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Central Asia regional risk assessment: Responding to water, energy, and food insecurity

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United Nations Development Programme
Regional Bureau for Europe and CIS
New York

Central Asia's poorest countries find themselves particularly vulnerable to water, energy, and food insecurities. Tajikistan experienced a "compound crisis" during the winter of 2008, when exceptionally cold weather caused breakdowns in the country's energy infrastructure, damaged winter crops and reduced livestock herds. Significant increases in water, energy, and food insecurities resulted. These were subsequently exacerbated by higher global food prices and by the onset of drought conditions in the spring and summer, which particularly affected Central Asia's southern and eastern regions, as well as parts of the Ferghana Valley and the Aral Sea Delta. The effects of these problems were magnified by the difficulties the government and humanitarian organisations working in Tajikistan faced in responding to this acute cold-weather emergency, the roots of which were deeply intertwined with Tajikistan's chronic development challenges. These concerns increasingly made themselves felt in the Kyrgyz Republic over the course of 2008, particularly in terms of growing energy and food insecurities.

Representatives of the international community met in July 2008 in Almaty, in order to proactively help Central Asia's governments to better manage these risks, and to alleviate their negative impact on vulnerable regions and social groups. Along with the United Nations' appeals that were launched in Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic during September-October, this assessment report-which was funded by UNDP, DFID, and USAID and benefitted from in-kind support from these organisations as well as from the World Bank, the Water Agency of Japan, the Brookings Institutions' Wolfensohn Centre, and many other partner organisations-represents one of the concrete results of this meeting. It focuses on:

- Assessing the degree and implications of water, energy, and food insecurity in Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic in the winter of 2008-2009; and

- Developing proposals to improve governments' and international organisations' immediate preparedness to respond to these insecurities.

Longer term, reducing water, energy, and food insecurities in Central Asia depends on:

- Prospects for regional cooperation-during the Bishkek CIS Summit meeting in October, Central Asia's five presidents promised a cooperative response to the water and energy tensions facing the region;

- Hydrological and meteorological trends in the region, starting with hopes that the drought of 2008 will become a fleeting memory, and extending to uncertainties concerning the effects of climate change on Central Asia's glaciers;

- Combining political and macroeconomic stability-particularly in light of the global economic crisis (which seems likely to affect remittances in 2009)-on the one hand with the more aggressive pursuit of institutional reform, particularly in the energy, water, and agricultural sectors, and in public administration more generally; and

- The emergence of more effective links between disaster prevention, humanitarian response, early recovery, and longer-term development programming, particularly in terms of better early warning mechanisms and more sophisticated disaster preparedness activities.Closer links between the responses to water, energy, and food insecurities on the one hand, and the design and implementation of national disaster preparedness strategies and other high-level international risk-mitigation initiatives on the other (such as the uranium tailings initiative now being developed in the Kyrgyz Republic), are particularly important in this respect.