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Workshop “Gender aspects in water resources management in lower reaches of Amudarya and Syrdarya”, Urgench, 27-29 June 2007

Within the framework of the Asian Development Bank’s project “ GWANET – Gender and Water Network in Central Asia”, SIC’s representatives such as Ziganshina D.R., Stulina G.V., and Mukhamedjanov Sh.Sh. visited the Urgench city on 27-29 June 2007. The visit aim was to meet with stakeholders for discussion of gender issues in area of water resources in the lowlands and to involve them in joint activity under the GWANET network, as well as to hold a workshop “Gender Aspects of Water Management in the Lowlands of Amudarya and Syrdarya”.

The Urgench city was not selected randomly for organization of the first meeting. The Khorezm province of the Republic of Uzbekistan is located in the lowlands of Amudarya river, being one of the most socially tense regions in the Aral Sea basin. The target audience of this meeting included the provinces of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan located in the lowlands of Amudarya and Syrdarya.

The survey and analysis of current tendencies and the identification of problems to be addressed in Khorezm province (Uzbekistan), Dashoguz veloyat (Turkmenistan), Republic of Karakalpakstan (Uzbekistan), and Kyzylorda province (Kazakhstan) completed by SIC ICWC under preliminary feasibility study of “Transition to integrated water resources management in the lowlands and deltas of Amudarya and Syrdarya” showed that the major destabilizing factor in the lowlands in unstable water supply and diversion and increasing water shortage aggravated by unequal water distribution, particularly in low water-level conditions. Another problem of those zones is poor attention to and often ignorance of environmental demand. This has led to desertification and deterioration of natural delta conditions.

According to changes in rivers’ hydrological regime, flow quality considerably modified as well. Increase in the share of high saline wastewater led to substantial growth of salinity and deterioration of river water. Decreased inflow to the delta caused deterioration of drinking water due to increased salinity and reduced groundwater inflow.

Besides, recently a problem related to transboundary nature of the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers has arisen and, as a rule, areas located in the river deltas suffered from it. In this respect, the areas of Northern Karakalpakstam, Dashoguz province in Turkmenistan, and Kyzylorda province in Kazakhstan are especially unfavorable. Abnormalities are reflected in modification of water release schedule, pollution and under-supply of water for habitat, nature and economic sectors.

All those factors, first of all, affect population. The total population in given provinces in the lowlands of Amudarya (Khorezm province, Uzbekistan; Dashoguz veloyat, Turkmenistan; Republic of Karakalpastan being a part of Uzbekistan) and of Syrdarya (Kyzylorda province, Kazakhstan) is 4 845.6 thousand people, of which more than 2 950.2 thousand (more than 60 %) lives in rural area and for which irrigated agriculture is the main source of livelihoods.

The above mentioned problems and their relationship with provision of gender equity in agriculture and water sector were discussed with Dr. John Lamers, coordinator of joint German-Uzbek research project “Economic and Environmental Re-structurization of Land and Water Use in Khorezm Province” (http://www.khorezm.uni-bonn.de) and with Uzbek project partners – Mr. Ruzimboy Eshchanov, head of Urgench University and Mr. Nazar Ibragimov, coordinator of project’s field studies.

Dr. John Lamers shared experience in implementing gender research under the projects on-going in Khorezm province and focused on the following three key issues:

  1. Water-born diseases and impact of the utilization of open water-holes and small wells for drinking on people’s health, particularly of women and children. Interrelation between water quality, sanitary conditions and peoples’ health.
  2. The role of women in agriculture. While conducting comparison studies in areas adjacent to and remote from the city, it was considered how to make women less dependent on agricultural production and find alternative sources of livelihoods for rural women.
  3. Gender perspectives in activities of Water User Associations (WUA). Work in this direction is planned to start in October 2007.

Mr. Ruzimboy Eshchanov stressed a need for addressing gender issues in general economic context, which is particularly important for considering the role of woman in agricultural production. For example, the Urgench University develops a special course on agricultural sustainability, where along with pilot implementation of extension services under support of young professionals from the University, it is planned to address gender issues as well. Mr. Eshchanov also touched the gender issues in education. He noted that there are many female students taking economic and agricultural courses, and the ratio of men and women is approximately 50/50, whereas in pedagogical and foreign language departments the share of women is well higher - 80/20.

Mr. Nazar Ibragimov shared interesting experience gained in implementing the joint project of German Agroaction and Republican association of farms. In 2002-2003, when the rural population greatly suffered from drought of 2000-2001 and the general decline in agriculture took place as a result of reduced crop yields, women were questioned about planting of alternative crops in secondary plots. As a result, such crops as potato, corn, and sunflower were selected and grown. Those crops generated income, which was quite high even for humid year, and helped the families to survive during drought and after it.

While exchanging opinions about gender movement in water sector, a need was noted for joint activities at different levels, especially for practical application of research results and the importance was stressed of horizontal and vertical integration.

