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International water issues
Azerbaijan is party to three agreements with its neighbours on transboundary rivers: with the Islamic Republic of Iran on the Araks River, with Georgia on Gandar Lake and with the Russian Federation on the Samur River. No agreement exists regarding the Kura River, the most important transboundary river in the region (UNECE, 2004). Issues of critical importance are the sharing and joint management of the Kura and Araks Rivers and of the Caspian Sea to prevent further pollution and ensure sustainable development of their resources.
In 1997 the Government of Georgia ratified an agreement with Azerbaijan concerning environmental protection, providing for cooperation in the creation of specifically protected areas within transboundary ecosystems.
The Caucasus Initiative, launched by the German Ministry of Cooperation and Development, envisages, among other things, the implementation of the “Ecoregional Nature Protection Programme for Southern Caucasus” covering the three Caucasus countries: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. It will be implemented in the nearest future and will facilitate to protect and sustainable use of water resources in the region (Tsiklauri, 2004).
A number of international organizations have cooperated on initiatives in Azerbaijan in the field of ecology through the UN mission and the UNDP. Negotiations have been held with representatives of the UN, UNEP, UNESCO, World Bank and environmental protection organizations of the USA, UK, Germany, Turkey, the Islamic Republic of Iran and CIS countries. One of the results has been the adoption of the “Agreement on cooperation in the field of ecology and environmental protection between Azerbaijan and Turkey” (UNEP/GRID-Arendal, 2005).
From 2000 to 2002, USAID, in collaboration with Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), implemented the South Caucasus Water Management project. Its aim was to strengthen co-operation among water agencies at local, national and regional levels and demonstrate integrated water resources management. In parallel, between 2000 and 2006, the EU and the Technical Assistance Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) carried out the Joint River Management Programme on Monitoring and Assessment of Water Quality on Transboundary Rivers for the prevention, control and reduction of the impact of trans-boundary pollution. The programme covered four basins, including the Kura River Basin. In addition, regional organisations such as REC, Eurasia Foundation, and numerous local foundations have promoted national and regional activities concerning water resources management and protection (UNEP, 2002).
Between 2002 and 2007, NATO-OSCE realized the South Caucasus River Monitoring Project. Its general objectives were to establish the social and technical infrastructure for a joint international Transboundary River water quality and quantity monitoring, data sharing and watershed management system among the Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia (OSU, 2008).
The project Reducing Transboundary Degradation in the Kura-Araks River Basin, implemented by the UNDP Bratislava Regional Centre in collaboration with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), has involved four of the basin countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Efforts are being made to involve Turkey in the project as well. The preparation phase, which is co-funded by Sweden, began in July 2005 and will last 18 months. The objective of the project is to ensure that the quality and quantity of the water throughout the Kura-Araks River system meets the short and long-term needs of the ecosystem and the communities that rely upon it. It will be achieved by fostering regional cooperation, increasing the capacity to address water quality and quantity problems, demonstrating water quality/quantity improvements, initiating required policy and legal reforms, identifying and preparing priority investments, and developing sustainable management and financial arrangements.
Currently there are no water treaties between the three south Caucasian countries owing to the political situation in the region. Nagorno-Karabakh is one of the main obstacles, making it difficult for Azerbaijan and Armenia to sign a treaty even one only relating to water resources management (Berrin and Campana, 2008).