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Table of Contents 2
Table of Contents
MAIN ACTORS IN THE ARAL SEA BASIN 5
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS 6
REGIONAL ORGANIZATIONS 6
BILATERAL INSTITUTIONS 7
NATIONAL COUNTERPARTS 7
MAJOR ACTIVITIES IN ADDRESSING THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE ARAL SEA
THE ARAL SEA CRISIS – A SHORT DESCRIPTION OF WELL-KNOWN FACTS 8
MAIN ACTIVITIES 9
INITIATIVES OF THE FIVE CENTRAL ASIAN REPUBLICS 10
INITIATIVES OF INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS, DEVELOPMENTAL AGENCIES AND INTERSTATE
COOPERATION AND COORDINATION OF ACTIVITIES 12
PRESENT COOPERATION 12
COOPERATION BETWEEN INTERNATIONAL DONOR AND LOCAL COUNTERPART 12
COORDINATION OF ACTIVITIES WITHIN THE INTERNATIONAL DONOR COMMUNITY 14
TRANSFER OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE INTO DECISION-MAKING PROCESSES 15
THE REGIONAL VISION FOR THE ARAL SEA BASIN 16
THE VISION EXERCISE – BACKGROUND 16
THE GLOBAL VISION FOR WATER, LIFE AND THE ENVIRONMENT 17
THE REGIONAL VISION FOR THE ARAL SEA BASIN / THE UNESCO INITIATIVE 19
ACTION PLAN FOR THE REGIONAL VISION 19
THE FIRST ROUND OF CONSULTATIONS/THE DRAFT VISION 21
Due to the complexity and interdependency of the various problems in the Aral Sea Basin
realistic solutions to improve the difficult socio-economic and ecological situation in the five
independent states of Central Asia can only be reached through common efforts of all actors
in the region. The difficult transformation process after the breakup of the Soviet Union and
the tense financial situation make the young countries of the region dependent on inter-
national assistance to address the most pressing issues. The international community heard
their call and massive assistance to the basin started in the years of 1993/94.
Over the past approx. five years thousands of programs and projects have been planned and
implemented to address the consequences of the Aral Sea crisis. Many international, regional
and national organizations and institutions were and are involved working together with many
different local and foreign partners. Much money has been spent.
Nevertheless little has changed. The situation for the people living in the Aral Sea Basin as
well as the state of the environment still remains very critical. There are many different
reasons and causes for that.
The size and the character of the tasks that the countries of the basin have to face call for
unified, coordinated action of all actors involved. Next to the interstate cooperation between
the five republics, which is imperative for the distribution of the scarce water resources, and
the improvement of the situation in the region as a whole and the co-operation between
donors and their local counterparts, there has to be active cooperation between the members
of the international donor community themselves. Even though this necessity is widely
accepted, its realization is often very difficult.
One major shortcoming seems to be the lack of widely accepted, common objectives and
priorities for the long-term future that could serve as a framework for action. There should be
an action plan governments and the main interest groups have agreed upon that serves as a
guideline for complementary actions and sharing of tasks and responsibilities. Realization of
the needed measures will certainly involve many other factors and interests, that are often
conflicting. What is needed to improve the situation is a real commitment of the actors to
work together and join efforts for a common goal and a new approach to resolve the environ-
mental crisis and reach a sustainable development of the basin.
Solutions to address the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis, strategies that lead to a
sustainable management of the water resources in the basin and improve the socio-economic
situation could serve as models for other regions with similar problems and crisis situations in
several aspects. One example the Aral Sea Basin might give is mentioned in the project report
of the Aral Sea Basin Program:
“The observed problems of the region are only an advanced example of a trend seen
worldwide, especially around enclosed water bodies and in semi-arid regions such as Lake
Chad, the Okovanga Delta, the Murray-Darling Basin, the Indus Basin, and the western
United States. Project activities could have important demonstration benefits for other
water scarce regions and serve as a model framework for trans-national river basin
management. The accumulated experience could be used as an example for international
and regional co-operation in rehabilitating a damaged ecosystem as well as practical water
management in large water basins on a real–time basis.” (Aral Sea Basin Program, Water
and environmental management project, Project document, Vol.1-Main Report, May 1998)
Some of the conditions in the Basin after the break-up of the Soviet Union were theoretically
quite favorable for finding feasible integrated solutions for the crisis:
• Massive international assistance to the basin countries started more or less at the same
time, shortly after independence of the republics (1993/1994)
• New settings and newly independent states give possibility to incorporate necessary
changes into the evolving constitution and legal framework
• In building new societies the lessons learned from other areas could be applied
Many of the donor organizations initially showed great enthusiasm. To understand the
disappointment that is widely distributed today, this purely scientific, theoretical approach to
the necessary efforts to mitigate the consequences of the crisis has to be put into the context
of political reality. It imposes many constraints, which may leave little of the objectives
intended at the beginning.
The aim of this investigation is to evaluate the present day co-operation in addressing the Aral
Sea crisis within the international donor community as well as between the donors and their
national or regional counterparts on all levels. Since the approach is a more or less scientific
one coming from the understanding that such complex problems can only be solved through
concerted action, and due to lack of competence in judging the political situation and
constraints that arise from the political and legal frameworks in the five countries and the
region, it is restricted to the technical, organizational and human side of cooperation.
The call for co-operation and coordinated action is nothing new and it is being emphasized in
every project description and action plan. In reality the situation is nevertheless quite
different. In this report some of the causes for this discrepancy and possibilities to come to
real cooperation and new approaches to the situation will be worked out.
The conclusions drawn are mainly based on interviews with representatives of international,
regional and national organizations in Uzbekistan and on experience gained in assisting the
UNESCO team and the national working groups of the five republics in preparing a regional
water-related vision for the Aral Sea Basin.
Main stress is put on the need to improve the exchange of information especially using the
possibilities of modern communication technologies and the necessity of a vision that could
serve as a guideline for common action.
Due to limited capacities and the short time of investigation this report mainly deals with the
fields of environment and water management, trying not to neglect the other fields (public
health, education, culture, etc.) in the overall view. It will nevertheless always stay
incomplete. The main aim is to point out some tendencies and give an idea about possible
new approaches in achieving sustainable management of crisis areas.