Next meeting was arranged with the manager of “Soglom avlod uchun” Fund’s Urgench branch Mrs. Salomat Erdjanova. The discussion was focused on women and children health under environmental degradation conditions.

As is well known, Prearalie (coastal zone of the Aral Sea) is a zone of heaviest socio-economic conditions in Central Asia. Decrease in per capita food consumption in the lowlands in the last decade was caused by aggravated socio-economic situation in Central Asian states as a whole and especially in the lowlands. For instance, consumption of main food items is lower in Karakalpakstan as compared in Uzbekistan in general. Food consumption by people living in the lowlands (except for vegetables, cucurbits and bred) does not meet the physiological standards, and most population suffers from proteinic and vitamin starvation.

According to the feasibility study on “Transition to integrated water resources management in the lowlands and deltas of Amudarya and Syrdarya”, morbidity in these zones, especially in Karakalpakstan and Khorezm province, is well higher than the WHO’s norms and the average republican indicator. This is caused by deterioration of environmental conditions in Prearalie that were intensified by socio-economic difficulties in the region. Damage from excessive morbidity and deteriorated living conditions is estimated at 2.1 US$ million/year in South Prearalie and 1.3 US$ million/year in North Prearalie.

Mrs. Salomat Erdjanova has told about measures taken to improve this situation in Uzbekistan by the “Soglom avlod uchun” Fund. This international non-governmental charity fund was established by the Decree of the President of Uzbekistan of April 23, 1993 in order to ensure health of future generation, protect maternity and infancy, and create favorable conditions for physical, intellectual, and moral development of children. The main objectives of the Fund are: (1) assisting in improvement of material and technical base for obstetric and child care institutions, their equipping with up-to-date facilities, providing with effective health products; (2) coordination of social and public agencies’ efforts aimed at improvement of gene pool of future generation in Uzbekistan, based on the world experience; (3) facilitating development and implementation - throughout the republic, especially in environmentally misbalanced districts – of research, technological, production, awareness-propaganda and other programs aimed at establishment of solid basis for radical enhancement and protection of motherhood and infanthood.

The Fund, together with other agencies, undertakes medical and social patronage in order to study sanitary conditions, psychological climate in family, health status of family members, especially of women and children; timely identify women and children who need medical, social and psychological care and social-legal protection; and, form a healthy life-style in the family. The Fund raises awareness, mainly of women and children, regarding sanitary and hygiene.

Mrs. Salomat Erdjanova stressed a great problem of diffuse goiter, anemia, and kidney diseases in the province, especially among fertile-age women and children. Therefore, work with children connected with Annsrrumlnum and Potassium iodide dissemination among girls is of prior importance. She also noted a need for research to identify reasons of disease incidence, that could be a direct result of water and soil quality deterioration.

In order to familiarize with agricultural practices in farm headed by woman, a meeting was arranged with the farmer Soliya Matyakubova in village “Bogalan”, Yangibazar district. Mrs. Matyakubova has 79 ha of land, where she grows wheat and cotton and breeds 12 heads of livestock. She employs 33 people, including 17 women, who mainly do manual work in the field. Men operate machines. Soliya has 5 children, all having higher education, and only one son, hydraulic engineer, helps her in farming. What did induce her, graduated from Pedagogical Institute in biology, to head the farm? “The reason is that I was grown on land and I like this”, she explains. At the same time, she tells frankly that this is hard labor and that for organization and keeping of the farm, one needs knowledge and experience and, moreover, woman needs support from family and social infrastructure in the village.

The information collected during the meetings served as a basis for the first regional workshop “Gender Aspects of Water Management in the Lowlands of Amudarya and Syrdarya” under the project “GWANET - Gender and Water Network in Central Asia”. The workshop was held in ICWC Training Center’s Branch in the Urgench city (Uzbekistan) on 29 June 2007. The representatives of water-management institutions and of NGOs from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan took part in the workshop (total 16 women and 9 men).

Within the framework of the project “GWANET – Gender and Water Network in Central Asia”, it is planned to hold awareness-raising workshops for all Central Asian countries concerning gender equity in water sector and creation of GWANET Network. The Urgench workshop was dedicated to discuss gender issues in the lowlands and to present to the participants from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan the GWANET Network’s aims and objectives.

Mr. Khudaiberganov Yu.Kh, the Head of BWO “Amudarya” opened the workshop. He presented briefly on the activities of BWO “Amudarya” and, in general, on water management along the Amudarya River. Finally, he wished successful work to the participants.

Then, Ms. Ziganshina D.R. informed the participants about aims and objectives of the workshop and the project and stated the principles of gender aspects development in water management. Dr. Stulina G.V. reported on experience of gender analysis made under SIC and GWP’s CACENA projects. Dr. Mukhamedjanov Sh.Sh. presented information on gender equity problems in light of the implementation of integrated water resources management in the Ferghana Valley.

