Kazakhstan: Institutional reform in the water sector to implement the IWRM plan (#342)

In Kazakhstan, the issue is not one of scarcity but of management, a problem that can be solved through applying the principles of IWRM. The government of Kazakhstan consequently initiated a water resources management project aiming at strengthening water management organisations and by instituting the practice of IWRM. In this process, training, workshops and dialogues both within and outside the water sector are crucial. 


In Kazakhstan the agricultural sector consume 78 % of the country's total water supply and a significant amount is lost through inefficient water use (e.g. leakages through old infrastructure account for 30 % of losses and pollution caused by insufficient treatment of wastewater and industrial waste dumping). A decade of budget and staffing cuts has had a dramatic effect on the authorities’ ability to manage water. 

In Kazakhstan there are not water resources problems but a management problem which can be solved through applying the principles of IWRM. In spite that organizational reforms in water management sector were recognized at high political level (new Water Code was adopted in 2003), no actual reforms had taken place at that point.

The facilities located in water basin were governed by different management systems though they were bound by unified nature complex and linked to each other through technological processes.

Action taken

The government of Kazakhstan embarked on a water resources management project aimed at strengthening water management organizations and by instituting the practice of IWRM. With support from UNDP and GWP they drafted the IWRM plan. River Basin Councils (RBC) were established in all eight river basins of Kazakhstan.

At the beginning there was a negative attitude to creating river basin councils but they managed to overcome and set up a platform for discussion and decision making at basin level. The duration of the project was three years orchestrated by the Water Resources Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan together with 29 government ministries and agencies.

Before the final draft was sent to the Government of Kazakhstan for approval, there was a long process with series of stakeholder’s forums with experts and the public to present and obtain feedback on the work plan.

In December 2008, the IWRM Plan was endorsed by the Kazakhstan cabinet., thus the RBCs now have stronger position to enforce and implement the national water policy.

Lessons learned

• Training courses, workshops, dialogues, and meetings both within water authorities and outside of “water sector specialists” are important to create an understanding of what an IWRM plan is and how it can be implemented within the country.
• Establishment of RBCs is the beginning rather than the end of the process. A regular training and capacity building of staff is a must.
• The size, shape and structure of RBCs depend on the needs of the river basin and the ideas of the participants and members of the RBC rather than to require uniform arrangements in each river basin.

Photo credit: Ken & Nyetta