In entering into new century, countries of Central Asia and Caucasus (CA and C) faced grand problems of development, among which poverty, conflicts, and environmental degradation are the most critical. These problems have common roots and cause-and-effect relations.
Preparation for Global Summit on Development and Environment to be held in September 2002 and a lot of previous discussions in this regard clearly show that conflict of interests and lack of civilized mechanisms of their resolution underlie above problems. This is visually shown in CA and C region on example of Caspian and Aral basins, Irtysh and Yli-Balkhash basins, i.e. in water sector, which plays a vital role in the development of such large region. CA and C countries are implementing national, regional, and international programs and projects in water sector. Many international organizations and country-donors are involved in these programs. However, the acute problems relating to interdepartmental relations, distrust among economic sectors, and lacking free exchange of information have been still existing. First of all, vulnerable social groups, local communities, farmers, and the environment suffer from these problems.Main issues of water partnership can be considered as:
Water right is one of the main human rights. As a matter of fact, water right was first declared in the General Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Then, it was time and again ratified in many other international legal documents, such as International Treaty of 1966 on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. In 1992 Dublin Declaration stated a basic human right to clean water at accessible price. This year drinking water right was included in the 21 Agenda adopted by the UN World Conference on Environment and Development. The same idea was stressed in numerous international forums, including the World Water Forum in Hague and recent Berlin Conference on Fresh Water. Mentioned legal documents provide for the establishment by each government of relevant managerial and water conservation framework focused on consumer's needs and human rights. At the same time these rights are often not enforced. The process of globalization has led to considerable changes of the government role in economic, social, and environmental issues. While the government plays a leading role in enactment of laws, creation of appropriate conditions for investments, and support of social security, new potential partners arise and their role in sustainable development becomes comparable with and even stronger than that of the government. These partners are civil society, non-governmental organizations, and the Green movement. It is necessary to recognize "bottom-top" reformation in CA and C as an important stage for sustainable development. Under critical economic and environmental conditions of CA and C the initiation and promotion of innovation ideas and democratic reforms are mainly borne by the third non-governmental sector, which comprises within NGO independent, concerned, and active people and intellectuals, thus uniting them with the best representatives of governmental, intellectual, and business elite. They represent interests of the most vulnerable social groups and express opinion of the democratic majority. They are primary social cells of civil society with direct representation of its main tendencies and potentiality of sustainable development. The most important that civil unions, i.e. NGOs, become spokesmen of population needs and wishes under transition to market economy and transfer of all social problems to poor local budgets, in other words under such critical conditions. NGOs become those initiative groups that supplement and compensate state structures and institutes. NGOs deal with matters, which are left by state structures due to lack of time. Such situation involves development of a new concept of integrated water management — at national, regional, and international levels — which will meet new reality and challenges. Decision-making institutions and organizations should ensure direct participation of private sector, local governments, non-governmental organizations, trade unions, and other community and initiative groups in the development and implementation of water policy and in decision-making in water sector. It becomes evident that "bottom-top" approaches and involvement of concerned community in decision-making can be found more effective in searching sound long-term decisions. Attention should be paid to such vital aspects as participation of local population and NGOs in the development and implementation of programs and action plans at local level, including an acute problem of drinking water quality, participation in planning and allocation of industrial structures in areas with water sources, etc. Unsolved environmental problems, particularly water-related ones, pose the main obstacle to social and economic development of CA and C countries. This is supplemented by weak involvement of public democratic groups in the solution of water issues and poor base of such activity due to lack of methodology, coordination mechanism, public interests realization tools, and mechanisms and procedures of interaction with state agencies. In such an area as drinking water and water resources, where interests of all are infringed, every man must have an opportunity to express his/her opinion and to be involved. An example of such public involvement at the international level is involvement of NGOs in discussions on water reforms in NIS. More than 100 NGOs from NIS took part in discussion of official documents and in preparation of NGO's position on the agenda of Advisory Meeting of Ministers (16-17 October 2000, Almaty, Kazakhstan) within Environmental Action Program for Central and Eastern Europe. NGO's delegation from NIS took part at the meeting, while NGO's position was presented and included in a package of resulting documents. Activities being implemented to prevent environmental crisis will not lead to real results if the public do no have free access to information and opportunity to influence important decisions. This condition is an essential element of legal mechanism for water conservation. Sustainable development will be impossible and water decisions will not be comprehensive, weighted, and environmentally safe without active public involvement. Long ago all civilized countries have been initiating the use of natural resources or construction of any industrial structure upon agreement with local people. An extremely important moment is that the public is involved at early stages — planning and siting, environmental and social impact assessment. At the same time opinions of all social groups are taken into consideration.In the light of Aarhus Convention, informing of the public in water supply, water saving, and rational water use issues must play an important role in public awareness-building. Governments should develop and apply mechanisms of public participation in water reforms:
