Status and importance of water-relevant international legal instruments for the 5 Central Asian countries


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edit  ·  Region Central Asia
  Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan


Ferghana Valley part of Europe & CIS | EECCA


Afghanistan | Pakistan | Russia | China (Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region) | India


Aral Sea Basin | Amu Darya | Syr Darya


Zarafshan | Ferghana Valley

Key resources:

Water Sector Review | CAREWIB | ADB - Donor Project Matrix on Central Asia | Report:Water, Climate, and Development Issues in the Amudarya Basin | Report: Irrigation in Central Asia: Social, Economic and Environmental Considerations

Selected external resources:

CAREWIB | ADB - About the CA Region] |


Status of UN Water Conventions & protocols in Central Asian countries

The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (UNECE Water Convention), adopted in 1992 and entered into force in 1996, today has 36 Parties. Of the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan ratified on 11th June 2001 and more recently Uzbekistan ratified on 4th September 2007; the other 3 countries have not signed or ratified. The Convention constitutes the basic international legal document on transboundary water cooperation, and is intended to strengthen national measures for the protection, and ecologically sound management of transboundary surface waters and groundwaters. It obliges Parties to prevent, control and reduce water pollution from point and non-point sources. On 28th November 2003, the parties to the Convention adopted amendments to articles 25 and 26, in order to allow States outside the UNECE to become Parties to the Convention. The amendments will become enforced with 23 ratifications; thus far 10 non-UNECE Parties have ratified. The Convention’s Protocol on Water and Health entered into force on August 4th 2005 with an aim to protect human health and well being through better water management and the prevention, control and reduction of water-related diseases. 21 countries have ratified it, but none of the 5 Central Asian countries. Moreover, no Central Asia country has signed or ratified the Convention’s Protocol on Civil Liability for transboundary damage caused by hazardous activities. This will give individuals affected by the transboundary impact of industrial accidents on international watercourses (e.g. fishermen or operators of downstream waterworks) a legal claim for adequate and prompt compensation.

The Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997) (UN Watercourses Convention) has yet to be enforced, but has been signed and ratified by 3 of the 5 Central Asia countries: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Convention helps clarify the basic standards governing the non-navigational uses of internationally shared fresh water resources. It does not seek to push the law beyond its present contours, but reflects a general consensus regarding the principles that are universally applicable in the field. It provides a starting point for the negotiation of agreements relating to specific watercourses and, in the absence of an agreement, sets basic parameters governing the conduct of riparian states relative to those watercourses.

Importance of water-relevant international legal instruments to each of the 5 countries

Transboundary water use and management comprises one of the most pressing environmental and political issues in Central Asia. International legal instruments can help prevent water-related conflicts and ensure the sustainable use of freshwater. The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes could thus be of particular importance for Central Asia, offering the indispensable legal framework for the complex and sensitive negotiations on water management between Central Asian countries, as it establishes rules for cooperation between neighboring countries on the environment and shared natural resources. Moreover, for all CIS states, signing or ratifying international legal instruments such as UN conventions has been an important means through which to gain international legitimacy and recognition from other states. However, almost all CIS countries face varying degrees of disharmony between their legal systems and the UN legal instruments they have become party to. Besides international legal instruments, sub-regional legal instruments to address transboundary environmental issues are also crucial in Central Asia. In 2006, the countries signed and adopted ‘The Framework Convention on Environmental Protection for Sustainable Development’; the first regional legal instrument signed in the sub-region and the first of its kind worldwide to cover multiple issues.

How important are international water-relevant legal instruments for each specific country?

