Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter launches ‘Blue Peace’ initiative
Switzerland is assisting five Central Asian states in developing solutions for managing transboundary water resources. “Reaching agreement on common structures for water utilisation creates trust and strengthens cooperation,” Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter declared in Astana at the launch of Switzerland’s Blue Peace initiative for Central Asia. The head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) also met young people at the Swiss Pavilion at Expo 2017 in Astana and discussed their visions for the future regarding water.
The Aral Sea, which has almost completely dried up, illustrates the consequences of unsustainable water management in Central Asia. This is why Switzerland is helping Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan to build common structures for managing their water resources. Today, Mr Burkhalter is in Astana to launch the ‘Blue Peace Central Asia 2017–2020’ initiative, which aims to regulate transboundary access and the utilisation of water in the region.
“Water can be a means of strengthening cooperation and peace,” Mr Burkhalter declared at the opening of the Blue Peace Central Asia Conference in the Kazakh capital. He went on to say that managing water resources must have political support. Water, peace and security go hand in hand when it comes to the well-being of people, and “We can all contribute to achieving this objective.” Mr Burkhalter also reminded those present that Switzerland had launched a global panel on water and peace in 2015 in Geneva. The panel’s recommendations on creating instruments to prevent conflicts over water breaking out at the regional and global levels will be published in September 2017.
In Central Asia, the Blue Peace initiative provides for a political dialogue on the challenges and possible solutions to managing the region’s water resources. In parallel, there will be exchanges on technical information (e.g. data on glaciers), and the training of committed young people active in the water sector (‘Young Water Champions’) will be promoted.
The inclusion of the younger generation is a key aspect of water diplomacy and the reason why Mr Burkhalter talked to around 20 Young Water Champions at the Swiss Pavilion at Expo 2017 after the conference. The theme of the Expo 2017 is ‘Future Energy’. Mr Burkhalter’s discussion with these young men and women also focused on visions for the future of the water sector and possible approaches to the utilisation of water in Central Asia. Together with Switzerland’s innovative strengths in energy efficiency and renewable energies, the Swiss Pavilion is also showcasing ideas about the sustainable management of this vitally important resource and ways to distribute it that are both fair and promote development.
The launch of the Blue Peace initiative for Central Asia dates back to a conference in Basel in November 2014 (Basel I Conference) when Switzerland launched an initial dialogue between stakeholders in politics, the economy and the water sector to explore the conditions for establishing common measures in the water sector in the region. Switzerland has been active in water diplomacy in Central Asia for a long time. For example, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supported the Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic on the Use of Water Management Facilities of Intergovernmental Status on the Rivers Chu and Talas, founded in 2000. With Swiss assistance, the transboundary management of data and water infrastructure is being improved for approximately two million people in this catchment area. The SDC is also working in Central Asia to ensure sustainable and fair access to clean and affordable drinking water and sanitation in rural and urban areas.
While in Astana, Mr Burkhalter took the opportunity to conduct bilateral meetings with the Kazakh foreign minister, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, and the speaker of the Kazakh Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and others.