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World Water Conference Opens in Dushanbe

The site of the Roghun hydropower plant in Tajikistan, a point of contention for Uzbekistan.

The site of the Roghun hydropower plant in Tajikistan, a point of contention for Uzbekistan.

DUSHANBE -- A UN-sponsored international water conference has opened in Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Participants will assess implementation of the goals set by the UN for its Water For Life Decade (2005-2015), such as reducing the proportion of people worldwide without access to safe drinking water.

Addressing the conference, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon proposed designating 2012 the Year of Water Diplomacy in order to "promote and strengthen cooperation and dialogue and create new approaches to regulating water relations."

Rahmon implicitly blamed downstream states in the region for the drying up of the Aral Sea -- arguably Central Asia's biggest environmental problem.

"In recent years, more than 100 large reservoirs have been built in lower-reach countries. The total volume [of those reservoirs] is 1.5 times greater than the current area of the Aral Sea," Rahmon said.

Rahmon defended Tajikistan's hydropower projects, including construction of the Roghun hydropower station on the Vakhsh river, a tributary of the Amu-Darya which flows through Uzbekistan and into the Aral Sea.

Uzbekistan objects strongly to that project as filling the huge reservoir will considerably reduce the volume of water from the Vakhsh that reaches the Amu-Darya.

Rahmon affirmed that Tajikistan never causes any problems for other peoples and countries of the region, nor does it want to. He said Tajikistan will take those countries' interests into account.

Representatives from more than 70 countries and 65 international organizations, including UN Undersecretary Sha Xukan, are participating in the conference.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will address the forum on June 9.

Uzbekistan, the strongest critic of Tajikistans's water and hydroenergy projects, is represented at the conference by a small delegation headed by a deputy economy minister.