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Even though Central Asia is water rich, water disputes have characterized the region after crumbling of the Soviet Union in 1991. The uneven spatial distribution and complex pattern of transboundary water sources with contrasting national water needs have created an intricate water dilemma. Increasing national water needs, water claims by surrounding countries, uncertainties in renewable water volumes, and effects of climate change will put further strain on the future water use in Central Asia. We argue that the present power distribution with three downstream hegemons (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) and two upstream much poorer countries with less political influence (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) is not likely to lead forward to a greater willingness to share water. We discuss this situation with the analogue Egypt–Sudan–Ethiopia in the Nile Basin. Thus, as in the case of Ethiopia in the Nile Basin, gradually economically stronger upstream countries Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan due to hydropower development are likely to eventually redefine the hydropolitical map of Central Asia. As in the case of the Nile Basin, a more even power balance between upstream and downstream countries may lead to an improved political structure for a much needed better collaboration on water issues.
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Could Changing Power Relationships Lead to Better
Water Sharing in Central Asia?
Aibek Zhupankhan 1, 2, Kamshat Tussupova 2 ,3 and Ronny Berndtsson 2 ,*
1Department of International Affairs, Eurasian National University, Kazhymukan Munaytpasov Street 13,
Astana 010000, Kazakhstan;
Department of Water Resources Engineering & Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University, Box 118,
SE-221 00 Lund, Sweden;
3Department of International Cooperation and Bologna Process, Karaganda State Medical University,
Gogol Street 40, Karagandy 100048, Kazakhstan
*Correspondence:; Tel.: +46-46-222-8986
Academic Editor: David K. Kreamer
Received: 7 December 2016; Accepted: 16 February 2017; Published: 20 February 2017
Even though Central Asia is water rich, water disputes have characterized the region after
crumbling of the Soviet Union in 1991. The uneven spatial distribution and complex pattern of
transboundary water sources with contrasting national water needs have created an intricate water
dilemma. Increasing national water needs, water claims by surrounding countries, uncertainties in
renewable water volumes, and effects of climate change will put further strain on the future water
use in Central Asia. We argue that the present power distribution with three downstream hegemons
(Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) and two upstream much poorer countries with less
political influence (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) is not likely to lead forward to a greater willingness
to share water. We discuss this situation with the analogue Egypt-Sudan-Ethiopia in the Nile Basin.
Thus, as in the case of Ethiopia in the Nile Basin, gradually economically stronger upstream countries
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan due to hydropower development are likely to eventually re-define the
hydropolitical map of Central Asia. As in the case of the Nile Basin, a more even power balance
between upstream and downstream countries may lead to an improved political structure for a much
needed better collaboration on water issues.
Central Asia; hydropolitics; water management; water conflict; transboundary water;
climate change
1. Introduction
Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan,
represents an important strategic geopolitical region. Historically, the area is known as the “The Great
Game” in terms of describing the political and diplomatic skirmishes that occurred between Britain and
Russia during most of the 19th century. During recent years, this term has again surfaced as the region is
in the center of the triangle China, Russia, and India [
]. The sudden renewed interest in the area became
obvious after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The region is in general water rich as well as rich
in hydrocarbon resources but is still economically underdeveloped with a strong ethnic diversity [2].
Throughout the Soviet Union era, the region’s natural resources were managed in a system that
would maximize the regional economic output. For example, downstream riparians like Uzbekistan
and Kazakhstan would grow cotton using water supplied by the upstream riparian Kyrgyzstan [
In return, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan supplied Kyrgyzstan with coal and gas to compensate for less
water for hydropower [
]. The sudden crumbling of the Soviet Union in 1991 and appearance of the
five independent Central Asian states changed the geopolitical landscape and the views on how to
Water 2017,9, 139; doi:10.3390/w9020139
Water 2017,9, 139 2 of 17
manage the natural resources. Even though different multilateral treaties have been agreed upon
between the Central Asian states over the years to ascertain this resource-sharing regime, conflicts
have arisen. For example, repeated conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have occurred
due to problems in this resource sharing. For a more detailed discussion on this topic, see Dinar [
Once the Soviet Union had disintegrated, water resources became politicized and part of the national
interests [
]. For example, during a presidential meeting in Astana in 2012, the Uzbek president Islam
Karimov emphasized that water resources problems could cause wars [
]. Recent research on the
possible reduction of water supply from melting of the Tien Shan glaciers (Figure 1) has resurfaced the
fear of water wars in Central Asia [
]. The passing of president Karimov on 2 September 2016 raises
important questions for the future of the region with the intertwined water issue.
