Although the two countries sharing the Chu-Talas Basin, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, are not involved in an actual dispute, those uncertainties reflected in their operational work and related actions could become critical in times of extreme events such as flood and drought. Poor data availability and unclear transmission of information can result in flood-related damage, as happened in the winter of 2003. Unanticipated releases from the Kyrgyz storage reservoirs also caused some damage in Kazakhstan.
Among the range of alternative dispute resolutions, facilitation was chosen as the most appropriate for the Chu-Talas role-play session. The selection of a specific alternative dispute resolution (ADR) approach requires perspicacity. Conciliation and consensus-building would not have been not suitable since they presume the existence of a conflict situation between the two countries. The fact-finding approach lacks visual attractiveness in order to be selected for a role-play with an audience. The multiparty/public-policy mediation technique could have been a good choice but is outweighed by the advantages offered by the facilitation approach, namely its potential to conduct an analysis to bring out significant issues.
Assistance was given by the trainer or the facilitator in defining the inter linkage between events and actions. Taking into account the historical legacy of the current geopolitical framework, the simulation took the players back to a point in time when the basin was not yet developed and water resources not yet stressed. Currently, its resources are almost completely committed, even if they are not utilized effectively of efficiently.
- Player instructions and data on the basin were kept to a minimum in order to stimulate active participation.
- Participants were divided into 2 groups, each representing one country (Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan).
- All players and audience were invited throughout the role-play to comment or respond to evolving water management issues.
- No specific timeframe nor role descriptions were handed out but were assigned by the trainer along the role-play.
The aim of the role-playing game was to identify lessons learnt from the Chu-Talas Basin which could serve as possible solutions for the whole Aral Sea region. The role-players were asked to re-enact the history and present situation of the basin, as presented to them in the keynote speech [PDF format - 311 KB] and IWRM discussion [PDF format - 77,3 KB]. Based on this, they were asked to discuss in concrete terms how the 2 states might continue their transboundary water management in the long-term future.
To reach these goals the trainer divided the role-play into 3 parts. In the first and second parts, the players were asked to re-enact the history of the basin. Three time spans were simulated and facilitated by the trainer: 1) time span I: from the 1800s to the 1960s (Soviet era), 2) time span II: from the 1960s to today (the Khrushchev period), and 3) time span III: today with an eye towards the future.
Game session 1/time span I: from the 1800s to the 1960s
The first part of the role-play was meant to be an identification of the actors with their allocated country. With guidance from the trainer, country players tried to identify the living conditions in the Chu-Talas Basin in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries around the question of water as a problematic resource. They were asked to deal with questions such as: Do you need much water? How do you live? Is water management necessary? Do you have large industries? Is agriculture important in your country?
The players were not allocated a permanent role during the role-play. Encouraged by the facilitator, each player had to slip into different roles, as chief of a clan or the mayor of a city for instance. So, changing roles enabled the facilitator to address important issues. With the assistance of both observers and audience, the players concluded that water was not a problem in or between the 2 neighbouring countries. Since data for this period of time are limited, the size and expanse of the Aral Sea was used as an indicator of water availability.
Due to a lack of detailed regional and historical knowledge, the players had some difficulties with this part of the role-play and were often corrected by the trainer, the observers or people from the audience. During the role-play the players had to absorb too much information on their assigned countries. The players had a hard time imagining themselves as Kazakh or Kyrgyz without a substantial knowledge of the region, the culture and the political set-up. To keep the role-play running however, the trainer had to take over simultaneously the roles of player and facilitator at the same time.
At the end of the first session most players requested to be provided with additional information, namely figures, data, and map of the river basin, so that they could prepare themselves better for the next session.
The facilitator suggested to the players that they could sit together with the regional specialists (observers) to obtain additional information. At this stage of the role-play no country positions could be formulated by the players.
Game session2/time span II: from the 1960s to today
The actors faced similar questions, but adapted to the time period: What are the water demands? What is the land use? What is the population dynamic? What is the political system like? What does it mean for Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan? Are the development priorities of the 2 republics the same or can they be differentiated?
On encouragement by the facilitator, each player had again to slip into different roles. With assistance from observers and audience, the players identified important issues, e.g.:
- That the currently existing water allocation system was established under the USSR within the unified framework of economic relations, implying an asymmetric allocation of water to favour the development of irrigation farming in downstream countries. The territories of the upstream countries were used for construction of water-regulating facilities to supply water to the lower reaches while irrigation farming was reduced to a minimum. In compensation, they received energy carriers, agricultural and industrial products.
- That the water of the Chu and Talas are shared approximately on a 50/50 basis, a ration that remains the basis for the annual water management.
- All decisions were made by centralist Moscow.
