Within the framework of the 3rd High-Level Conference on the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development” 2018-2028, which was held from June 10 to 13, the European Union Special Representative for Central Asia, Terhi Hakala, arrived in Tajikistan.

“Asia-Plus” talked with Terhi Hakala, discussing problems of water resources management, projects and key priorities of the European Union in cooperation with Central Asia.


“Water must be a priority because life is at stake.”

– How does the European Union see the problem of water resources management in Central Asia? How do you assess the environmental situation in the region, especially in the context of climate change and its impact on water resources?

– We are currently facing a climate crisis, a biodiversity crisis and a water crisis. This impacts food supply, health and agriculture, to name just a few possible consequences.

We look at the water sector in a regional context because water issues are transboundary in nature.

Tajikistan, as a country located in the upper reaches, has sufficient water resources. Climate change is still affecting melting glaciers, and in the long term we must address these issues today to prevent the situation from getting worse. Pollution and unsustainable practices complicate this picture.

We look at all sectors in parallel and work with Tajikistan on climate change, biodiversity, pollution and, of course, water resources. Tajikistan is a mountainous country and only a small part of the land is dedicated to agriculture, but the country needs proper irrigation systems to ensure food security.

The key phrase for us would be integrated water resources management to address the entire hydrological cycle. We need planning and policies in all sectors, especially given the needs for food and energy security, water availability and environmental protection.

There is an old understanding that water is free, which is not true. This is a basic human right. We should all have access to water, but in reality, it’s quite expensive. We need to use new water-saving technologies, but we also need to teach people to be water-conscious—for example, taking shorter showers of less than 15 minutes to save water.

Global water crisis, climate change are some of the major problems faced all over the world. Experts state that for now there is enough water for the entire Central Asian region. There are enough resources, but their rational use is lacking due to the old infrastructure.

The situation with the Aral Sea in this region affects not only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but also the region as a whole.

It is necessary to cooperate with neighboring countries. As we are now involved in the Dushanbe water process, we must take urgent steps.

It is important that the leadership, especially in Tajikistan, President Emomali Rahmon, understand that water is and should be a priority, since we are talking about life, about future generations, about guaranteeing life for everyone – this is related to health issues, to food security.

In response to the challenges and extreme impacts of climate change, the EU is helping with risk reduction mechanisms in the region, working together with other international institutions such as UN agencies, OSCE, to improve the resilience of societies.

Another danger we see is the melting of glaciers, not only here but also in the Alps. Next year has been declared by the UN as the year of glaciers on the initiative of Tajikistan. It’s critical that the entire region really takes a step forward toward cleaner energy, cleaner technology, because it exists.


“Women and girls suffer the most from lack of clean water”

– What projects or initiatives on water resources management does the EU support or plan to support in Central Asia?

– There are various funding mechanisms and opportunities in the European Union. There is the TeamEurope initiative on water, energy and climate. All these issues are interconnected and it is important to solve them together. The initiative includes EU institutions such as the Commission as well as European banks.

EU member states also have bilateral projects: for example, Germany is one of the leading countries developing the environmental and water sectors here, as well as the Netherlands, France and many others, also with the participation of the private sector, since European technologies for water management, and climate resilient technologies are highly advanced. The Initiative also includes civil society as a very, very important actor in this regard.

There is direct funding provided by IFAS (International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea). This assistance contributes to the entire Aral Sea region, eliminating all negative consequences of the disappearing Aral Sea for the environment and the entire population of the region, creating the basis for strengthening regional cooperation in this regard.

The President and Government of Tajikistan always emphasize that Tajikistan is “green” in terms of the use of green hydropower, and this is true.

As representatives of TeamEurope, we support the green transition of the entire Central Asian region.

We are implementing the “Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project”. In rural areas, access to water remains a problem.

And in this context, let me also emphasize that women and girls suffer the most from the lack of safe and clean drinking water.

For example, having to fetch water from wells home can prevent girls from attending school. Lack of water and hygiene affects women and girls in general. It is important that we have girls’ toilets in schools that are safe spaces; thus, water can be an element that sometimes prevents girls from attending school.

Another project, Improving Water and Irrigation Management, supports institutional reforms in the irrigation sector by promoting the use of alternative technologies, the use of less water and sufficient irrigation to grow agricultural products.


“Everyone must adopt the mental attitude that water is important.”

– What are the main priorities of the European Union in cooperation with Central Asia in terms of ecology and water resources management?

– We have already touched on priorities in our conversation. But let me emphasize again that we are facing a climate and biodiversity crisis, as well as a water crisis.

Using the example of the Aral Sea, we see that salinization can become a real problem, and as a result, water evaporates very easily. There are methods of planting certain types of trees to retain more water in the soil, and this salinization process can be stopped and reversed to some extent.

The EU is working with other partners, some of the EU member states, providing funding and working in these areas to look at afforestation, reversing some of the negative impacts.

You can see that nature itself provides us with a solution to these problems. The ecological balance in our countries also helps us keep more water available for human life, for all of us.

There is one message that I would really like to convey through your media agency. The media plays an important role in educating people.

Now we are all faced with difficulties associated with water and other natural sources. There is much that governments can and must do at the global and regional levels. But individual responsibility cannot be denied.

Each of us must adopt the mental attitude that water is important. We need to try to save water and use it more wisely.

How we use water, how we throw garbage in trash cans and not on the street – all this is important. Through our behavior we create our tomorrow for our future generations.