Main Actors in the Aral Sea Basin 5
Main Actors in the Aral Sea Basin
The example of organizations given below is biased towards organizations in the fields of
water management and agriculture, environment and -to a lesser extent- health. The
organizations given on the bilateral level are only three examples. Institutions dealing
primarily with economic transition, law consulting, culture, capacity building, civil society
and democratization etc. have been neglected.
N UN FAMILY EUROPEAN UNION
T UNDP FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS TACIS
E UNDCP WORLD BANK OSCE
UNESCO IMF INTAS
N UNFPA COPERNICUS
UNHCR ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK TEMPUS
I FAO INTERNATIONAL NGOs
O WHO MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES
R INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON
E FUND FOR SAVING SUSTAINABLE
G THE ARAL SEA DEVELOPMENT
I (IFAS) INTERSTATE (CSD)
O COMMISSION ON CENTRAL ASIAN
N WATER ECONOMIC
A COORDINATION COMMUNITY
L (ICWC) (CAEC)
I USA GTZ
A COUNTERPART CONSULTANTS
T IN VARIOUS PROJECTS
SOROS FRIEDRICH EBERT
E ISAR FOUNDATION
N CABINET OF MINISTERS
A AGRICULTURE ACADEMY
T & IRRIGATION GOVERNMENTAL OF
I ECOLOGY INSTITUTIONS SCIENCES
N SCIENCE LOCAL
A CULTURE AUTHORITIES NATIONAL/LOCAL
L EDUCATION NGOs
Main Actors in the Aral Sea Basin 6
Even though the above picture shows only an incomplete selection of organizations associated
in some or other way with resolving the Aral Sea crisis it already gives an idea of the
multitude of actors in the basin. Multiplied with the amount of projects that are being
implemented the picture gets very confusing.
The roles the different actors play vary significantly in size and amount of money involved.
Mainly all major organizations of the United Nations system and international financial
institutions are present in Central Asia, most of them with their own representatives and field
offices. The European Union is active with several of its programs supplemented by activities
of its member states on a bilateral level. Especially its Technical Assistance for the
Community of Independent States (TACIS) supports several large scale projects in
environmental and water management. International NGOs take care of individual issues such
as health and environment.
Within the donor community the World Bank plays a dominating role due to its position as
coordinator of the Aral Sea Basin Program (see below) as well as other donor assistance and
the volume of its financial assistance. It has the biggest influence on activities addressing the
basin problems. Learning from experiences of the past years the World Bank is recently
shifting its involvement from active coordination to the more passive role of a credit agency,
allowing the national and regional organizations to actively plan and control the activities
themselves. The necessary commitment of the CA states towards the planned actions can only
be achieved through their strong participation not only in co-financing of projects but also in
the implementation process.
UNDP is in charge of coordinating the activities of all the UN organizations present. It has
also in some ways overtaken the role of an overall coordinator from the World Bank. In
regular coordination meetings with representatives of the major donor organizations several
established thematic groups discuss their activities and plans for future projects.
Shortly after independence the Heads of the Central Asian countries undertook first steps
towards organizing the regional cooperation to resolve the problems of the Aral Sea by
establishing several interstate organizations. The Interstate Council for the Aral Sea (ICAS)
was founded in 1994 to recommend actions to the five governments while the International
Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) was responsible for its funding. Due to an overlapping
in responsibilities the ICAS and IFAS were merged to a new IFAS in 1997. It is responsible
for the funding and crediting of joint regional environmental and research programs and
projects aimed at improving the environmental situation in the areas affected by the disaster
as well as solving regional socio-economical problems. (International Fund for the Aral Sea,
1997). Currently it is the executive agency for the GEF project “Water and Environmental
Management” (see below).
The urgent need for regulation of the water allocations that emerged after the break-up of the
Soviet Union and the absence of the centralized management of the basin’s water resources
lead to the establishment of the Interstate Commission on Water Coordination (ICWC). Until
new agreements are worked out the principles of water distribution and use of the upstream
Main Actors in the Aral Sea Basin 7
reservoirs established during central management in the USSR remain valid. The main task of
the ICWC is to determine the annual water allocations for each state and control the operation
of the water reservoirs.
The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was founded as an interstate body,
responsible for complementing the proposals from ICAS concerning the rehabilitation of the
environment and the socio-economic development of the basin.
Regulation of conflicting interests in the usage of the Toktugul reservoir in Kyrgystan for
energy production and irrigation respectively was achieved within the framework of the
Interstate Council of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan (ICKKU). It was enlarged by the
joining of Tajikistan and became the Central Asian Economic Community (CAEC),
expressing the will for enhanced economic cooperation between the countries.
Many countries of the world represented in Central Asia are in one or the other way involved
in projects mainly supporting the process of transformation to market economy and
democratization, but also in addressing the Aral Sea Crisis and realizing short term relief to
the most effected regions. Projects are being implemented through the developmental
agencies of the respective countries, the embassies, national foundations and national non-
The governments of the five Central Asian states, their cabinets of ministers and the
ministries are the major actors on the national level. Their initiative and active involvement is
essential for any project on the national or regional level, since they determine the strategies
and long-term goals for dealing with the problems of the Aral Sea Crisis and the development
of the basin. They themselves, governmental organizations or local authorities and institutes,
constitute the counterparts for most international activities. To a lesser degree members of the
academy of sciences and of national or local NGOs are partners in joint projects or implement
their own projects on the basis of grants.
Major activities in addressing the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis 8
Major activities in addressing the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis
The Aral Sea crisis – a short description of well-known facts
The drying up of the Aral Sea – the most visible and best-known sign of the Aral Sea Crisis –
has become a symbol of a large-scale man-made social and ecological disaster. The pictures
of the rusty fisher boats lying in the sands of what was formerly the seabed of the Aral Sea -
now many miles away- have circulated around the world. The crisis serves as an example of
the catastrophic consequences of many years of land and water mismanagement and
irresponsible planning that was to turn Central Asia into the cotton chamber of the Soviet
Union and make it independent of cotton imports.