However, practically none of countries has reliable public awareness-building system, particularly at local level. This is related to narrow access to Internet and limited number of disseminated official reports and bulletins. State agencies have no enough funds to publish large editions, and in some countries current trade of bulletins or reports does not allow research, non-governmental and other organizations to have free access to such information. CA and C countries do not have common information databases, where one can find and obtain information about on-going measures on protection and quality of drinking water. Available databases are dispersed among various ministries and organizations, including international ones, do not always can be accessed freely, and often comprise contradictory data. Shortage of scientifically sound information is felt in context of transition to basin and environmental planning, identification of environmental limitations for water-related activities, evaluation of capacity and potential of basin ecosystems, as well as in solving inter-sectoral issues. However, currently such research is poorly supported by the government and rarely used in decision-making. One of the causes, besides insufficient financing, is poor institutional base, weak coordination of actions by clients and decision makers in environmental conservation, and unclear task setting and control over implementation. Environmental impact assessment (EIA) and audit were developed in CA and C countries to different degree. In some countries these procedures are enacted, while in others they are still under development and approval. EIA involves public participation procedures, however in practice public participation is not ensured and rare. Similar situation can be noted regarding assessment of risks to environment and health as a tool for decisions. This is firstly related to low decision-makers' awareness of an efficiency of this method. However, methodology of risk assessment is not perfect in scientific context and has many arguable points. This is another deterrent. Experience of many countries, including Russia, in risk assessment shows that development works available CA and C will allow us to use above methodology in order to get preliminary by quite clear recommendations for managerial decision making. System approach to main problems in water use and water saving requires that all environmental and economic requirements and issues of environmental safety and social immunity be integrated and interlinked. In this context, further legal reforms in water sector probably involve systematization, harmonization, and increase of efficiency of legislative norms, including in transboundary terms, rather than their multiplication. Most attention should be paid to participation of other sectors, mainly power engineering, agriculture and environment conservation in solving water issues. Inherited practices of administrative management involved isolated and centralized decision-making system and poor relations between sectors. This often led to wrong decisions made during planning. Integration of environmental, social, and economic concerns is essential for decision-making. Actions can be combined on a base of common objectives rather than through protocols and agreements. In other words, integration of objectives and priorities is an important task of different ministries and agencies related to water sector. In countries in transition decisions are often made by public authorities responsible only for water resources. This cannot ensure balanced consideration of all socio-economic benefits and potential losses. Delegation of decision-making functions to non-environmental authorities often results in complete ignorance of environmental interests since during reforms public interest in environment is low, while pressure of socio-economic facets on decision makers is great. Another bottle-neck is criteria inherited from narrow sectoral approach to environment conservation, which has been still used for program and project expertise. These criteria assess parameters of given object in context of each environment separately, taking no notice of ecosystem requirements and appropriateness of the object as a whole. Regulatory and methodological base of expertise in water sector is less studied in details than, for instance, in free air conservation. As a consequence, personal factors prevail in decision-making, and decisions are transformed from expert and technical terms into political ones, for instance as in water allocation.Balance between short-term benefits and long-term objectives, particularly in environmental and social issues, must be taken into thorough consideration. It is important to link results of action or inaction with long-term consequences. At the same time interests of future generations should be taken into account in view of society development and conflict prevention. Otherwise, we have a great risk to repeat disaster similar to Aral.International agencies and donors' actions, approved by civil society, non-governmental and social organizations, can play an important role in capacity building. It is also essential to create free competitive environment in order to ensure access of NGOs to water programs supported by international organizations and national and local authorities. A lot of donors work in CA and C countries within various directions, such as education, legislation, social issues, and development and application of environmentally safe technologies in water sector, as well as on problems of Caspian Sea, Aral Sea, Balkhash, and other water bodies. At the same time, efficiency and coordination of donors' support are problematic. Quite often donor's support has only apparent effect and does not address system-wide problems. Usually donors involve consulting companies, which are close to them, and their own consultants in the projects. Role of local experts and NGOs and their involvement in on-going water programs are low. This is related both to insufficient capacity of local consultants and their unstable financial and technical base and to unreadiness of international organizations to involve local consultants as full partners in programs at national, regional, and local levels. In September 2001 in Almaty, ministers of environment of Central Asia and Transcaucasia at their meeting, being as a preparation for the World Summit 2002, made a statement, which sets forth main problems and initiatives of CAR region. It was proposed, in context of the UN General Assembly's decision of declaring the year 2003 as the Fresh Water Year, to start developing regional strategy, which will address problems of regional water bodies, transboundary waterways, drinking water, and rational water use as a component of Sub-regional Agenda 21. In this context, water partnership for CA and C countries is an issue of the day and important for the development of international, regional (interstate), and intersectoral partnership and cooperation. Reforms being implemented in countries in transition make it possible to radically improve traditional systems of preparation and assessment of water-related plans and projects. Just during reforms we can consolidate political will for democratic and market changes and will to gain experience of developed countries, to adjust legislation in accordance with international norms, and, finally, to liquidate "heritage" of command economy. If such political will is lacking or a chance to use it is lost then it will be difficult to expect efficient reforms in water sector. Countries of Central Asia and Caucasus, celebrating this year the tenth anniversary of their independence, are on the path to construction of new managerial systems. Inherited from the soviet period decision-making mechanisms, oriented mainly towards the increase of production capacity and based on command economy, did not properly take into account interests of population and environment and posed obstacles for future development. Integrated approach to water planning and to implementation of sustainable development projects and programs and water ecosystem management should be based on adequate decision-making system, which in turn is based on available and reliable information, research and analysis, forecasts and expertise, opinion of concerned groups, and intersectoral collaboration. GWP could promote mobilization of efforts of many organizations and citizens, their further active involvement in water problems solution on a basis of reformed managerial systems, sustainable reforms, and community consent.
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