- No environmental concerns figured on the agenda.
The role-play became considerably more interactive in this second session. With support of the audience, the facilitator and the regional specialists (observers), the players described and assessed the time period satisfactorily. At this stage of the role-play, no differing country positions were formulated.
Game session 3/time span III: from today with an eye towards the future
Once more, the actors had the same tasks to act out - again in changing roles. In addition, they were asked to develop possible strategies for the future continuation of a joint transboundary water management considering the changes since the independence of the 2 countries (2 sovereign countries, separate constitutions, parliaments and different priorities).
Regarding the present:
The most important issues identified with an active participation of the public were the following:
- After the emergence of sovereign countries in Central Asia, the former principles of water allocation stayed in force, although the upstream countries were deprived of all compensations.
- The players of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan agreed that the principles of allocation approved in the Soviet period should preferably be retained until new regional and national water management strategies are developed and approved.
- Kyrgyzstan believed that the water allocation system existing in the region is inequitable and causes them serious harm as it does not allow them to, firstly, develop irrigation farming to satisfy their food requirements and, secondly, use the hydropower station cascades in an optimal mode to cover winter requirements for electricity.
- The riparian countries confirmed the 50/50 ratio for the sharing of the water resources of the Chu-Talas Basin. Politically, the arrangement appears to be satisfactory from the perspective of both nations. However, problems arise in the technical capability and methodological approach used to determine water availability and therefore apportionment on an annual basis.
- The 50/50 'fair' water shares are the basis for a 50/50 share of expenses to manage water facilities of joint use. Kazakhstan asked however why there should be a 50/50 contribution of financial support if upstream (Kyrgyz) reservoirs are used in a proportion of 80/20 (on Chu)? Kyrgyzstan asked the same if reservoirs are used in a proportion of 20/80 (on Talas)?
- Both country delegates argued that the long-term projections of water consumption do not adequately take into account the dynamics of population growth and the resulting objective necessity to increase water consumption in order to meet potable, agricultural, industrial and other needs.
- Mines and potential mines in the upper catchment area are posing problems for both countries. Kyrgyzstan is interested in developing its mining sector, requiring an increasing amount of water. Kazakhstan on the other hand, also facing a rising water demand due to an expansion and intensification of arable land, fears water pollution and insufficient water supply.
As mentioned above, the role game aimed to discover if the Chu-Talas Basin could be representative, as a microcosm, for the larger problems of the Aral Sea and if the Aral Sea crisis is of any concern to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as well.
- The players representing Kyrgyzstan argued that Chu-Talas and the Aral Sea have to be recognized as 2 different basins or disconnected systems that should be approached separately. In the context of regional cooperation, the problems of saving the Aral Sea quite often prevail over economic interests of individual countries in the region.
- The players representing Kazakhstan estimated however that, if the Chu-Talas is treated separately from the Aral Sea, there could be some difficulties of eco-balance within the region.
The players of both countries defended for the first time differing views. The facilitator steered the attention, after this debate, towards the possible future development.
The facilitator proposed 2 possible options for the future: to continue with or without significant improvements in transboundary water management. He encouraged the players to develop a joint vision.
- The players attributed a high importance to industry. Possible forms of cooperation were discussed. Power could be generated by Kyrgyzstan for Kazakhstan's industry while Kyrgyzstan intents to involve its neighbouring country in the development of gold mines upstream.
- The players identified several problems in the bilateral cooperation, e.g. erosion and flood-triggered loss of land in Kyrgyzstan, the absence of an early-warning system and an insufficient hydrometric network. Riparian countries disagreed on how many hydrometric stations should be repaired. Insufficient cross-border data exchange was considered as the greatest obstacle to transboundary cooperation on the basin, together with the lack of political will to create a proactive environment.
- Both countries agreed that a new and more cooperative approach is needed, although the already existing agreement on the Commission between the Republic of Kazakhstan and of Kyrgyzstan on Inter-state Use of Hydro-technical Facilities of Chu and Talas Rivers would remain the basis of their cooperation. Kazakhstan has already contributed in recent years to the costs of joint repairs of hydro-technical infrastructure on Kyrgyz territory.
- Players of both countries recognized the need for a joint basin commission. Kyrgyzstan considered having a small commission, possibly with extended working groups within this commission. Kazakhstan expressed a preference for a commission with a large involvement of different stakeholders.
- The 'basket of benefits approach' to basin cooperation was introduced by the facilitator as a basis for riparian parties to consider benefit-sharing options. After having accepted this approach, both countries suggested to install an advisory commission, which is expected to give enforceable recommendations to both governments.
As the above summary of the session points out, for the first time in the entire role-play, differing country positions were formulated and thoroughly discussed by the players.
:: See debriefing