  1. Kazakhstan – “Interstate water resources use in Central Asia should be based, first of all, on conventions or framework agreements generally used in international practice” (National Plan for IWRM and Water Efficiency in Kazakhstan (2004-2007)). The State Committee on Water Resources argues national legislation must be in accordance with international legal regulations in water resources management. It is believed that national legal frameworks in the field should rely on international experience, albeit taking regional conditions into account, and legal measures of international conventions and agreements should facilitate positive progress in addressing complex issues of joint water use. Indeed, Kazakhstan used the principles of the UNECE Water Convention for building its national system of water management.
  2. Uzbekistan – Signing and ratifying international legal instruments on water is important for Uzbekistan honouring its commitments before the international community. The Government is paying great attention to further aligning national legislation with international standards and improving the capacity of the institutions to implement them effectively. Working together with the UN Country Team in Uzbekistan they are actively seeking “harmonization of National Laws and Regulations in accordance with International Conventions.” [1]. Uzbekistan has ratified 9 environmental conventions and respective Protocols for their development, signed 12 international cooperation agreements for protecting of the environment, and has shown a significant commitment by meeting most of the initial obligations of these conventions. However, the environmental sector needs further capacity building especially with regard to acceding to and fulfilling obligations under international environmental conventions and agreements.
  3. Kyrgyzstan – International water-related legal instruments appear less important than those of national scope in Kyrgyzstan. The terms "international waters" and "Transboundary Waters" are used with care, as water resources are considered national property. All Kyrgyz rivers are formed within its territory, and all the rivers originating in Kyrgyzstan eventually reach the ocean. A national law on “the inter-governmental use of water resources, dams and other water-related installations” was passed in 2001. It was implemented on realization that Kyrgyzstan uses less than 25% of the water in Kyrgyz reservoirs, whilst neighboring states do not pay anything for the water they get. The law calls for the selling of water as a commodity, and aims to more equitably compensate Kyrgyzstan for the control services it provides to its downstream neighbors; Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This national water law, together with the fact Kyrgyzstan has not signed or ratified any international water conventions, and that Uzbekistan recently accused Kyrgyzstan of using water resources in violation of international standards, all suggest international legal instruments are of lesser importance to Kyrgyzstan than neighboring Central Asia states.
  4. Tajikistan – Tajikistan’s government has ratified a number of international conventions on the environment including, inter alia, the UN Watercourses Convention (1997). At the First Asian Pacific Water Summit in December 2007, Tajikistan’s President Rahmon emphasized the importance of water-related international legal tools in solving transboundary water issues in Central Asia. He stated that, “elaboration and adoption of International Water Conventions could be one of the important steps in a unification of efforts which would determine universal principles of water policy whilst taking into account the interests of all consumers”. Tajikistan is also the initiator of the International Decade for Action “Water for Life” (2005-2015), which puts Tajikistan in a particular situation vis-à-vis its neighbor states in Central Asia; agitating for greater cooperation among Central Asian states to tackle transboundary water-related issues. Most recently (Sept 2008), Tajikistan’s President Rahmon, in a speech at a high-level event in New York, pointed out that the right to water should be considered as a vitally necessary factor for maintenance of human dignity and as a precondition for the realization of other human rights.
  5. Turkmenistan – At the CIS Summit and the meeting of the leaders of the Central Asian states in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek on October 10th 2008, the Turkmen leader stated that universally recognized norms and principles of international law were “fundamental” for tackling issues of efficient transboundary water resource use in Central Asia. His statement specifically implied the UN conventions regulating the use of transboundary water resources, water bodies and international lakes and environmental activities in transboundary areas.

Overall, current relations in the field of transboundary river use and protection in Central Asia require improvement. Interstate water resources use in the sub-region should be based on conventions or framework agreements conventionally adopted on the international level, since they are as a rule of holistic nature, setting common guidelines for all member states commitments, and yet do not impose restrictions on contracting parties by enumerating prohibited actions. It is on the basis of international water conventions and other relevant international legal instruments that the process of regulating interstate relations of shared water resources use amongst Central Asian countries should develop.

The role of the EU Water Framework Directive as an ‘orientation framework’ for the countries

The UNECE Water Convention provided an important stimulus for the adoption of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) (2000/60/EC). The WFD represents the current European approach towards surface water and groundwater management on a basin wide level, and is conceived as the most important development in water resources management legislation globally. While legally it is confined to the EU states, the WFD approach is gradually becoming a world standard. Countries outside the European Union in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia are particularly interested in harmonizing their regulatory approaches with EU legislation and adopting the IWRM approach and principles of the EU Water Framework Directive.

Specifically, Kazakhstan is using the WFD as orientation for its Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and Water Efficiency Planning work at national and basin level. While Kazakhstan does not have any legal or political obligations to adopt the [[EUWFD approach, it nevertheless is sensible to do so, as the WFD represents one of the most advanced approaches in water resources management legislation worldwide; Kazakhstan seems to subscribe to this and to strive for nothing less than the best: There are proposals to eventually adapt the WFD for Kazakhstan (2010-2015), however applying the directive to Kazakhstan will require to further build capacity within the water resources management organizations and to establish at least the basic IWRM principles first.

Less evidence exists of the WFD providing an ‘orientation framework’ in the other 4 Central Asian countries, although in Tajikistan the potential for cooperation with the EU Water Initiative (EUWI) on WFD, IWRM and institutional development including basin management organizations has been acknowledged. Furthermore, the past (January 2008) and next (December 2008) EUWI working group meetings in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, respectively, can be interpreted as strong signals about the countries interest to look toward the EU in their way forward on national water management.


  1. United Nations, Uzbekistan (2007) Analysis of gaps between Uzbekistan’s legal environment and the UN conventions, treaties and other legal instruments that Uzbekistan is party to

See Also

Water-related Legislation and Conventions

National Law On intergovernmental use of water resources and water facilities of the Kyrgyz Republic

External Resources

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