In the 1960s full-scale development of cotton production through irrigated agriculture started
in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. From 1960 to 1990, the irrigated area in
Central Asia increased from 4.5 million to 7 million hectares. At the same time the population
in the region grew almost four times from 14 to 50 million. The water requirements for the
economy rose from 60 to 120 cubic km per year, of which 90% are used for irrigation.
The water was taken mostly from the two rivers feeding the Aral Sea, namely the Amu Darya
and the Syr Darya, arising to such an extent that in some years in the 1980s hardly a drop of
water reached the Aral Sea. As a consequence of this excessive water use by irrigation the
lake gradually dried up and growing desertification devastated its deltas. The salinity of the
water changed from brackish (10g salt/l) to hypersaline (40g salt/l), making the lake an
unsuitable habitat for most of its often endemic species.
During the last 20 years, the lake level sank gradually by 17 meters. The surface area shrunk
from 66 km2 to 33 km2, while two thirds of its volume were lost. The socio-economic
consequences for the people in the immediate vicinity of the lake and the deltas of the two
rivers (their number being estimated at 3 million in the past) are catastrophic.
The main consequences of the diminishing Aral Sea are as following:
• Negative changes in the microclimate in the vicinity of the lake
(dust-salt storms, greater temperature extremes, etc.)
• Degradation of the lake and delta ecosystems and loss of biodiversity
• Complete loss of the economical importance of the lake
(fishing and navigation disappeared)
• Elimination of large areas in the deltas from agriculture
(due to insufficient fresh water and increasing salinization of the soils).
• Increased difficulties of producing good quality drinking water
(due to increased salinity of the water and high concentrations of pollutants)
Due to these negative developments the employment possibilities in the vicinity of the lake
decreased drastically, which lead to an exodus of the active population and together with the
worsening environmental conditions and the lack of good quality drinking water to a dramatic
decline in the health situation.
Major activities in addressing the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis 9
Causes and consequences of the drying up of the Aral Sea have already been studied
intensively during the last years of the Soviet Union as well as in the first years of
international assistance to the basin. The main difficulties do not lay in a lack of knowledge
about causes and consequences but in the determination of concerted actions to get a hand on
the many interrelated problems.
The projects and activities, the support and the engagement of the national, regional and
international actors cover more or less all areas of development of the five countries and their
societies to varying extents. In this report the activities concerning the mitigation of the
consequences of the Aral Sea crisis should be highlighted, while assistance to the process of
transformation to market economy and to the societal development of the new independent
states is mainly being neglected. Certainly almost any project aimed at improving the general
socio-economic and ecological situation in the basin contributes in some or another way to
resolving the Aral Sea crisis. Of course it is not possible to see any solution to the problems
caused by the Aral Sea crisis without taking into account the difficult transformation process
the individual countries are going through in the economical, sociological and political fields.
They have made the situation remarkably more difficult and forced the countries to ask for
massive international assistance shortly after independence.
Any attempts to conquer the multitude of problems are directly dependent on the economic
and political situation in the basin countries. It is a very vivid example of the interdependency
of economical, sociological and ecological phenomena, which is the basic principle of
Water and soil mismanagement has been recognized as one of the main causes for the drying
up of the lake. Measures taken to improve water management and increase the efficiency of
water use and thus correct some of the mistakes of the past have played a major role in the
search for realistic and feasible solutions. All countries have officially agreed on a yearly
gradual reduction of water withdrawal in order to increase the amount of water that reaches
the lake. The aim is to keep the level of the lake at the present elevation and to use the
inflowing water especially for the rehabilitation of the wetlands in the delta area of both
rivers. The smaller northern part of the lake which has been split off recently, should be
restored with a lower salinity at the present day level in a shorter period of time than in the
Besides these efforts the Governments of the five Central Asian States are not inclined to
return the Aral Sea to the situation of before 1960. The basic problem of the Aral Sea crisis,
as stated originally by the same Governments -the saving of the lake itself, is not the final
objective anymore, as that would mean curtailing irrigation which is socially and politically
Major activities in addressing the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis 10
Initiatives of the five Central Asian Republics
Aral Sea Basin Program
The first attempt after the break-up of the Soviet Union to address the pressing problems on a
regional scale was the Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP), presented to the international donor
community for support by the Heads of State of the five countries of the basin in 1994. The
international donor community lead by the World Bank agreed to assist the ASBP in 1994.
Its four major objectives are:
(a) to stabilize the environment of the Aral Sea Basin
(b) to rehabilitate the disaster zone around the sea
(c) to improve the management of the international waters of the Aral Sea Basin
(d) to build the capacity of regional institutions to plan and implement the program.
After a review undertaken by the World Bank in 1996 some major changes were introduced
and a second phase of the program was prepared.
GEF (Global Environmental Facility) assistance with the Aral Sea Basin Program began in
1994 with support for the initial work on a regional water strategy. The five States formally
requested GEF assistance in 1996. The GEF “Water and Environmental Management Project”
is addressing those issues of the Aral Sea Basin which have been identified in the World Bank
executed Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis. The project focuses on two core ASBP
objectives of: a) stabilizing the environment and b) improving the management of
international waters. In the next four and a half years (starting end 1998) main stress will be
put on the reduction of water consumption in the productive sectors, mainly in irrigation, and
on paving the way for increased investment in the water sector by the public and private
sectors as well as donors (GEF project description). It is being co-financed by the five Central
Asian republics, the Netherlands, the European Union and others.
The Heads of State have met six times during the past five years to develop, approve and
express continued support for the Program. During their last meeting in Ashgabad, April
1999, the five Heads of State agreed on a declaration highlighting the importance of co-
operation between the Aral Sea Basin States as well as between them and the international
community to address the problems of water management and environmental protection in the
Aral Sea Basin. They once again stressed their support for the ASBP and the recently started
GEF/World Bank project “Water and Environmental Management in the Aral Sea Basin“.
The Presidents acknowledged the necessity to work out joint measures in implementing a
regional strategy and concrete actions for a rational use of the regional water resources that
are based on ecosystem and integrated principles of water management. Water resources in
the basin should be used in the common interests of all parties respecting mutual interests and
the principles of good neighborhood. The information of the public is a necessary prerequisite
to come to agreed action in the socio-ecological politics in the region. The awareness of the
public concerning the ecological situation in the basin has to be improved through education.
