Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty WorldSM
Water In Central Asia: Past, Present, And Future

Via Central Asia Notes, an interesting look at Central Asia’s water issues:

Water management in Central Asia: state and impact
Since ancient times, water has been an important resource in Central Asia. It has been used by Soviet and now independent states for different purposes. At present, all countries of the region continue using water and becoming more and more dependent on it, due to growing population needs and deteriorating national economies. While some countries are using water for generating and selling electricity, other countries are using it for producing and export of goods abroad. Obviously, water is a precious commodity for all states. Central Asia has two main rivers which are used for above described needs of countries, these rivers are Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya (Jaxartes), both of them go in one destination by crossing different country borders, to Aral Sea basin which is located on Kazakh and Uzbek territories. As demand for water is growing, many people started to ask one question: will water in Central Asia cause conflict among states or it will help in cooperation and integration?
During Soviet era, the rivers used to be managed by Moscow as one system for whole region. By doing so, the state was able to address domestic demand for cotton and use water in the region’s economic development. By that time, under one centralized management of rivers, all regional post Soviet states were able to get enough water for their needs. However, the system also used to include the exchange of coal and gas for water. Accordingly, upstream mountainous countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan used to provide downstream plain land countries of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan with necessary amount of water for farming during summer times. In return, the latter used to provide the first with fuel during winter seasons  for needs of population. With dissolution of USSR, the system fell apart and all countries became on their own. Newly independent states started to use the common natural resource in uncooperative and at times unfair way, this in turn caused formation of tension among them.
Islam Karimov and Nursultan Nazarbaev,
On 6th and 7th of September of this year, Nursultan Nazarbaev and Islam Karimov raised this problem during Uzbek president’s official visit to Astana. In particular, Nazarbaev and Karimov voiced their concerns about water use practices of upstream countries. Kazakh president’s addressed Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as brother nations and appealed them to cooperation, while Karimov spoke on behalf of Turkmenistan and his own country. Uzbek president hinted at using military power in case of need to resolve the issue. Though, both presidents have similar positions towards the water use in the region, their tones were not alike, this indicates countries’ differing needs and attitudes to water. Obviously, Uzbek president’s statement was a clear signal of possible conflict over water sharing.
Among five Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan has the biggest territory, good amount of oil and mineral resources and 16 million people. Since independence, Kazakh economy has improved with the help of  oil and minerals export to international markets. Current good economy and GDP growth of country makes it less dependent on water that flows from upstream Kyrgyzstan. However, water is still required for farming and other needs. In 2010, Kazakhstan launched an economic blockade against Kyrgyzstan because of ongoing political events of that period in the country. In response, Kyrgyzstan was forced to block riverflow to Kazakhstan. The action was a clear signal for Kazakh side to cease the economic blockade. After days from that event, Kazakhstan initiated a project of building a water reservoir in their own territory for preventing the involvement of water issue into interstate relations anymore. Except this case, there were no other major tensions between two neighboring countries, though they still exist and country leaders often avoid the delicate topic.
Uzbekistan has less oil and gas than Kazakhstan. The country has the highest amount of population in the region, 26-27 million people. Most part of Uzbek population is engaged in farming and makes dense population of Fergana valley. In addition to this, Uzbekistan is of leading countries in the world at producing and exporting cotton which requires a lot of water for growing. The unemployed Uzbek citizens work in Russia and Kazakhstan and send remittances back home, but these money does not constitute big share of state income. Main sources of state income are related with farming, cotton production and other economic activities. All these factors are indicating the country’s heavy dependence on rivers that flows from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. From time to time Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations become slightly tense, but it does not reach a heating point that could trigger conflict between states. In contrast, Uzbek-Tajik relations are obviously negative. The countries have been engaged in conflict for last few years because of water issues. Uzbek side considers Tajikistan water using practice and “Rogun” Hydro Electric Station (HES) project as threat to national interests and economy.
For this reason Tashkent uses all possible means to hinder and stop the project and change Tajikistan’s practice at using common natural resource.