Figure 1. Central Asia with major regional water resources [8].
Already four years after the downfall of the Soviet Union, Central Asia was identified as a region
close to potential conflict regarding natural resource use [
]. Although, Central Asia is not water
poor, a major part of the available water resources is concentrated in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
In fact, main surface runoff of the Aral Sea Basin (about 93 km
/year or 80%) is formed in the
upstream Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan [
]. However, the main use of water (85%) occurs in downstream
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The two major rivers of the region, the Syr Darya and the
Amu Darya, originate in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan (Figures 1and 2). For this reason,
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan control most of the water resources needed by the other downstream states.
However, Afghanistan as well, constitutes an important and up to now a more or less silent riparian.
Sharing of the water from the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya has exposed a complex picture of water
needs and potential political conflict [
]. During the last decades of the 20th century, the Aral Sea,
the fourth largest lake in the world, has shrunk significantly [
]. This occurred due to increase of
irrigated agricultural area from 4.3 to 8.2 million ha. When the ecology changed, an area of hundred
thousand square kilometers containing a population of several million were jeopardized [16,17].
Gleick [
] (see also Dinar [
] for a discussion) notes that four main characteristics decide
the graveness of a hydropolitical conflict, namely (1) the degree of scarcity, mismanagement,
and misallocation of water in the region and the importance of water to a particular state; (2) the
protracted conflict underlying the water dispute; (3) the historical and political claims made by the
Water 2017,9, 139 3 of 17
disputing countries over water; and (4) the relative power of the countries. A fifth characteristic is
probably an upstream or downstream position as developed by Dinar [
]. The most serious conflict
between ethnic groups of Kyrgyz and Uzbeks occurred in the Ferghana Valley in the Syr Darya
Basin 1990 and 2010 [
]. Even if there is no concrete proof, we speculate that water availability had
a significant influence on the conflict. In 2010, the clashes killed approximately 420 people, mostly
Uzbeks, and another 80,000 were displaced (see also [
] for a more elaborate text on conflict and
cooperation in the Ferghana Valley). The three countries Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan
have all historic and economic claims to the natural resources of the region [
]. At the same time,
much work have been devoted by international donors and NGOs to solving the problems in the
Ferghana Valley and introduce modern water management techniques.
Figure 2. The Syr Darya (a) and Amu Darya River (b) Basins [22].
Water 2017,9, 139 4 of 17
In view of the above, hydropolitical studies may include the five items above, or to simplify,
two main factors, riparian position along the river or water course and relative power as considered
by Dinar [
]. There are many examples of how these two factors may balance or imbalance each other
(see e.g., Dinar [
] for three different major river basins). Militarily or economically stronger states
(hydro-hegemons) may be able to by different means, coax weaker states into water agreements or
arrangements that is not equitable [
]. Consequently, power balance, as indicated in the title of this
paper, is a part of the general hydropolitical map of a water basin. The power balance may or may not
be an important aspect of hydropolitics as also the geographical (physiographical) position along the
river is important as mentioned above.
In view of the above, it is possible that local water disputes could escalate to regional conflicts.
Ethnic tensions and border disputes, could lead to serious international conflict. The International
Crisis Group [
] has also noted this. Thus, the objective of this paper is to review the renewable
transboundary water resources in Central Asia and effects of climate change. We then analyse the
hydropolitical map of Central Asia and some of the more important surrounding transboundary
nations. Based on these analyses we suggest a future scenario for the water resources development in
Central Asia and changes in regional hydropolitics.
2. Water Access in Central Asia
As mentioned above, Central Asia is in general water rich, though, water is unevenly distributed.
The major parts of Central Asia are strongly continental semiarid to arid with a general shortage of
freshwater. Mean annual country wide precipitation is 273 mm, varying from 161 mm in Turkmenistan
to 691 mm in Tajikistan [
]. Kazakhstan, which is by far the largest country, receives an average
annual precipitation of about 250 mm [
]. In general, the steppes and deserts receive less than
70 mm per year and the mountainous areas of Tajikistan can receive up to 2400 mm per year [
Annual potential evaporation varies from above 2250 mm in the arid region to less than 500 mm in the
mountainous areas. Totally available and renewable water resources for each of the countries are given
in Table 1based on various sources [
]. The first source states, e.g., that the total renewable
water resources for Kazakhstan are 117 km
/year with 34 km
/year coming from sources outside
the country. On the other hand, Ryabtsev [
] states these amounts to be 100.5 and 44 km
respectively. As seen from the table, quite contrasting water resources amounts are stated by different
sources. In general, there seems to be a great confusion how to define the renewable water resources
for the different countries in Central Asia. Some of this confusion may be related to uncertainties in
observations. The mountainous areas in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, e.g., contain large water storages
in form of ice, snow, and glaciers. Parts of this water are annually or semi-annually renewable while
the glacial deposits generally are not. Due to difficult observational terrain and few observational
points, it is difficult to ascertain general volumes and what water volume that is renewable. There are,
however, as well great uncertainties and conflicting views regarding transboundary water resources.