Major activities in addressing the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis 11
Initiatives of international organizations, developmental agencies and interstate institutions
Water management, Agriculture
EU-TACIS (Water Resources Management and Agricultural Production, WARMAP)
BMBF/ZEF(Center for Development Research, Bonn)
Water supply and sanitation
ADB (Asian Development Bank)
Database on water management data, Information Centers
Long term strategies
Cooperation and Coordination of activities 12
Cooperation and Coordination of activities
The many different activities to improve the situation to this day are only to a very small
extent interrelated with each other, they little complement one another and do not use the
synergy that could emerge from joint action. Many projects deal only with the consequences
of the crisis not with the causes, giving short-term relief but not improving the situation in the
It may be too early to talk about success or failure of the various activities considering the
huge changes in the region in the past years and the little age of the new independent states.
The question is whether active cooperation between the actors and a better coordination of the
activities might have lead to better results. What could be improved in the future?
As already mentioned above the World Bank and UNDP are coordinating the activities of the
international donor community, especially of the different UN agencies through regular donor
There is a natural division of labor through the different fields of activities of the individual
agencies, which prevents doubling of projects. Nevertheless overlaps occur and the picture
stays incomplete since mostly only the bigger projects and organizations are being
On the regional level the International Fund for the Aral Sea (IFAS) is fulfilling the task of a
coordinating agency concerning activities related to the Aral Sea crisis. Because of several
reasons it is not accepted by everybody in the international and the Central Asian community.
It does not integrate all actors, which makes a successful execution of its coordination task
difficult. For a better job the organization has to open up and make its information more
readily available to everybody else. Besides it deals mainly with water and to a lesser extent
environmental management while social aspects and health issues are only playing a minor
On the national level there are governmental organs responsible for coordinating international
assistance to the region. In the case of Uzbekistan this is the department for Coordination of
External Economic Assistance under the Cabinet of Ministers. There should be corresponding
departments in the other republics.
Cooperation between international donor and local counterpart
Cooperation between different actors is always very difficult due to a variety of reasons.
Personal interests, characteristics of human interactions, competition, the wish to keep ones
own profile, will always and everywhere pose constraints to common action. Those traits of
human interaction shall not be considered here in detail. Instead the specific aspects of
cooperation in the Aral Sea basin that could be changed and improved shall be dealt with.
Difficulties are also caused by misunderstandings due to inexperience on both sides and
differences in culture. There are structures in the Aral Sea Basin countries based on traditions
that mix with those left over from the old Soviet system. For people from the outside this
Cooperation and Coordination of activities 13
mixture will always be difficult, if not impossible to understand. Academic life is very
hierarchically structured in some republics, making it difficult for young specialists to get
involved. The distribution of grants or jobs, the selection of participants for conferences and
workshops rarely take place according to the rules of fair competition. There is no or little
transparency in the distribution of money and the selection of partners. Power structures are
very well established and people in the corresponding positions have little interest in changing
that. The same accounts for the different fields.
Some of the difficulties encountered especially in the cooperation between the international
organizations and the local counterparts are connected to the transformation situation and the
lack of orientation, to different partners not knowing each other, to unfamiliar ways of
thinking and reasoning, different approaches, in short: differences in culture and work
attitude, that cause severe problems.
The political and legal framework is still very often not favorable obstructing an effective
implementation and making project planning and implementation very difficult. The
institutional setting is also often far from being ideal. The same accounts for communication
facilities and technical settings, whose bad conditions often make efficient work impossible.
Overall the transition period turns out to be a lot more difficult and slower than anticipated at
The following list sums up some of the obstacles and difficulties in cooperation that were
mentioned by the different representatives interviewed. They are grouped according to
Human factor/ human relations
• Self-centeredness of the partners, unwillingness to compromise
• Personal preferences or disliking
• Political/financial ambitions of individuals/groups
• Competition for limited funds
• Distrust and prejudices left over from the past
• Difficulties in understanding and communication due to different concepts of organization
and decision-making, different reasoning, different approaches
• Donors are all new in the region, do not know its specific traits
• Western partners expect western (so called international) professional style in project
implementation and presentation
Shortcomings on side of international donor community:
• Strong variations in conditions imposed by the donors
• Coordination within UN family is not working well, with smaller donors it is very rare
• Many projects and programs are running parallel to each other
• Specific situation in CA not taken into account
• International help is considerable but does not correspond to the scale of the problems
• Underestimation of problems
• Inexperience of national counterparts sometimes exploited by donors
• No implementation plan
• Priority setting is missing
Cooperation and Coordination of activities 14
• Weak link to political action level
• Weak balance between sectors
• Donor domination in program formulation and implementation
Shortcomings on side of partners in Central Asian states
• Do not promote themselves well
• Unprofessional approach, work style, difficulties with leading agencies, difficult political
• Lack of experience in cooperation with international donors
• Too little government interest in change of the situation
• Weak institutions
• Lack of regional cooperation and reluctance to place scarce funds in regional operations
• Overreliance on donor initiative
Coordination of activities within the international donor community
The coordination and complementation of each others activities is working to some extent
between the big organizations of the UN system, the World Bank, The European Union etc.
Most of the activities of the hundreds of smaller actors that have also had a remarkable impact
run parallel to each other. Placing ones activity in such a way that it complements other
activities is rarely found.
The attempt to mitigate the problems caused by the Aral Sea crisis through the ASBP has not
been very successful up to date. Many projects have had very little output, often due to
incomplete planning. Too little attention has been paid to local expertise and the receiver of
the assistance. The lessons learned have found their way into the new GEF project, which
many think to be a lot more effective with less money and effort involved.
The question is, whether such large scale projects, implemented by a few big agencies (IFAS
with support of World Bank, TACIS, UNDP) that contract foreign and local consultants is a
successful way of addressing the crisis. They will never be able to perform a truly integrated
approach with many-sided actions, simply because that is beyond the scope of even the
biggest organization and the most competent coordinator. The ASBP e.g. is one-sided mainly
taking care of the various aspects of regional water management from water quantity and
quality issues, water pricing up to interstate agreements on the trans-boundary water
resources. Some associated national projects were introduced under the ASBP to address
problems of the basin environment directly. These include large scale irrigation and drainage
improvements, water supply projects for the near-sea disaster zone, wetland restoration,
restoration of the Northern Aral Sea, and restoration of some river channels. Socio-economic
objectives have not been explicitly considered.
