Déjà vu in Dushanbe: Another Water Conference
To turn international donors’ attention to Tajikistan’s economic problems, President Emomali Rakhmon often reminds visitors of his country’s enormous hydropower potential. But in Central Asia, water resources are a constant source of friction between the post-Soviet states. Never deterred, Rakhmon has become adept at shifting attentions to harmony and coexistence – with a little pomp and circumstance. Yes, another regional water consortium has come and gone in Dushanbe.Rakhmon helped convince the UN General Assembly to declare 2002, “The International Year of Fresh Water,” and 2005-2015, “The Water for Life Decade.” Both came to Dushanbe with large conferences and dozens of jet-setting experts. Earlier this month, speaking at another gathering, Rakhmon suggested 2012 be declared, “The Year of International Water Diplomacy.”The city does have ample new premium hotel space. Experts from more than 70 countries and 65 international organizations attended “The High-level Conference on the Mid-term Review of the Implementation of the International Decade ‘Water for Life: 2005-2015’” in Dushanbe from June 8-10.But the glittery titles can highlight a lack of action. Once again, it was unclear what the conference achieved. Somehow managing to keep a straight face, one attending UN official said, “It took us five years to define proper directions, and now the time has come to plan and to act.”The event imitated the International Water Forum in Dushanbe in 2003, which cost international donors $4.5 million. Such funds could underwrite an entire new water supply network in an average Tajik city. According to official statistics, more than 40 percent of Tajiks have no access to safe drinking water. Another decorative body, the so-called International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), has achieved little progress reversing one of the world’s worst man-made environmental disasters. While international donors and foreign governments keep allocating money for the IFAS, there is less and less to rescue. All the glamour and little action might lead one to think it is not the sea, but the people’s brains, that need rescuing.