Switzerland's cooperation with the Central Asian region and specifically Uzbekistan builds on its longstanding commitment and presence with a pragmatic and constructive approach and its thematic expertise. The Swiss Cooperation Programme contributed to peace and social cohesion as well as responsive and inclusive institutions together with sustainable development in Central Asia. It has provided significant support for countries in the region.
Looking back: Swiss Results and Lessons learnt from 2017 to 2021
The Swiss engagement encouraged Central Asian countries to improve national water governance systems and to build trust in transboundary policy dialogue, especially by generating reliable data and making such data more readily available.
Swiss cooperation also sought to give more responsibility to young people as they are tomorrow’s decision-makers. Switzerland helped strengthen the Central Asia Youth for Water Network. This Network aims to give youth a voice and to strengthen young people’s capacities and activities in the water sector. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan also joined regional efforts in certain water-related areas.
Through its Blue Peace Initiative Switzerland fostered regular interaction on transboundary water management and exchanges in Central Asia. Among them were the high-level Blue Peace Central Asia Conference in 2017 in Astana and the high-level panels at the Astana Economic Forum in 2018 and 2019. The governments of the region were strongly involved. The Blue Peace Initiative also financed a series of reports and analyses. The "Rethinking Water in Central Asia Report" (also known as the "Cost of Inaction Report") highlighted the huge cost of non-cooperation; the "Blue Peace Index for the Amu Darya and Syr Darya River Basins" assessed the degree of cooperation on those basins; and a water footprint analysis of the region described the ‘hidden’ water traded in the region beyond the river flows.
In Uzbekistan, Switzerland has supported the water sector reform and particularly the adoption of two key water policies: first the Water Sector Development Concept for 2020–30, and then the Water Resources Management and Irrigation Sector Development Strategy 2021–23. The aims are to develop an efficient and sustainable water sector which is based on integrated water resources management principles, and to achieve food and water security. Switzerland also supported the Information Analytical Resource Centre that was established in the Ministry of Water Resources for better data management. Furthermore, in the Fergana Valley and the Syr Darya region more than 300,000 people in rural and urban areas gained access to save drinking water thanks to the financial support provided the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). Switzerland has also contributed to the Vocational Education in the Water Sector.
The model of community based water management was successfully implemented in the Fergana Valley and Syrdarya province from 2003 to 2018. In 2019 the government endorsed the Swiss model by a presidential decree and incorporated the model in the governmental WASH. The recognition of the Swiss project paved the way to scaling up of the model at national level, demonstrating the relevance of the Swiss model. This model is being scaled up across the country under the framework of the State Programs “Obod Mahalla” and “Obod Qishloq” financed by the Uzbek government in collaboration with international financial institutions.
A key lesson learned at the regional level was that there is a need for a better understanding of the regional political economy in the water sector, including the divergence between formal and actual governance.
At the national level, reforms at central level and more decentralised and community-based approaches should be promoted. It is expected that it will be important to tackle basin development. Important aspects would be access to services, creating a community resilience, water security and disaster risk reduction, and climate change.
The basin approach has been successful at local and national levels and has a potential for regional upscaling. Switzerland cannot effectively promote regional upscaling on its own; it must continue to work with other donors and local partners, creating a community of practice aimed at addressing challenges beyond the water sector.
The size of the Swiss portfolio in Uzbekistan was rather modest but it registered some noteworthy achievements. In the financial sector these included the strengthening of financial institutions’ capacities, the development of an efficient and sustainable system for credit reporting and secure transactions, and improvements in the legal framework of the sector. Switzerland also supported vocational education and training (VET), contributing to a stronger synergy between education and labour market demand.
A key lesson learned was that political and socio-economic challenges in the region can hamper the achievement of policy reforms and systemic changes. This makes it necessary to pursue policy work through grassroots activities at the sub-national level and to focus more on enhancing the resilience of SMEs and people.