There should rather be a movement away from huge, over-dimensioned projects towards
smaller networking projects of a variety of actors.
IFAS officially started to include other groups into their activities probably due to pressure
from the donor side. In April 1999 it organized a seminar with representatives of NGOs
from the region to discuss possible forms of cooperation. Time will show which kind of
cooperation will arise as a result of this meeting.
Cooperation and Coordination of activities 15
Transfer of scientific knowledge into decision-making processes
The transfer of scientific knowledge and results into decision making and management
strategies is weak. Scientists often complain that they are not involved in the planning and
implementation of projects. The scientific community of Central Asia knows best how to
resolve the problems and how to address the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis. They have
to be actively involved in the development of strategies and action plans. Cooperation
between the practical and the research level is difficult due to a number of reasons involving
both sides. The scientists often wait till they are called and show little initiative in getting
actively involved themselves, by looking for grants and possibilities to participate. The policy
makers and foreign donors often rely on the fixed structures and the set frames of institutional
implementation. Foreign consultants are trusted more than specialists from the countries
Scientists and decision-makers of Central Asia are very proud and are often not willing to do
what foreign consultants or donor organizations tell them to do, just because they provide the
Up to now there has been no common regional strategy from the side of the Aral Sea basin
countries to resolve the consequences of the Aral Sea crisis. Developing objectives and goals
on a regional scale that could serve as a framework for action is a difficult task that will take a
long time. It has to be a step-by-step process. The agreements on water saving measures are
first steps in this direction as well as the development of National Environmental Action Plans
in Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan. Even though up to now they consider sustainable
development only on a national scale they respect the interstate agreements. Unfortunately
they do not search for regional solutions though. Up to now it is not very clear who will be
implementing those plans.
The “Regional water-related Vision for the Aral Sea Basin” described below is one attempt to
come to a widely accepted vision of the future of the region and the necessary measures to
take. It is being developed with the assistance of UNESCO by scientists and policy makers of
the Central Asian States.
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 16
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin
The vision exercise – background
The earth’s resources are limited. Growing acknowledgement of this simple wisdom fuels the
search for new ways of a sustainable development. The supply of fresh water- the most
precious resource for life- is still widely taken for granted, disregarding the fact that today the
lack of water for an affordable price already poses a real threat to many regions.
With growing population and growing food demand respectively and growing income and
urbanization the demand for water will increase with accelerating speed. Agriculture is by far
the biggest water consumer worldwide. Globally an average of about two thirds of the
available water resources are being used for irrigation; in many developing countries the share
is over 80 % (FAO data). In many cases the water is being used inefficiently and
Actors within the water sector, in the governments, self-governments, communities,
associations, within NGOs, the public and private sector are becoming more and more aware
of the need for common action to meet those challenges and develop new approaches for a
sustainable use of the world’s water resources. Water specialist agree that the “business as
usual” approach to managing this resource is no longer tenable.
This concern was first expressed on an international level in the Dublin principles in 1992,
where the guiding principles for action (public participation in water management, role of
women in water provision, water as an economic good) were constituted. In the Marrakech
Declaration participants of the First World Water Forum “mandate the World Water Council
to launch a 3-year initiative of study, consultation and analysis that will lead to a Global
Vision for Water, Life and the Environment in the next century. Building on past international
efforts and relying on the collective wisdom and resources of the international water
community, the process leading to a Vision will include research, consultations, workshops,
print and electronic publications and many other means for absorbing, synthesizing and
disseminating knowledge” (World Water Council, 1997). The World Water Council was
officially established in 1996 as a non-profit, non-political, non-governmental organization,
devoted to the efficient conservation and development of global water resources to meet both
current and future needs of all life on the planet.
To facilitate the preparation of the “Long-Term Vision on Water, Life and the Environment” a
World Commission for Water in the 21st century chaired by Dr. I. Serageldin, Vice President
of the World Bank was established in August 1998. A Vision Management Unit functioning
as headquarters for the vision exercise and as secretariat for the World Commission for Water
is located at the Division of Water Sciences at UNESCO in Paris.
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 17
The Global Vision for Water, Life and the Environment
To realize the necessary changes in the way we manage water it is necessary to define and get
consent on where we want to go, that is, what the future we want to achieve should look like.
“A vision is a practical picture of the future we seek to create. It is seeing a future that can be
achieved and is worth achieving. …… Vision provides a sense of mission and an enduring
foundation for strategies and actions” (Draft Vision Document, Water related Aral Sea Basin
Vision; June, 1999). The development of a vision stands at the beginning of a process leading
to the necessary actions to achieve the future we desire (Vision 21):
vision changes goals strategies plans actions
The World Water Vision Project is intended as an intensive consultation exercise, taking us
from where we are today to where we should be to meet future water needs (World Water
Vision, 1999). It will describe the desired future and the actions needed to realize a
sustainable use of the water resources.
The main objectives of the vision are:
• To develop knowledge on issues and developments within the water sector as well as
outside the sector, that will have an impact on future water demands and supply
• To produce a consensus on a “vision for the year 2025” that is shared by water sector
specialists, decision-makers, governments and all stakeholders
• To raise awareness of water issues among the general population and decision makers in
order to foster the political will and leadership to achieve the vision
• To generate a framework for action, that will translate the vision into action
In order to achieve the desired comprehensive view and to correspond to differing regional
characteristics in dealing with water issues a range of various consultation activities are been
carried out. Some of them have already been completed others are still in progress.
The structure of the world vision process looks as following:
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 18
Thematic panels were initiated to assess the future impact of developments in biotechnology,
energy technology, information technology and institutional changes on the water sector.
The scenario development panel develops and describes possible futures and their driving
In sector consultations professionals discuss strategic water issues in the sectors of food,
nature, water supply and sanitation, etc.
The regional consultations will summon regional stakeholders to discuss and develop a
regional vision in areas were water issues are expected to become particularly pressing. Since
the appropriate scale for resolving water resource issues is regional, not global, the regional
visions will be used to prepare the global vision.
