Water-tight: The next generation of water diplomats in Central Asia and Afghanistan

Blog Sep 24, 2020

In September 2020, the Central Asia Leadership Programme brought together 60 young professionals for a training in water diplomacy. The water diplomacy focus at CALP, now in its fifth year, has proved to be a great way to build skills and foster cooperation, writes SIWI’s Elizabeth A. Yaari in this blog post.

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Water diplomacy processes are known to be long-term engagements requiring flexibility and adaptability from all parties – from the riparian actors directly engaged in shared management of common resources, but also for the supporting parties around a dialogue process. In sharing lessons learned beyond a basin we often comment that there are no ‘silver bullet’ solutions – all lessons must be adapted and contextualized, ‘developed and owned,’ ‘in and for’ the basin context.

Sometimes water diplomacy processes take a generation. Sometimes change is already here.

The Central Asia Leadership Programme (CALP), organized by the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia (CAREC),understands this long arc and the need to prepare for and jointly envision a shared future for Central Asia and Afghanistan, today. For five years running, CAREC, in partnership with SIWI’s Shared Waters Partnership programme and other partners, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, have contributed to focus training days on water diplomacy for selected young environmental leaders.

A mix of academic, civil society and government representatives hailing from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, the selected participants of the CALP are each year an impressive gathering of minds and hearts. ‘Year after year through CALP we see the growing understanding among participants on the importance of being active, of being useful for their communities, and their interest is not only related to their own local communities, but in general – for their countries. Today’s session on water diplomacy proved once again, that they are ready for this – eager to learn and use the gained knowledge. And we at CAREC are proud of being able to contribute to their knowledge and raise the regional perspective in their views,’ remarked Anna Inozemtseva, Lead Specialist, Water Initiatives Support Program, CAREC.  

In 2019, the CALP programme included a 3-day water diplomacy training with a full day negotiation simulation and a strong focus on gender equality and inclusive participation in transboundary water decision-making. Through simulated negotiation and shifting perspectives, the young leaders were able to ‘experience as it was happening in reality’ (participant evaluation, 2019). In 2020, CAREC and its partners demonstrated that this required flexibility and adaptability – and took CALP 2020 online. With participants gathered at the country level and strong online coordination, CALP again channeled the region’s young professionals to the challenge of water diplomacy.

And they did not disappoint – asking tough questions and getting straight to the heart of regional challenges, the participants, although separated by distance this year, were ready to take on the hard challenges. ‘Being a part of CALP 2020 on behalf of Afghanistan was magnificently fruitful, especially on the theme of regional contribution in transboundary water resources and environment in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Through the program, I got innovative ideas for better and equitable shared management of transboundary water resources and environment protection activities for the future possibilities in Afghanistan,’ reflected Pamir Jan Safi, CALP 2020 participant.