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Water shortage becoming top of agenda in Central Asia

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Water shortage becoming top of agenda in Central Asia

The international conference: “Hydro Resource Deficit in Central Asia: Ways to Solve Water Issues at Regional and International Levels” held

Bishkek

The problems of water scarcity in Central Asian countries, as well as the prospects for their solution within the framework of interstate cooperation, were discussed by participants of the international conference: “Hydro Resource Deficit in Central Asia: Ways to Solve Water Issues at Regional and International Levels.” The event was organized by the Center for Expert Initiatives “Oy Ordo” in collaboration with the NGO “Green Energy.”

Marat Imankulov, Secretary of the Security Council of Kyrgyzstan, reminded that many experts in their forecasts come to the bleak conclusion that in the next 25-30 years humanity will face a global problem of drinking water scarcity. By 2050, there will be enough hydro resources on the planet to meet the needs of 9 billion people, but the resources will be unevenly distributed.

“UN reports and expert assessments note that if measures to preserve water resources are not taken now, by 2050 more than 5 billion people will have problems accessing water. According to World Bank analysts, by 2050, against the backdrop of population growth in Central Asia to 90 million people, the drinking water deficit will reach 25-30%, and the need for irrigation water may increase by 30% by 2030,” Imankulov said.

Many experts in their forecasts come to the bleak conclusion that in the next 25-30 years humanity will face a global problem of drinking water scarcity

At present, the main challenges for Kyrgyzstan, according to him, are: reducing the available drinking water; high wear and tear of water infrastructure; transboundary water sharing issues; incompleteness of reforming the water management system. There are several other problems that also affect the water security of the country. As official statistics show, the situation with glaciers in Kyrgyzstan is causing not just concern, but strong alarm and requires urgent measures.

Read: Water shortage problem in Central Asia getting worse

“The largest rivers originate in our country – the Amu Darya, Syr Darya, Chu, Talas, and others, providing water to both Kyrgyzstan and neighboring states. After 1991, the ties and structure of the unified economic mechanism for managing water resources were destroyed. The issue of developing new rules and norms for effective and rational water use is on the agenda, as well as the need to revise regulatory acts and schemes in the field of transboundary water resource sharing,” emphasized the Secretary of the Security Council of Kyrgyzstan.

c21.730x400He noted separately the problem that arose as a result of the construction of the Kushka Canal in Afghanistan: “Annually, it will divert 10 cubic kilometers of water from the Amu Darya. This will inevitably lead to an increase in water intake from the Syr Darya, which may lead to local conflicts on this basis.”

Deputy Minister of Water Resources, Agriculture, and Processing Industry of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Sokeyev also emphasized that there are many problems in the field of water use that require prompt solutions.

“In the light of climate change, we need to adapt to new situations. If previously low water levels occurred approximately once every 6 years, now it happens almost every year. In addition, the cycles have shifted, if previously water came in May, now it comes in June. That is, we need to adjust our activities considering these conditions. Given the trend towards low water levels, it is necessary to build new hydrotechnical facilities, otherwise, we will not be able to supply water properly,” the official noted.

He said that in Kyrgyzstan, active work is currently underway to minimize losses in water use. Much attention is paid to the irrigation system: “Over the past three years, funding for the repair of irrigation networks has increased 8 times, thanks to which in the last six months we have been able to increase the volume of water supply by about 40%, as many canals have been cleaned and are functioning. The reconstruction of these structures will allow minimizing losses, which means we will be able to supply more water to downstream countries. We are working on this issue with colleagues from neighboring countries.

For example, with Uzbekistan, we are working together on the rehabilitation of the Kasan-Sai reservoir. With Kazakhstan, we have agreed to jointly clean the Big Chui Canal – BCC,” Sokoev said.

All water regulating and transporting structures, built more than half a century ago, are now in a dangerous technical condition and pose a real threat of collapse

Director of the Institute of Water Problems and Hydropower of the National Academy of Sciences of Kyrgyzstan, Professor, and Doctor of Technical Sciences Dogdurbek Chontoyev drew special attention to the lack of economic principles in interstate water use.

“By introducing fees for water supply services for their own (internal) water users, the Central Asian states completely ignore the market mechanism for payment for water obtained from the territory of neighboring states. They continue to use it for free, without reimbursing Kyrgyzstan for any expenses for servicing and operating reservoirs and other interstate irrigation structures regulating river flow and supplying water to neighboring states, i.e. these objects are serviced and maintained solely at the expense of the budgets of the republics,” explained the speaker.