In far western part of Central Asia is located Turkmenistan, third downstream country. The country has good sources of gas, oil  for maintaining the economy in good shape. The population of the country is approximately 5 million people. Amu Darya flows to country along Tajik-Afghan and Uzbek-Afghan borders. The climate of Turkmenistan is drier than other neighboring countries due to big sand deserts, the river crosses the deserts and reaches the heartland of the country. In coming future, Turkmen state is planning to construct water reservoir “Altyn Asyr” (Golden Age) in order to irrigate dry parts of the country. There is little information available on Turkmenistan’s relations with upstream countries, but the plan to build water reservoir may indicate country’s need for more water, however it was not voiced in international media very strongly.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the upstream countries. The does not have much oil or gas resources as neighbors. But, it has gold ores and water. Due to first, second political revolutions and ethnic conflict, the country’s economy became little bit rigid. Most part of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous with little portion of land where farming can be done. Population of country makes around 5 million people. Main sources of income for state are the gold mines, export of electricity, rent from American military base, and some profit from migrant labor remittances. At present, the country has “Toktogul” and “Kambarata 1″ HES, and in coming years, state is planning to build “Kambarata 2″ HES. Russian Federation is interested in this project, and demonstrated readiness to invest in it. First two HES produce electricity for local population and for export to Uzbekistan and other neighboring countries. Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations are neutral, however, sometimes, Uzbek side hints at more water during summer times and sells gas at expensive price. In future, Kyrgyz state is planning to be part of CASA-1000 project and sell electricity to Pakistan and Afghanistan with the help of “Kambarata 2″ HES.
Tajikistan is the second upstream country. In comparison with all Central Asian states, Tajik economy is in bad shape. Reasons of poor economy are the caused by past civil war which lasted from 1992 till 1997, corruption in state structures, unemployment and other factors. Unfortunately, the country does not have oil or gas resources like neighboring countries, but it has aluminum factory and produces cotton. The factory has shady economic practices, some part of profit from it vanishes in high state offices instead of going to state budget. Tajik migrant labor remittances and water use for irrigation and electricity production also make some part of income to state budget. Country has “Nurek” HES, in addition to this, Tajik State is planning to build “Rogun” HES. After building “Rogun”, Tajikistan is intending to be part of CASA-1000 project and sell electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, Uzbekistan is dissatisfied with “Rorun” project and making all efforts to stop it. Interstate relations of two countries became cold and aggressive. Both of states insist on their objectives and ignore the other side.
Among all actors, only Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have obvious negative relations when it comes to sharing and using water while other states have acceptable relations on this matter. Taking into account the statement of Uzbek president and Tajik-Uzbek relations, one may conclude, Islam Karimov’s statement was addressed to Tajik government. On the other hand, it is difficult to be sure on this matter. In any case, whether Uzbek president’s statement was addressed to Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan, one fact is emerging from all events: countries are not able to come to one common terms at sharing water, and this fact is causing formation of tension and conflicts among states. If the problem will not be solved in coming years, then conflicts will be unavoidable. In addition to current uneasy situation, CASA-1000 is also needs to be discussed since the project is directly related to water issues.
Full title of project is CASAREM-1000. The project aims to solve Afghanistan and Pakistan’s electricity needs by providing electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. According to CASA-1000, by the time when “Kambarata 2″ and “Rogun” will be completely built, an electricity line will go through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Through the line Kabul will be provided with 300 Megawatt and with 1000 Megawatt for Pakistan. In theory, the project seems to be perfect, two countries have demand for electricity, while other two providers will have capacity to supply with electricity, problems of four countries will be solved. The idea is very attractive for Kyrgyz and Tajik sides, they are hoping to get lucrative profits from the project when it will be ready. But what about capability of the customer countries to buy electricity? Will they be able to pay all coming years? What about Central Asian downstream countries needs for water? Will they get enough water in case of CASA-1000 project realization? These and many other questions arise. Certainly, I am not energy specialist, and my knowledge on this topic is limited, you may say, but here is one of expert assessments on the project. According to Nikolai Kravtsov, CASA-1000 may be an obstacle in integration process of Central Asian countries. Furthermore in coming future, global climate change is awaiting the region as all parts of the world.
Will the Aral Sea Disappear Forever?
The water resources of Central Asia may decrease, this in turn may influence whole region. At present, because of human influence, Aral Sea is facing ecological disaster. Soviet time and past years of practice of using pesticides, fertilizers at irrigating crop fields made very strong impact on Aral Sea, it started to decrease fast. The process is still continuing on Uzbek territory while Kazakh side of sea is recovering slowly as result of state efforts. However, slow decrease of water in the basin is a very clear indicator of problems related with water use in the region. Realization of CASA-1000 project may be successful at improving economies of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Or it may turn out to be a disintegrating problem for neighboring states. In any case all Central Asian states have to discuss the topic and come to one commonly accepted terms, strictly follow it. In addition to it, the states also have to implement drip irrigation technologies which save a lot of water and reach high productivity.
These are the ideas which I have on the topic and would be pleased to learn about your ideas, please share them if you have.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 at 6:27 pm and is filed under Aral Basin, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

Comments are closed.

© 2022 Water Politics LLC.  'Water Politics', 'water. politics. life', and 'Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty World' are service marks of Water Politics LLC.