DUSHANBE, March 5, 2011, Asia-Plus -- Officials and experts from the five Central Asian countries meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Marc 2-3 agreed to continue cooperation to ensure the safety of their ageing dams, which present a looming threat owing to the double burden of growing populations in settlements downstream and extreme weather conditions sparked by climate change, such as floods and droughts, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) reports.

The meeting is one of the concluding meetings held in the framework of the UNECE project, Capacity-Building for Cooperation on Dam Safety in Central Asia, which will conclude in June 2011.

All country delegations stressed the urgent need for continued work in this area and country representatives requested UNECE to support the development of further work on the national as well as sub-regional levels.  It was concluded that important directions for future work included development and implementation of national legislation and training of experts, as well as finalization and signing of a cooperation agreement. An important emerging area identified was the establishment of bilateral cooperation to ensure the safety of individual dams or dam systems on trans-boundary rivers.

Meeting participants also highlighted the considerable progress achieved since the start of the UNECE project, and that the basis for long-term cooperation, in the form of a draft sub-regional agreement, was now on the table.

Other major achievements included the development of relevant national legislation or its further enhancement in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; the drafting of model technical regulations adapted to all the countries in the sub-region; the initiation of inter-State cooperation to increase safety on individual dams; improved cooperation at the national level between agencies with responsibilities for dam safety; and an increased capacity to deal with and awareness about dam safety issues among the relevant actors in the sub-region owing to a number of UNECE-organized trainings.  Moreover, it was noted that other international organizations and donors had increased their efforts to ensure dam safety in Central Asia.

In Central Asia, ageing dams and lack of funding for their adequate maintenance represent a very real threat to the lives, health, property and environment of the sub-region. Just a year ago, the failure of the Kyzyl-Agash Dam in Kazakhstan caused the flooding of the nearby village, killing at least 43 and leaving some 300 people injured.

The dam safety project funded by Finland, a component of the UNECE Water Convention work program, is implemented in cooperation with the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. The project assists Central Asian countries in establishing effective national legislation and technical regulatory frameworks, as well as in strengthening sub-regional cooperation on dam safety.  The project is part of the Environment and Security Initiative.