Central Asia

UNWC's Global Relevance

Aral Sea Basin

The Aral Sea Basin is the largest in Central Asia. It encompasses two major rivers, the Amudarya and the Syrdarya and is shared by seven countries.

The Basin has been very important to the region, particularly for the economic and social developments of Central Asian states. The role the Basin plays has led to many competing claims over its water resources, especially for hydropower and irrigation (energy and food self-efficiency). This has in turn ignited tensions between riparian countries in the region. The changes in the river flow resulting from human activities and heavy use of the Basin have also had sever impacts on the environment, including the degradation of ecosystems and the near-disappearance of the Aral Sea.

The complex web of water, energy environmental and social problems affecting the Aral Sea Basin requires a holistic, mutually beneficial, peaceful and cooperative solution that is agreeable to all parties involved.

The assessment shows the Basin does not suffer from the lack of regulatory endeavors; on the contrary, there are a wealth of legal instruments at the bilateral, sub-basin and basin levels governing  the use and protection of shared watercourses in Central Asia. However, these agreements are in dire need of improvement, as they currently do not reflect the evolutions of international water law (IWL) fail to incorporate key principles of IWL and best management practices. Indeed, many of these treaties have become stagnant and lost their value.

In this context, the assessment recognizes that the UNWC might be in a position to act as a common platform, the groundwork for future basin-wide and regional water governance agreements. Noticeably, the assessment indicates that the UNWC contains provisions ruling aspects of water governance that fail to be mentioned in bilateral and regional treaties, including:

  • Provisions facilitating compliance monitoring and dispute settlement, areas largely non-existent in the Aral Sea Basin-specific agreements
  • Provisions encouraging the creation of joint bodies, which is the most effective and equitable way to manage transboundary waters
  • Detailed provisions requiring exchange of information and consultations
  • Provisions dedicated to key principles of IWL, namely Reasonable and Equitable Utilisation and No Significant Harm, in dedicated provisions, and the pervasiveness of the spirit of these provisions throughout the Convention’s text

The UNWC can not only act as a model guiding the negotiations for future cooperation agreements. If the Convention enters into force, it will have the potential to govern the use and management of the waters of the Aral Sea Basin where regional agreements are lacking or offer inadequate coverage, strengthening international water law in the long term and nudging Central Asian states towards compliance with fundamental principles of IWL.



Additional Resources

- Central Asia Assessment- Aral Sea Basin

- The Evolution of Legal and Institutional Frameworks in the EECCA Region

- International Water Law in Central Asia: Commitments, Compliance, and Beyond

- Central Asian Waters: Social, Economic, Environmental and Governance Puzzle

Video: Hamid Sarfaz Video: Hamid Sarfaz How can the UNWC assist transboundary water cooperation?- The context of river conflicts between Pakistan and India
Video: Dinara Ziganshina Video: Dinara Ziganshina How can the UNWC assist states in Central Asia in building effective governance of their shared water resources?- Focus on the Aral Sea


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