. The OSCE has spent 120,000 euros on the project since it was established in 2004.
NGOs' important role
The Moldova-based NGO network eco-TIRAS, the International Environmental Association of River Keepers, comprised of 50 NGOs from Moldova, Ukraine and Transdniester, is helping carry out the Dniester project and will present its findings. NGOs have played an important role in a number of issues on the project such as engaging water basin end users, lobbying for Moldovan legislation and developing regulation on public participation in water decision-making.
The OSCE also works with UNECE on the Chu and Talas Rivers project. The project developed a method of joint use and protection of water resources. The OSCE co-ordinated the international community in its support of the project. The Interstate Water Commission it helped found has created a framework for Kyrgyz and Kazakh co-operation. The OSCE has devoted 127,000 euros on the project since it was established in 2004.
The other two OSCE projects involve work on the Sava River Basin in Croatia and the Kura and Araks South Caucasus Co-operative River Monitoring projects.
"These projects are key to promoting inter-State co-operation on our most important natural resource before it grows scarce and becomes a source of conflict," says Bernard Snoy, Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities. "They not only provide solutions to looming problems, they create co-operative practices and models that can be used beyond the sphere of water issues."
The OSCE will hold its seminar on 12 August.
Increasing focus on water governance
The 2007 OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Spain, has focused its environmental work on land degradation, soil contamination and water management in the region and participating States have been asking the Organization to expand this work.
"Water is key to human security because it is critical to our lives and economies," says Co-ordinator Snoy. "Not only is the human body more than 70 per cent water, we also use it as a key resource to irrigate crops or to produce electricity. Without appropriate access to water, for drinking, sanitation and supporting our livelihoods, we may face situations where there is a conflict over the resource."
At a preparatory conference of the 15th Economic and Environmental Forum on 12 and 13 March in Zaragoza which focused on water management issues, OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said, "The OSCE has an important role to play in making use of water issues as a strategic factor of development and peace. Within the OSCE region, there are some 180 watercourses extending over the territory of more than one country. Co-operation is the only way to enhance development, security and stability throughout our common area."
Improving governance of water resources is, therefore, a high priority for the OSCE. It is also a prerequisite for achieving the goals as set out in the 2003 Maastricht Strategy Document for the economic and environmental dimension, in which OSCE participating States increased their commitments to ensure sustainable development.
At the second part of this year's Economic and Environmental Forum, in Prague, participating States supported the idea of enhancing the OSCE's work in fostering transboundary co-operation, particularly in the water sector.
During the year, Forum participants also suggested that the OSCE should specifically: first, promote principles of good governance in the water sector; second, reinforce co-operation and direct its efforts toward building political will and local capacities; and third, further develop its activities promoting sustainable water management, water co-operation and improved water security.
The OSCE has a number of other events related to water governance which follow World Water Week.
Later this month, ENVSEC will launch environmental assessments on the Amu Darya River and the Caspian Sea during several meetings in the autumn, including one in Ashgabad on 17 and 18 September.
On 30 and 31 October, the Chairmanship will support a regional conference in Tashkent on Central Asian environmental security and sustainable development, where participants will discuss technology transfer for the water sector.
The OCEEA is also working with UNECE and another ENVSEC partner, the United Nations Development Programme, on a technical workshop for Capacity for Water Co-operation scheduled from 23 to 26 October in Almaty.
"Water is a political issue and can be a vehicle for enhancing democracy, public participation and for empowering local stakeholders," Co-ordinator Snoy says. "We generally see more co-operation on water issues and there is a clear role for the OSCE to play in this respect."