At the same time, he emphasized that all water regulating and transporting structures, built more than half a century ago, are now in a dangerous technical condition and pose a real threat of collapse, which threatens catastrophe, primarily to the plain states located downstream – Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Read: Water Woes of Central Asia

“Only together, with the proportional participation of all states, can reliable operation of interstate hydrotechnical facilities be ensured, and therefore, guaranteed water supply,” explained D. Chontoyev.

Conference participants also noted that today there is active interest in the water issues of the region from global power centers. The difficulties encountered in solving water problems, combined with the fact that the Kushka Canal in Afghanistan adds additional strain to the regional water management system, make the issue of international arbitration particularly relevant.

“Water plays a key role economically, but this factor is also crucial in matters of regional security. The same question of the impact of the Afghan Kushka Canal on water use in Central Asia has several contexts.

For example, the construction of the canal is related to geopolitical processes and demonstrates the presence of external players in the water agenda of Central Asia, primarily the United States, which funded the construction of this water canal through USAID, without considering the interests of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The Kushka Canal in Afghanistan adds additional strain to the regional water management system

As Uzbekistan’s President Sh. Mirziyoyev noted, with the launch of this facility, the water regime and balance in Central Asia can fundamentally change. However, Washington showed absolutely no interest in how this project would affect the countries of Central Asia and what damage it would do to their national interests,” reminded Igor Shestakov, Director of CEI “Oy Ordo.”

This idea was supported by the Deputy Head of the Department of Political Science and Political Philosophy of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, PhD Sergey Zhiltsov. He noted that the efforts of Central Asian countries to negotiate on water issues are being made against the backdrop of deteriorating water resource situations and active Afghan policies.

c2.730x400“The implementation of the project, which is planned to be completed by 2028, began in March 2022. The canal is supposed to be 285 km long, 100 meters wide, and 8.5 meters deep. After the completion of the construction, water consumption from the Amu Darya to Afghanistan may increase from 7 to 17 cubic kilometers. This will be particularly problematic for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which are located downstream of one of the region’s major water arteries. Moreover, ecologists believe that the construction of the canal could lead to climate change and an ecological disaster,” the expert explained.

He emphasized that Afghanistan, in pursuing its water policy, acts without consultations with other countries in the region, which raises the question of who benefits from the construction of this canal in the first place.

“According to Afghan sources, the cost of the project is $684 million. The Taliban claim that the canal construction is funded from its own funds. However, considering the difficult economic situation in the country, this seems unlikely. Moreover, the canal construction project was developed with the assistance of USAID, which also stands behind the research conducted by AACS Consulting within the framework of the project ‘Strengthening Watershed and Irrigation Management’ (SWIM), managed by AECOM International Development, Inc./DT Global,” the speaker said.

He noted that Central Asian countries have limited leverage on Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Afghan side understands that the construction of the canal will not only create opportunities for obtaining additional volumes of water resources.

The country will gain a powerful lever of influence on neighboring states, which will exacerbate the geopolitical situation in the region and introduce additional tension.

Taliban claim that the canal construction is funded from its own funds. However, considering the difficult economic situation in the country, this seems unlikely.

“Water issues confidently occupy the first place among the problems that will affect the development of Central Asia. At the same time, the policy of non-regional actors practically provokes the preservation of complex interstate relations between Central Asian countries,” added S. Zhiltsov.

Concerns about the construction of the Kushka Canal in Afghanistan were also supported by the Director of the International Research Center “Water Hub” (Kazakhstan), Professor, Doctor of Technical Sciences Anatoly Ryabtsev.

Read: Afghan Kushtepa Canal project would be a disaster for Central Asia!

“Afghanistan claims a very serious share, within 10-12% of the total flow of the Amu Darya. This is a serious problem that will greatly affect Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, located at the mouth of one of the region’s main water arteries.

Therefore, it is important for Afghanistan to join the Interstate Coordination Water Commission of Central Asia. We once invited them, but frequent changes of power in this country prevented Afghanistan from becoming a full member of this community,” noted the speaker.

He particularly emphasized the need to jointly work on preserving and rational use of water resources, as well as energy potential:

“We have started work on creating a water-energy consortium, which should provide heads of Central Asian countries and governments with a mechanism for managing and obtaining benefits, both from the energy side and from irrigation. If we do this separately, nothing good will come of it,” added A. Ryabtsev.

Source: CEI “Oy Ordo”

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Courtesy: Central Asian Light (Posted on May 7, 2024)

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