The International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) is a unique interstate organization in Central Asia. In the year of its 30th anniversary, it is going through the process of reaching a higher effective level.
In many ways, the initiatives of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in foreign policy, whose priority became cooperation with the region’s countries, gave a new impetus to the work of IFAS.
Among the most urgent tasks facing neighboring countries is the consistent continuation of large-scale work to overcome the consequences of the Aral crisis. First of all, Uzbekistan itself sets an example of active search and implementation of specific projects in this direction and attracts the international community to this.
At the initiative of Uzbekistan, in 2018, a Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea region was established under the auspices of the UN, within which funds are allocated to improve the environmental disaster zone.
The same year, the Head of state signed a resolution “On establishing the International Innovation Center of the Aral Sea Region under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. The Center provides scientific and methodological guidance for all forest planting and restoration of biological diversity in the zone.
To date, plants such as saxaul and tamarix have been planted on almost 1.7 million hectares of the dried bottom of the Aral Sea. Landscaping of desert areas is actively continuing.
Since the establishment of IFAS, the founding countries have also come a long way, the Fund’s branches are consistently working in four key areas – water resources, energy, environment, and socio-economic development. Projects have been implemented within the Aral Sea Basin Program – 3 (ASBP-3). Currently, their implementation continues within the framework of the ASBP-4.
Against the background of the increasingly aggravating negative consequences of climate change, the role of the IFAS is further strengthened. The Fund has high hopes for solving one of the most sensitive tasks of the region – the rational use of water resources, which are the guarantor of food security and human life in general.
Today, IFAS can serve as a single platform for the countries of the region, where joint efforts can develop new mechanisms for the distribution of transboundary water resources, strengthen measures to introduce modern water-saving technologies, install water metering and monitoring systems, as well as find ways to store it efficiently.
Based on the realities, new challenges, and requirements of an environmental and socio-economic nature, by the decision of the founding countries of the Fund, the issue of launching the process of improving the organizational structure and legal framework of the IFAS has long been on the agenda.
This topic was raised in the Joint Statement of the Heads of the Founding States of the Fund for the first time on April 28, 2009, in Almaty. But it was only at the 13th IFAS Summit in August 2018 in the city of Turkmenbashi that the Presidents of the founding countries expressed their readiness to launch this process.
To implement this initiative, by the decision of the IFAS Board of January 30, 2018, a Regional Working Group (RWG) was established to improve the organizational structure and legal framework of IFAS from among representatives of relevant ministries, agencies of the founding states and structural divisions of the Fund.
Experts and international consultants were also involved in the RWG. Over the past period, 10 meetings of the RWG have been held.
Even though Kyrgyzstan suspended its participation in the activities of the IFAS in 2016, a constructive dialogue with representatives of this country has now been established. Bishkek also participates in the work of the Working Group as an observer, entering into discussions on all issues on the agenda.
It should be noted that launching a new format of multilateral dialogue – Consultative meetings of the heads of Central Asian states – has become a significant factor in intensifying cooperation within the framework of IFAS.
It is also symbolic that the next anniversary 5th Consultative Meeting of the Heads of State, is organized along with the IFAS Summit, which once again demonstrates how much attention the leaders of the countries of the region pay to environmental problems, in particular, overcoming the consequences of the Aral crisis.
It is expected that the results of the IFAS Summit will make it possible to build a new line of relations between the founding countries and lay a solid foundation for improving the organization's activities.
International partners who provide all possible support and actively participate in its improvement play an essential role in the activities of IFAS. Among them are UNECE and GIZ.
IFAS has been an observer at the UN since 2008. Thanks to the efforts of all the founding countries, the UN General Assembly resolution “Cooperation between the United Nations and the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea” was adopted in 2018, and in 2021 a resolution was unanimously approved declaring the Aral Sea region a “zone of environmental innovation and technology”. In May 2023, the resolution of the ESCAP “Consideration of the conditions for the creation of a special United Nations program for the Aral Sea basin” was adopted.
These documents gave a significant impetus to further developing and improving the effectiveness of the Organization. Today, all the founding countries are very optimistic about the new prospects of IFAS, which, as a result of the improvement process, will strengthen its positions in all areas and serve Central Asia’s environmental sustainability and the well-being of all the people of the region.
Head of Department at the International Institute for Central Asia