REGIONAL WORKSHOP “THE DEVELOPMENT OF CENTRAL ASIAN REGIONAL COOPERATION IN ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES INFORMATION MANAGEMENT”
The workshop “The Development of Central Asian Regional Cooperation in Environment and Water Resources Information Management” was held in Almaty from 9 to 10 June 2014. It was attended by the experts from the ministries of environmental protection, agriculture and water resources, hydrometeorological services, Interstate Commission for Sustainable Development (ICSD), Scientific Information Center (SIC) of ICSD, Executive Committee of International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (EC IFAS), Scientific Information Center of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination in Central Asia (SIC ICWC), Basin Water Organization (BWO) “Syrdarya”, Regional Center for Hydrology (RCH), Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia (CAREC), International Office for Water (IOWater), and a number of key donors.
The workshop was initiated by UNECE as one of the principal international organizations that promote international cooperation.
The conference was arranged in the form of six sessions as follows:
- Strength and weakness of the nation- and region-wide management of information on environment, water resources, and hydrometeorology; opportunities for complementarity and synergy.
- Information needs for environmental protection and sustainable development.
- Information needs for integrated water resources management.
- Determining the structure and scope of the common regional information space.
- Fundamental principles, legal framework, and institutional structures for the modern regional information space.
- Further steps to deal with the existing challenges.
Reliable, comprehensive, internally coordinated and understandable information is an important element of the efficient decision support system at the national and regional levels. Regular efforts to strengthen regional cooperation should include, as one of the initial steps, specific actions aimed at improving information management. In Central Asia, there is still a need for creating a properly working regional information platform on sustainable development, environmental protection, and water management.
Information on environment and water resources and hydrometeorological data often overlap and complement each other. Building up of decentralized yet single information space that covers all the above-mentioned fields would be not only an effective measure in terms of cost, but also considerably enhance the usefulness of the information space both for scientific purposes and decision support process.
Last year, SIC ICSD prepared an assessment report with recommendations for improving ICSD with the assistance of UNECE. Based on that report, a roadmap was developed which includes a series of specific steps and draft documents. The draft Roadmap was discussed at the ICSD meeting in Dushanbe on April 3, 2014. Both the assessment report and Roadmap highlighted the necessity of improving the management of environmental information at the regional level. Also, in Dushanbe ICSD decided to request UNECE for assistance in the organization of a workshop on working out methodological approaches and requirements for the development of common information space on environment and sustainable development in Central Asia.
It should be noted that ICWC has substantially been ahead of ICSD as it pertains to the development of information system, creation of a portal, which is currently regularly visited by more than 4,000 users, and development of the knowledge base on water resources, irrigated agriculture, and environment. Better understanding of the necessity of data exchange at the regional and cross-national levels, role and significance of information systems in water management, conservation, and development, where ICWC is ahead of ICSD, provides at the same time the ground for joint actions. This was evident from the speeches made at the workshop. The “Concept for Developing Information Exchange and Relationship Mechanisms among its Participants in Central Asia” drafted by the EC IFAS Working Group with the involvement of experts from all Central Asian countries was refined by the group of ICWC’s experts and approved at the 63rd ICWC meeting (April 2014, Tashkent). This facilitates further development of the information field in water, land, and natural resources with the participation of both ICSD and ICWC, as well as other organizations in the region. The basic provisions of the modified document named “Concept for Developing an Information Network on Water Issues in Central Asia” reflects the following points:
- Priority goals and tasks for implementation of the policy, agreed upon by the states, for developing information exchange on water issues in Central Asia.
- Principles and organizational framework of cooperation among the Central Asian states in the area of developing appropriate information services in the water sector.
- Mechanisms for implementation of measures and programs agreed upon by the states for improvement of information provision and development of interstate information exchange on water issues in Central Asia.
Among the basic principles of the formation of information network, the following were mentioned:
- use and development of existing information resources and infrastructure at the national and interstate levels
- completeness, official sources, relevance and reliability of information
- openness and accessibility of information, while observing national laws regulating access to legally protected secrets
- division of information and its users into categories in order to differentiate access rights
- provision of information security and protection of national interests in the area of water information and information system development for the water sector
- incremental formation and development of ICWC information network and its extension by involving other sectors.
Many speakers highlighted the significance of the CAWater-Info portal, the overall scope and information content of which exceeds by far other information sources functioning in the region. At the same time, a great number of the organizations working in the information field, e.g. Zoi, World Bank, IOWater, have created certain information products (soft goods) that needed to be included in the common information field and the area of their application has to be expanded.
In their reports on the prospects for development of the information field, Prof. V.A. Dukhovny, Director of SIC ICWC, and Mr. I.F. Beglov, Manager of the CAWater-Info portal, noted that the use of existing soft goods and their improvement on joint basis would further contribute to the enhancement of transparency and accessibility of the basin water management system. Based on numerous regional normative legal documents, they have built a certain basis for data exchange between the parties of the information field which must be strengthened by signing a particular agreement on this issue. Unfortunately, the information system basis created with the assistance of the European Union and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is supported only by Uzbekistan and to some extent by UNECE. Notwithstanding the ICWC’s decisions and provisions, none of the ICWC members have concluded contracts for provision of information free of charge or for certain financial contribution to the development of the information system. There are also a few other obstacles to the development of the information system on a democratic basis. In particular, such an obstacle to information transparency and accessibility is the Agreement on Data Exchange between National Hydrometeorological Services and Prohibition on Sharing Information with a Third Party. At that, hydrometeorological services regard regional organizations as third parties, and both BWOs and SIC have to use the data given by these hydrometeorological services, which, in turn, were provided by national water organizations.
The following suggestions were voiced during exchange of opinions:
- Create Coordination Council composed of the representatives of stakeholders, including EC IFAS, ICWC, ICSD, and UNECE for further development of the joint actions program aimed at building the common information field.
- Recommend the issues related to water quality, provision of environmental services, land degradation and change of land-use pattern, preparation of basin data sheets as the basis for basin-wide plans of actions.
- It is advisable to communicate, through EC IFAS, the roadmap prepared by ICSD to ICWC members and bodies, as well as the Information Field Concept agreed with ICWC to the ICSD members.
One can state that the workshop was another step towards the development of the regional information space.