The more recent reports from the World Bank, e.g., state that Central Asian river flows from other
countries are not included in national estimates due to data unreliability. Groundwater resources
in Central Asia are generally stated to constitute about 10%–15% of the surface water resources [
However, there are great spatial variation throughout Central Asia as well as great needs to better
quantify volumes and quality of sub-surface water.
The general conclusion from Table 1though must be that there is no country-wide general
water scarcity in Central Asia. Uzbekistan represents the smallest per capita amount of water with
1870 m
/capita and year. A per capita water availability of less than 3000 m
per year is usually
regarded as economic water scarcity [
]. Out of all countries, only Uzbekistan falls below this
threshold. Thus, water scarcity is not a relevant term to indicate potential water conflict at the
country level. On the other hand, just two major river basins, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya
contain 73% of the total Central Asian population [
]. In this respect, Porkka et al. [
] found that
over 80% of the total Central Asian population experience demand-driven water scarcity and 50%
Water 2017,9, 139 5 of 17
population-driven scarcity. Demand-driven water scarcity can be defined as water stress related to
excessive use of otherwise sufficient water resources. Population-driven scarcity is related to water
shortage occurring in areas where a large population has to depend on a limited resource. Thus,
the main cause is over-exploitation of available water resources. Siebert and Döll [
] indicate that
production of cotton, wheat, and rice consumes 86% of the agricultural water demand in Central Asia.
Cotton alone represents 62%.
Table 1. Water use and renewable surface and groundwater resources of Central Asia.
Country Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan
Average precipitation (mm/year) [
250 530 690 160 270
Total renewable water resources
(km3/year *) [30]117 (34) 58 (0) 99 (16) 25 (23) 59 (34)
Total renewable water resources
(m3/capita and year) [30]6490 8480 13,500 4090 1870
Total renewable water resources
(m3/capita and year) [38]7368 9293 12,706 12,706 4527
Total renewable water resources
(m3/capita and year) [39,40]7061 4263 2338 4901 1854
Total renewable water resources
including agreements
(m3/capita and year) [25]
6632 4379 3140 4851 1760
Internally renewable water resources
(m3/capita and year) [32]3886 8873 9096 275 557
Agricultural water use (%) [25] 81 94 92 98 94
Industrial water use (%) [25] 17 3 4 1 2
Domestic water use (%) [25] 2 3 4 1 4
* Within brackets is share of outside sources.
In view of the above, it is clear that the uneven distribution in space and time of potential
water resources in combination with disproportionate and unrestrained irrigation withdrawal cause
water scarcity where agriculture is intense. To solve these problems, a political will together with
a democratic involvement of all stakeholders are necessary. It would also require an environmentally
aware community. These characteristics are not yet well developed in Central Asia and combined
with an autocratic leadership this may lead to repeating historical mistakes such the case of the Aral
Sea [
]. The Amu Darya and the Syr Darya represent about 50% of the annually renewable water
in Central Asia. Amu Darya represents a mean annual runoff of about 79.4 km
while Syr Darya
represents about 37.2 km3[13,43].
Wasteful irrigation can be tremendous. It has been estimated that on average, the Central
Asian states use 1.5 times more water on the fields than recommended [
]. ICG [
] states that
8000–10,000 m
of irrigation water (except water for leaching) can be used for one hectare of
. Thus, there is a huge potential for water saving in Central Asia. In general, more than
half of the withdrawn irrigation water is lost through seepage loss and evaporation from irrigation
channels. The predominant use of wasteful flooding and furrow irrigation is another area that can be
made more efficient by use of modern and water-saving irrigation techniques.
