Uzbekistan deposited the instrument of accession to the UNECE-WHO/Europe Protocol on Water and Health on the 2nd of January, becoming the 29th national party to the Protocol as well as the first country in Central Asia to join this treaty. The Protocol is the first international agreement of its kind adopted specifically to attain universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for everyone, against a background in which water management places emphasis on the effective protection of water that is used as a source of drinking water. Accession to the Protocol, UNECE states, is expected to serve as a catalyst to further drive and streamline national action on water, sanitation, hygiene and health with the aim of ensuring access and protecting the growing population of Uzbekistan against water-borne disease and in a changing climate.
The Protocol on Water and Health is an additional protocol to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes which was originally been developed to regulate and manage shared water resources in the European Region, but which has since 2013 been opened for accession by countries outside the European region. This significantly enhances its potential to become a source for international water law. The Convention has recently gained a significant hold on the African continent. The Protocol on Water and Health provides a practical framework to translate into practice the human rights to water and sanitation and to implement SDG 6.
Speaking on the subject of Uzbekistan’s proposed accession last year, Ms. Olga Mirshina from the Ministry of Health in Uzbekistan stated that the country is faced with continuous increases in water consumption for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. The government has made water a priority issue and is engaged in the process of implementing measures to ensure the protection of the population against diseases and the development of sanitary conditions. This involves government efforts to achieve progress in the improvement of the quality of drinking water and to protect drinking water sources from contamination from various sources. Uzbekistan is therefore investing in the modernization of water supply and sanitation services. This has been supported by policy development aimed at reforming the water and sanitation sector, which has taken place since 2017.
Uzbekistan faces significant water challenges: about 90% of the water resources of the country originate from outside the country, of which the main sources are the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers, and the remaining 10% is from internal rivers and groundwater. However, per capita water availability has declined from 3048 m³/capita/annum in 1994 to 1438 m³ /c/a currently, as a result of both population growth and climate change. The agricultural sector accounts for a whopping 90,6% of water demand, and therefore reduction of agricultural water demand is essential to enable increased supply of water for domestic purposes. A lot of effort has recently been placed on improving information systems and enhancing Integrated Water Resources Management to optimize water usage. In the area of water services, the share of the population with access to a centralised water supply system has increased from 66.6% in 2005 to 69.6% in 2022. However, there are still large geographical disparities in access: according to WHO/UNICEF, 71% of the rural population has access to safe drinking water as compared to 89% in urban areas, and only 32% of domestic wastewater is being safely treated. The Protocol includes tools such as the equitable access scorecard, which helps to target inequalities in access across a country.
At the occasion of the accession, UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean stated : “I welcome Uzbekistan’s accession to the Protocol on Water and Health, which will help put the commitment to uphold the human rights to water and sanitation into action. I encourage all countries in Central Asia and all UNECE member States to join this practical instrument, which is especially important to strengthen the resilience of water and health services to climate change”.
As a new Party to the Protocol, the country commits to set integrated targets on water, sanitation, hygiene and health, with a focus on climate impacts, and to regularly report on progress in achieving those targets.