DUSHANBE, May 12, 2011, Asia-Plus  -- Uzbek news agency, Zhakhon, reports that Mr. Jurgen Keinhorst, Director of the Unit for Cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States at Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, noted that the water use situation emerging in Central Asia is a regional problem because it concerns interests and needs of all Central Asia’s countries.

Zhakhon quoted Keinhorst as saying that the issue of rational and fair use of water resources in Central Asia is one of priorities of cooperation of this German ministry with the region.

“As far as not concerted measures regarding construction of water facilities on common rivers are concerned, I will just stress that we have a common approach based on generally accepted international standards under which such projects must take into consideration interests of all countries of the region and be in compliance with all relevant environmental safeguards,” German expert noted.

In the meantime, the World Bank has announced holding of the first information-sharing and discussion meeting on the assessment studies for the Roghun hydroelectricity project on May 19.

According to information posted on World Bank’s website, the meeting that will take place in the World Bank Central Asia Regional Office in Almaty, Kazakhstan is expected to bring together a range of civil society organization (CSO) CSO stakeholders from the riparian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan).

The World Bank appreciates the difficult environment in which the proposed Roghun Regional Water Reservoir and Hydropower Project (Roghun HPP) is being studied.  At the request of the Central Asian governments, the Bank is working to ensure the technical quality of the two Assessment Studies (Techno-Economic Assessment Study and the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment), which are being undertaken to assess technical soundness, economic viability, and any impact that the proposed Roghun HPP could potentially have on environment or population, including those in the riparian countries.  To this end, the World Bank is convening two Independent Panels of Experts, undertaking Bank-funded studies, and leading consultations with riparian countries.

The first information-sharing and discussion meeting with civil society organizations from riparian countries will focus on the inception reports for both Assessment Studies, which were prepared by the consultants contracted for carrying out the Assessment Studies, and which outline the work programs and study approaches for both Techno-Economic Assessment Study and Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.  Members of the Independent Panels of Experts will provide comment and guidance on the approaches, and share their observations with meeting participants.  In addition, the meeting will discuss the role of the Panels of Experts, and seek input of the participating CSOs on the approach to riparian consultations.

The World Bank has reached an understanding with the Government of Tajikistan that no new construction would commence until after the techno-economic and environmental/social studies have been shared and discussed with riparians, and the studies are reviewed by the independent Bank-funded Panel of Experts to determine feasibility.

We will recall that to raise funds to complete construction of the Roghun HPP the government started to sell shares in Roghun to people on January 6, 2010.  Tajikistan has reportedly issued 6 billion somoni (US$1.37 billion) worth of Roghun shares.  Officials were reportedly optimistic that enough can be raised to complete at least two generating lines, which should help alleviate crippling energy shortages.  To-date, the sale of Roghun shares has earned the government 830 million somoni (equivalent to 188.5 million U.S. dollars).  The national budget for this year has earmarked 850 million somoni for Roghun’s construction.

These plans have raised serious concerns across the border in Uzbekistan.  Uzbek officials argue that because it could take up to 18 years to fill, the Roghun project will severely reduce the amount of water flowing into Uzbekistan.