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Switzerland and Central Asian states: 30 years of cooperation

This year, Switzerland is celebrating 30 years of cooperation with the Central Asian states. The Dushanbe Water Decade Conference (6–9 June) will be an opportunity to highlight this event. The sustainable use of resources is in fact one of the key areas of Swiss collaboration with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Travelling along the Amu Darya and Sir Darya rivers, we encounter some of the projects.

A field of red flowers with snow-capped mountains in the background.

Switzerland and the Central Asian states also work together on a number of issues facing the countries of the region, such as scarce water supplies, disaster preparedness and climate change. © Veronique Hulmann

Where was this photograph taken? If your answer is in the Bernese Oberland or on the Piano di Magadino in Ticino, you're wrong. It was taken in Kyrgyzstan, which along with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is one of the Central Asian states with which Switzerland has maintained diplomatic and development cooperation relations since 1991, the year of their independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This work is coordinated by the FDFA's Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). Cooperation also extends to common challenges, for example in the area of the environment. One of the main areas of collaboration is the sustainable use of water resources, including, for example, projects for a renewable energy supply and climate-resilient agricultural production. 

Water: a geopolitical resource

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have developed in different ways, yet today they face similar challenges such as the impact of climate change on the availability of water in the region. Exposed to increasing pressure, water has become crucial to the region's security. Safeguarding water and allowing access to it thus means contributing to peace and stability. This idea is also at the heart of the upcoming high-level international conference in Dushanbe, as part of the International Decade for Action 'Water for Sustainable Development' for the period from 2018 to 2028. It is an opportunity to present some of the projects in the Central Asian states supported by Switzerland which have broadly adopted the FDFA's Blue Peace initiative launched in 2010. Through Blue Peace, our country brings political and technical solutions to the table in the ongoing dialogue in affected regions, and promotes national platforms and cross-border cooperation on access to water.

In Central Asia in particular, Switzerland is pursuing a water and energy programme, promoting for example the planning of certain river basins as well as the introduction of integrated water resources management into national legislation. A video produced by the SDC and to be presented for the first time at the Dushanbe Water Decade Conference allows us to discover some of the initiatives along the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, which originate in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and which once ended 2,000 kilometres downstream in the Aral Sea, now almost dried up.

In Tajikistan, for example, local people and businesses have gained access to clean hydropower. Disaster risk reduction measures and more environmentally efficient agricultural practices have also been implemented in many parts of the country. © SDC

Looking back on 30 years of cooperation

Water diplomacy is just one kind of development cooperation between Switzerland and Central Asian states. Looking back over the past 30 years, numerous initiatives have been implemented in the areas of good governance and participation of the population in public decision-making, health and education, and building a resilient and inclusive economy. A number of Switzerland's major partners in Central Asia are involved on a daily basis: local and international NGOs, multilateral and civil society organisations, policymakers and representatives of the public and private sectors. Working together on systemic changes is a key factor in making reforms more lasting and sustainable. Each activity thus contributes directly to the maintenance of peace, the stability of institutions, and the strengthening of social cohesion, from which we all benefit globally.