The vision exercise will be conducted over a period from September 1998 to March 2000. A
first round of consultation is intended to sensitize and gather the knowledge of water sector
organizations. The results of these discussions will be synthesized into a draft presented at the
Stockholm water symposium, August 1999. Before the vision is being finalized a second
round of consultations will take place on a broader scale involving different stakeholders in
the respective region.
The final Global Vision for Water, Life and the Environment and the regional and sectoral
visions will be presented to the Second World Water Forum and the Ministerial Conference in
The Hague March 2000.
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 19
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin / The UNESCO Initiative
UNESCO was one of the first organizations to assist the Central Asian countries in meeting
the challenges of the environmental and socio-economic crisis caused by decades of
irresponsible water and land management in the Aral Sea basin. Its involvement focused on
supporting the local scientific community, establishing a partnership between scientists and
the decision-makers of the region, providing intellectual assistance to the most urgent
activities of rehabilitation, assistance in educational and training activities and the creation of
a favorable environment for the scientific community of the Aral Sea Basin to assert its
proper influence and input.
The Director General of UNESCO during his speech to the Executive Board in Tashkent,
Uzbekistan, in November 1998 launched the UNESCO Initiative for the Aral Sea Basin. In
January 1998 the UNESCO Scientific Advisory Board on the Aral Sea Basin (SABAS) was
established, assembling members of the scientific communities of the Central Asian States to
advise UNESCO on Aral Sea Basin activities.
Hardly anywhere the need for a long-term vision on water– and environmental management
that could guide the day to day activities is more obvious and pressing than in the Aral Sea
Basin. Within the framework of the Global Water Vision UNESCO initiated a Regional
Vision exercise in the Aral Sea Basin. The essential approach consists in the encouragement
of an optimistic, but also realistic view into the future of the Aral Sea and its basin, a
prospective which would contradict the pessimistic attitudes and the lack of hope projected by
many Aral Sea related publications. At the same time this vision should mobilize political will
and scientific knowledge, with an accent on trans-disciplinary interaction of social and natural
sciences (UNESCO’s Initiative for the Aral Sea Basin, 1998). It is conceived as a widely
shared view of how water resources should be used, allocated or shared and managed in the
region over a long term period to achieve a sustainable balance between supply and demand
in all relevant sectors.
The second cornerstone of UNESCO’s activities in CA in 1999 will be a conference on Water
and Peace that will bring together policy makers of the Central Asian republics with
representatives of the regional and world scientific community to open a dialogue on water,
peace and co-operation in the Basin. This dialogue is a starting point to adopt a future-
oriented approach and partnership, to initiate the necessary change of attitude (UNESCO’s
Initiative for the Aral Sea Basin, 1998).
Action Plan for the Regional Vision
One of the basic principles for the preparation of the water-related Aral Sea Basin Vision is
the belief that the best knowledge about the region is in the region itself. At the beginning of
the first round of consultations in February/March 1999, working groups consisting of
scientists from the water sector, public health and socio-economic fields were established in
each of the five Central Asian Republics. Their task was to prepare and present the specialists
inputs of a country to the regional exercise. Even though the individual contributions were
from the point of view of the corresponding country, they always had to consider the region
as a whole.
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 20
In the time following three workshops were organized by UNESCO within a three-month-
period (April through June) to discuss the contributions of the individual working groups, to
agree on a description of the present and the future of the Aral Sea Basin supported by all
representatives of the five republics and to draft a regional vision document. In the process a
draft narrative vision evolved that synthesizes the varying perceptions of the present situation
and the dreams about the future. It was submitted to the vision secretariat and will be
presented at the 9th Stockholm Water Symposium in August 1999.
For a transfer of the vision to the levels of decision making and politics it is necessary that
representatives of the governments of the five republics are aware and involved in the
development of the vision. The vision produced should easily be translated into action-
oriented implementation strategies and never lose touch with the practical level of policy-
making. Therefore already at an early stage of the development of the vision representatives
of strategic planning institutes and government administration of the Republics of Kyrgystan,
Tajikistan and Uzbekistan actively took part in the ongoing discussions.
At a later stage of the vision development the narrative vision will be tested by scenario
analysis using the reasoning support tool “GLOBESIGHT” that has been developed at Case
Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. A special model for the Aral Sea Basin allows
checking the realism of the assumptions and the described future. The vision will become
more credible. This testing will take place during the second phase of consultations. A
training workshop for participants from the working groups of all republics was conducted at
an early stage of the first phase, in order to allow the scientists to get accustomed with the
software and disseminate its application to other members of the national working groups.
For the purpose of having the specialists of the region perform the testing of the vision
themselves, UNESCO will organize another workshop in October 1999. There the
participants will develop and evaluate different scenarios based on the narrative vision.
The second round of consultations will have an emphasis on disseminating the vision by
carrying out consultations with other interest groups in the basin, such as regional water
organizations and committees, water resource projects, local/regional governments, water
companies, industries through chambers of commerce, irrigation scheme establishments,
scientific and environmental NGOs and other competent representatives of the civil society.
Everybody is invited to comment on the evolving vision and suggest his/her view of a
The working groups will continue evaluating the possible futures, choose the desired future
and work out measures and steps to be taken in order to achieve the goals and to go from
vision to action.
The attention of the governments as well as the donor community should be attracted in order
to foster the realization of the first steps to be taken.
The workshop on Water and Peace will be another milestone in making the vision widely
known and accepted in the region.
The following chapters will describe the development of the vision document up to its
submission to the Vision Secretariat and its presentation at the Stockholm Symposium.
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 21
The first round of consultations/the draft vision
The future is first of all a product of the will and the work of the present generation and not
something that is imposed from outside or the result of the unavoidable course of history or
Based on this belief a draft vision was developed through a process of constant consultations
and exchange of opinions and views. In the five republics the members of the national
working groups drafted their contributions consulting specialists not only from the water
sector but also from public health, economy, demography, ecology, political and social
sciences, etc. During the workshops the different contributions and the emerging document
were discussed between the individual specialists from the five republics, representatives of
the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) and the Interstate Coordination Water
Commission (ICWC), experts from UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme and
invited guests from other projects or governmental strategic planning as mentioned above.
At a meeting of the members of SABAS in June 1999 the vision document as far as it has
been prepared up to date was approved and finalized.
