Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty WorldSM
Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Strategic Power of Water In Central Asia

The United States should play a key role in holding off looming water conflicts in Central Asia, according to a new report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While the U.S. stakes are highest in Afghanistan and Pakistan, neighboring countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan will also become increasingly important, as water demand for food production and electricity generation increases, and climate change disturbs weather patterns.  As the report, titled Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s Growing Importance For Stability In Afghanistan and Pakistan, notes:

“…Water scarcity is often overlooked, underfunded, and under-valued within foreign policy. Yet a government’s ability to provide and manage access to water is critical for ensuring political, economic, and social stability. In Central and South Asia, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the impacts of water scarcity are fueling dangerous tensions that will have repercussions for regional stability and U.S. foreign policy objectives. The national security implications of this looming water shortage—directly caused or aggravated by agriculture demands, hydroelectric power generation, and climate instability— will be felt all over the world.

To its credit, the Obama administration has recognized the critical role water plays in achieving our foreign policy goals and in protecting our national security interests. For the first time, the United States has elevated water-related issues in its bilateral relationships with priority countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Accordingly, the U.S. strategy and foreign assistance budgets now include significant investments allocated toward activities that promote water security through high-visibility projects, such as expanding water storage capabilities and irrigation.

However, the U.S. approach walks a fine line with respect to water issues and must be tailored to reflect the realities of water politics in Central and South Asia. While the focus of the United States is appropriately directed toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is important to recognize that our water-related activities in the region are almost exclusively confined within the borders of these two countries. We pay too little attention to the waters shared by their Indian and Central Asian neighbors—Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. For example, in 2009 the United States provided approximately $46.8 million in assistance for water-related activities to Afghanistan and Pakistan compared with $3.7 million shared among all five Central Asian countries for these efforts.

Providing the right support can have a tremendous stabilizing influence, but providing the wrong support can spell disaster by agitating neighboring countries. By neglecting the interconnectivity of water issues between Central and South Asia, the U.S. approach could exacerbate regional tensions. Our activities should be carefully calibrated to address a broad range of needs and encourage reluctant state actors to come to the negotiating table. The United States must be cautious and recognize that, while regional stability will not be determined solely by our efforts to support water cooperation, regional stability can be strongly undermined by misguided support…”



This entry was posted on Saturday, February 26th, 2011 at 7:41 am and is filed under News.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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