The workshop agenda was developed in such a way so that to get maximum response from the participants. Therefore, most time was dedication to discussion. Three main questions were raised before the workshop audience:

  1. Which problems and key points do you consider as the most important?
  2. What should be done to their eradication and/or adequate addressing?
  3. Which institutions should be involved in this process (potential members of GWANET)?

As a result, the following key points were highlighted and gender issues were identified in water use and management:

  1. Health of population, particularly of women and children due to significant environmental degradation, especially in the lowlands
  2. Need for more focus on gender aspects in water resources use
  3. Lack of awareness in various areas and levels of decision-making
  4. Need for strong government support for consideration of gender factors
  5. General problem affecting gender aspects as well – bureaucracy
  6. Reduction of number of women in water-management institutions
  7. While considering and discussing gender issues, such approaches should be used that do not cause conflicts between men and women but highlight problems and encourage their joint solution
  8. Ignorance of state-granted rights and obligations and inability to protect them
  9. Poor level of women’s education, latent discrimination in education by women
  10. Soil degradation and water depletion has negative effect on population, especially women and children
  11. Lack of knowledge, skills and practices for environmentally safe nature and land use
  12. Lack of knowledge and motivation for application of resource-saving technologies, particularly as applies to water
  13. Lack of research addressing gender aspects in water, agricultural, and environmental sectors
  14. Gender problems of professional segregation in area of education and in labor market.
  15. Safe drinking water supply problem (shortage of water, poor water quality)
  16. Irrational drinking water use (this water is used for irrigating homestead plots in addition to drinking and sanitary- hygienic purposes)
  17. Problem with payment by population of drinking water supply services
  18. Inactivity of population in protecting their rights, including as concerns drinking water, and ignorance of on-going programs for drinking water supply to rural areas in their countries
  19. General lack of job places due to economic situation in the countries; this affects both women and men and causes men to migrate and imposes additional load on women
  20. Poorly developed rural infrastructure, as well as material and technical base; this results in domination of physical labor in agriculture and water sector

Based on the discussion, the following ways for solution were found:

  1. Involve mass media in awareness-raising regarding gender issues in water sector
  2. Implement national programs for drinking water supply and informing of population on program progress.
  3. Carry out research to identify gender issues in water, agricultural, and environmental sectors
  4. Ttake measures for raising awareness about gender issues at different levels and areas
  5. Actively involve all stakeholders (not only water professionals) in this work
  6. Teach the value of water in educational institutions, starting from schools
  7. Raise legal awareness of population, including on access to water and other resources
  8. Create conditions for improvement of women’s education and professional skills, including in water management at all levels
  9. Conduct large-scale campaigns for propaganda and application of water-conservation technologies as concerns both irrigation and drinking water
  10. Improve literacy of population in area of water conservation, hygiene and sanitation
  11. Organize exchange of experience in application of gender aspects in water management among the Central Asian countries and the other parts of the world
  12. Conduct training in raising gender awareness among water and agricultural staff from macro to local levels, as well as among farmers (more frequent and longer)
  13. Organize regular work with farmers and rural people in order to identify problems
  14. Develop gender-sensitive legislation, with respective financing of required measures
  15. In order to assist rural population, particularly women in the search for alternative sources of livelihoods (less dependent on agricultural production), revive national arts, develop tourism (cooperation between urban and rural areas)

The following organizations that must be involved in this process were highlighted (potential members of GWANET):

  1. Women committees (or commissions ensuring gender equity)
  2. Public agencies with relevant competences (Ministries for water resources and agriculture, State nature conservation committees, etc.)
  3. Local authorities
  4. Environmental organizations
  5. Media
  6. Non-governmental organizations dealing with water, agricultural, and environmental issues
  7. Research institutions
  8. International funding institutes, foreign investors

All the problems mentioned will be taken into account during project implementation and lay the basis for recommendations to be developed for decision-makers regarding application of gender approaches in the national water policies.

Registration forms were disseminated among the workshop participants who wished to join the «GWANET — Gender and Water Network in Central Asia». Eventually, all the participants wished to become the members of this network. Thus, the fist twenty member of GWANET were determined in Urgench.

The participants thanked the Asian Development Bank and the workshop organizers for important work and hoped that further joint actions on gender development in water sector will contribute to economic, social, and environmental security in the countries.

The workshop was finished and the participants had cultural visit to Khiva, the museum-town more than 2500 years old. Later, a meeting was organized between the GWANET project managers and the national coordinators from the Kyrgyz Republic (Sakhvayeva Yekaterina, senior expert of Water Resources Department of KR) and the Republic of Kakzakhstan (Omarbekova Aliya, leading researcher of the Committee for Water Resources, RK). The tasks of national coordinators were set and organization of project activity at national level was discussed at this meeting.

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