The resulting draft vision describes the main socio-economic objectives the people living in
the basin would like to achieve in their future and the major driving factors that need to be
taken into account. Different possible long-term futures for the region as a whole based on the
above objectives are presented. At the beginning a picture of the present situation is drawn
with different -often conflicting- figures that reflect the difficulties of assessing today’s
situation in the region.
This part of the vision document was completed by a chapter on constraints from outside the
water sector that might have a serious impact on developments in the water-related fields.
The following main objectives and major driving forces were agreed upon:
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 22
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The wish to measure the progress one achieves makes the introduction of indicators for the
different socio-economic objectives necessary. Since the Vision is first of all a water-related
vision, most of them are related to water and water management.
Concerning health child mortality and life expectancy are common indicators revealing the
health situation in a country. Especially child mortality (children that die up to the age of five)
is directly related to water quality. Other indicators will be the percentage of households
connected to piped water supply systems, the bacteriological quality of the supplied water and
sanitation in rural and urban areas.
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 23
Sufficient food itself is an obvious aim for the vision of the future. The calories per person per
day will allow to calculate the food demand and the water needed for its production, the
percentage of food produced in the region itself gives an idea about the future ability to feed
its people. Looking at the water sector water use per ha for wheat and rice, productivity and
efficiency of water use will be essential criteria.
The water made available for the environment will serve as an indicator for the achievements
concerning the protection and rehabilitation of the environment.
Increase in wealth is best measured in the income per capita in purchasing power in urban
and rural areas separately.
Possible goals for 2025 to be used as a basis for the testing of the feasibility of the Water
Related Long Term Vision for the Aral Sea Basin look as following:
Mortality below 5 years of life born children per 1000 30
Life expectancy at birth in years 70
Average availability of food calories per inhabitant per day 3000
Average water use in cubic meters per ton of wheat 1000
Average water use in cubic meters per ton of rice 3400
Average water use in cubic meters per ton of cotton 1900
% of irrigated area salinized (middle and highly salinized) 10
Water available for the environment in cubic km per year 20
Coverage of piped water supply in urban areas, in % of people 99
Coverage of piped water supply in rural areas, in % of people 60
People served good quality water of biological standards, urban, in % 80
People served good quality water of biological standards, rural, in % 60
Increase of income per person in purchasing power in urban areas as a factor 3
Increase of income per person in purchasing power in rural areas as a factor 4
Based on these main criteria different scenarios for the future were developed. In a future
without change mostly everything will stay the same with only little improvements. In such
case water scarcity effecting food production and the environment will soon become a
pressing problem. The health situation of the population will further deteriorate.
In a future with a priority on agriculture and rural development investments (e.g. from
the export of oil, gas, minerals) will mainly go into the agricultural sector, leading to an
increase in water use efficiency and productivity, use of biotechnology and new technologies,
improved drainage and water management. Next to cotton other agricultural goods might
become export goods (medical plants, flowers, fruit, etc.). With an emphasis on improving the
The Regional Vision for the Aral Sea Basin 24
productivity per cubic meter water used, water will not pose a constraint to the development
of the region.
If investments will are split between agriculture and the industrial sector a slightly different
picture evolves. The productivity and efficiency of water use will not increase that rapidly and
to such an extent, leaving less water reserves. Nevertheless increasing wealth will allow for
food imports (especially rice) which decrease the water demand. Regarding drinking water
supply industrialization will have a positive effect providing the necessary technology and
know-how. This would be a future based on all sectors with an emphasis on industry and
The futures described and the calculations performed in the draft vision might seem too
simple, the drawn picture too general. The goals the vision describes for the future can be
expressed in simple terms. They have to be simple to assure that everybody can understand
and comment on them. The measures that have to be taken to reach those goals might be a lot
more complicated. The main idea is to get a feeling for the different possibilities for the
development of the basin concerning its water resources and the interdependencies between
different influencing factors. Specification and more in detail identification will have to take
place while determining the measures to be taken to make the vision become reality.
The need to come to common action, to concentrate financial and human capital on a common
goal and to determine priority measures is very evident and has been recognized by many
actors. With the will and commitment to join individual efforts there are ways out of the crisis
through complementary actions of the different actors involved. With the political will to
enforce action on a regional scale the fundaments are set for true international assistance to
the basin problems and the development of the five countries through a prospering
development of the region. Finding effective solutions to the Aral Sea crisis is in the first
place a political problem.
Cooperation between the actors has to go beyond the mere statements that can be found in
every project document. The international community has to be ready to meet the challenges
posed by the complexity of the problems and search for new approaches together with the
Central Asian states. This process has to be a two-way road. The international community will
have to go new ways in their assistance to the basin trying to come to an integrated approach
through networking. There is a need for more transparency in the decision-making system, the
financing and the evaluation of projects as a precondition to achieve a better cooperation.
There have to be more intense forms of cooperation between all actors in order to achieve
these ambitious goals. Such a change of attitude and understanding of the mutual benefit of
cooperation cannot come from today to tomorrow. It is a slow process of trial and error, but it
is the only way to get hold of the multitude of problems. The time and the setting in Central
Asia today might foster such new forms of international cooperation. The countries have
realized that they have to work together in order to resolve the immense problems and to
come to a sustainable development of the basin and a sustainable use of its water resources.
The Heads of State have stated this officially in recent meetings. The understanding of the
problems has widened from a restricted view on the Aral Sea and its vicinity to a broader
view on the problems of the Aral Sea Basin as a whole. The knowledge how to address the
problems is mostly available and the individual countries are beginning to work out national
The responsibility for effective coordination and for the implementation of a project itself
should always stay at the level of the individual partners involved. They have to be given the
possibility to get access to all the necessary information, to obtain a clear and understandable
picture of what has to be done and whom they could cooperate with. On the other hand they
have to be willing to sacrifice personal interests for the benefit of “global” action and to have
their activities under constant evaluation. They possibly gain a better implementation of their
project and a more effective solution of the problems addressed. Experience and know-how
can be exchanged more easily with profit for all sides.
With globalization getting increasing attention and effecting our lives to a growing extent, the
public is getting increasingly aware of the need for political structures to accompany
economic globalization. The world society will be confronted with many new tasks one of
which will be the resolving of global crises in a concerted way, using the possibilities the
global community offers.
Modern communication technologies that facilitate new ways of working together represent a
huge potential for more effective cooperation within the international community. Computer
aided decision support, training games and management software will help in reducing
complexity and manage interdependent tasks. Many believe that they will change the work
style and approaches to resolving tasks in a significant way. Through the fast and cheap
exchange of information programs and projects can be coordinated over vast geographical
distances. The technical difficulties and the costs of such networking will become
increasingly smaller. Coordination will become easier, more effective and meaningful.
The realization of these possibilities to improve the international cooperation and to use them
for the advancement of a common goal depends to a large extent on the will and the attitude
of the individual actors. This can only be achieved through the understanding that concerted
action in which knowledge, financial and personal possibilities complement each other is in
the end the only means to solve the pressing problems. This is in the long run for the benefit
Unfortunately the access to Internet and other new information technologies is still very
limited in Central Asia, due to financial, technical and political reasons. One of the priority
actions should be to significantly enlarge the facilities and to use them for the dissemination
of new ideas and structures.
Without the will of the responsible institutions no Internet will be able to distribute
information as long as information is considered a secret, only being distributed to some and a
market good, only sold to those who can pay. Information has to be freely exchangeable from
all sides, without violating author’s rights.
It remains a question whether the societies in Central Asia are ready to use their chance to
draw new structures and forms of cooperation. Central Asia is not a white piece of paper
ready for the artists to draw on. What has already been drawn in the past is making the
situation today very difficult. Most of the western donors have underestimated the problems
caused by the old structures and the historical settings in the basin. With the governing old
elite changes will take place very slowly, if they will take place at all. At the moment
tendencies are less towards openness and exchange but rather towards reasoning on a national
There are ambitious efforts to change this situation though. One of them is the development of
the long-term Vision for the Aral Sea Basin described above, others are attempts to train
policy makers together with specialists in developing strategies for sustainable development
with the help of computer aided tools or games. The aim is to foster a better understanding of
interdependencies and to open the minds for a more holistic view of the situation in the basin
and the developments in the future. The scientists of the region and international ones have to
widen their views beyond the borders of their own fields to come to integrated solutions and
to true interdisciplinary research.
Education and public awareness raising are the key factors to foster the necessary change in
attitude within the population. Programs supporting school and higher education are essential
to provide a basis for future actions. Young people should be attracted to science and a
scientific career in order to keep the intellectual potential in the region and foster new ideas.
Young scientists of the region should be more involved in capacity building activities.
An information network on ongoing and planned projects and on strategies evolving that
supports the exchange of information on all levels should be developed using the possibilities
of the electronic media. This database should have mechanisms to ensure the enclosure of
new activities without great delay and should be accessible for all.
Research should put an emphasize on the search for low cost measures that could serve as
alternatives for large scale projects and introduction of new technologies as single solutions
for which enormous investments are necessary. At present solutions too often are only seen in
If the countries of the Aral Sea Basin and the international community meet the challenges
and search for new approaches there are ways out of the crisis into a better future for
everybody living in the region.
This study has been carried out as part of a fellowship in the post-graduate program for
international affairs of the Robert Bosch Foundation. I want to thank the foundation for its
support and the trust and the freedom given for the implementation of this project.
Furthermore this project would have not been possible without the help and constant support
of my supervisor Dr. Dietmar Keyser from the Zoological Institute of the University of
Hamburg, whom I want to thank very much.
My participation in the UNESCO executed project to develop a “Regional Vision for the Aral
Sea Basin” gave me the possibility to study the international cooperation in the Aral Sea
Basin “by doing” in a practical example and to take some first active steps in improving
cooperation on various levels. I want to thank the UNESCO Vision team, Prof. Janos Bogardi,
Mr. Frits Verhoog and Dr. Vefa Moustafaev for accepting me in their team and integrating me
into the ongoing activities. Their trust in my abilities made me grow and learn a lot, not only
about international cooperation.
The UNESCO office in Tashkent provided me not only with a working place and many
valuable information and technical help but with much support and motivation during my stay
in Central Asia. My big thanks to Mr. Barry Lane and all the colleagues at the office.
The cooperation with the working groups of the five Central Asian Countries was very
productive and showed me the great variety of Central Asia. I appreciate their heartily
welcome and the offer to learn about their countries, problems and hopes.
Last but not least I would like to thank Prof. Mesarovic, Prof. Sreenath and their team at Case
Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio for teaching me Globesight and its
applications and giving me a wonderful insight into the art of “blending reasoning with
This work is in a substantial part based on interviews with many different partners in Europe
and Central Asia. I would like to express my gratitude to all the members of international,
regional and national organizations that I had a chance to interview. Their opinions and
suggestions formed the results of this study.
Meetings with representatives in Europe
• INTAS, Brüssel
• Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NaBu)
• TACIS, Brüssel
• UNESCO, Paris
Meetings with representatives in Central Asia
• Counterpart Consortium
• German Embassy, Tashkent
• Ecoclub “Catena”, Ashgabad, Turkmenistan
• EU/TACIS, National Coordinating Unit-Uzbekistan
• gtz, Uzbekistan
• IFAS, GEF Project Agency
• Law and Environment Eurasia Partnership (LEEP), Focal Point Uzbekistan
• Médecines sans frontières Tashkent, MSF Nukus
• Ministry of Macroeconomics and Statistics of the Republic of Uzbekistan, National
Sustainable Development Commission
• NATO Science for Peace Program, Nukus, Uzbekistan
• Scientific Information Center, Interstate Commission on Water Coordination (SIC/ICWC)
• UN Resident Coordinator
• UNDP Tajikistan
• UNDP Uzbekistan
• UNESCO/MAB Turkmenistan
• UNESCO/MAB Tajikistan
• UNESCO National Commission Tadjikistan
• UNESCO National Commission Uzbekistan
• UNESCO/IHP National Committee Usbekistan
• Union for the Defense of the Aral Sea and Amu Darya (UDASA), Nukus, Uzbekistan
• USAID, Regional Mission for Central Asia
• USAID/EPIC (Environmental Policies and Institutions)
• World Bank, Resident Mission in Uzbekistan