3. Hydropolitical Map
In view of the above, more than 90% of the totally used water in Central Asia are used for
irrigation [
]. Farming irrigation corresponds to one-third of GDP and more than two-thirds
of employment. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the two dominating economic powers of Central
Asia. The Uzbekistan population is largest with about 30 million inhabitants and Kazakhstan with
about 18 million inhabitants (Table 2; Central Asian total population equals about 68 million). Thus,
Water 2017,9, 139 6 of 17
the upstream population represents 15 million (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and the downstream
population 53 million (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). The total population of Central
Asia will increase to about 89 million by 2050.
Kazakhstan has by far the largest economy with a GDP of USD 195 billion (Uzbekistan GDP
equals USD 66 billion) [
]. Uzbekistan, however, appears to have the ambition to become the region’s
hegemon [
]. This is in line with the deployment of 1500 US troops (2002–2005) together with
USD 160 million in US aid in 2002 to act against transnational terrorism [
]. Uzbekistan, due to
its downstream position and dependence on agricultural economy with mainly cotton production,
views irrigation as one of its key security issues [
]. Uzbekistan is a strong military power and
together with its natural gas resources, it has reinforced its position as a hegemon in relation to the
upstream Kyrgyzstan [
]. For example, it has attempted to convince Pakistan not to import generated
electricity from a hydropower project involving both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan [4].
Irrigation is also a security issue to Kazakhstan. However, Kazakhstan has a self-sufficient
economy with a well-developed agriculture [
]. Kazakhstan is a major energy producer in the
Commonwealth of Independent States. It produces oil, gas, and coal, and it is the leading producer
and exporter of uranium ore in the world [49].
Turkmenistan is politically stable and stresses its neutral position. The country has the fourth
largest natural gas reserve in the world. However, it still depends on agricultural production for
its economy (Table 2; 15% of GDP). Being a downstream riparian and aiming at developing food
self-sufficiency it considers water availability a national security issue. Cotton production employs
44% of the country’s work force [51].
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the poorest and the two upstream countries in Central Asia (Table 2).
Tajikistan suffered from a civil war in 1992–97 that damaged infrastructure and economy [
]. Tajikistan
relies heavily on agriculture for its economy (25% value added to GDP; Table 2). The country has
the largest water resources in Central Asia due to its upstream location for both Amu Darya and
Syr Darya. During recent years, Tajikistan has increased its hydropower capacity in order to become
energy independent. Both Russia and Iran have supported hydropower dams along the tributaries of
the Amu Darya. The Tajik language is a Persian dialect. In addition, Pashto and Dari, which are the
official languages of Afghanistan, belong to the Persian language family. For this reason, Tajikistan is
closer to Iran and Afghanistan as compared to other Central Asian states [
]. Kyrgyzstan also relies
much on agriculture (16% value added to GDP; Table 2). The Kyrgyzstan population with a native
Turkic language is constituted by mainly three ethnic groups: the indigenous Kyrgyz, the Russians,
the Uzbek population. These population groups have different cultural and economic characteristics,
however, 67% of the total population live in the Ferghana, Talas, and Chu valleys. Episodes of civil
unrest have characterized especially the Ferghana Valley [52].
Russia has an important relationship with Central Asia due to its history and it is the region’s
largest trade partner [
]. On 15 May 1992 an intergovernmental military alliance Collective
Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), was signed focusing on economic and military regional
coordination. The members include Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
and Uzbekistan [
]. This has been interpreted as a way for Russia to re-establish its hegemony
position in the area and counterbalance Chinese and American influence. During recent years, Russia
has been reluctant in supporting upstream countries’ hydropower ambitions. An interpretation of
this is that it is trying to balance its relationship with downstream Uzbekistan and at the same time
preserving its hydropower interests in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
As mentioned in the introduction, China can also be described as part of the new “great game” [
As in Africa, China has mainly invested by providing funds for infrastructure such as dams, roads,
and power transmission lines. China’s strategy appears to be to secure natural resources [57].
As indicated above, besides irrigation, water resources are very important for energy production
in the region. Hydropower accounts for 27% of the region’s general power generating capacity [
For Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, this percentage exceeds 90% [
]. Thus, their economies are more or
Water 2017,9, 139 7 of 17
less entirely dependent on available water resources. Changes affecting water resources in Central Asia
are therefore directly affecting the economies and their social and socioeconomic development [59].
The Ili River is especially important for the Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan. The Ili River originates
in the Chinese Tien Shan mountains, crosses the border to Kazakhstan, and discharges into the southern
part of Lake Balkhash. About 85% of the river basin lie within Kazakh territory and about 15% in
China. The river, which is fed mainly by melting snow and ice, contributes about 80% of total inflow to
the endorheic lake [
]. The discharge from Ili River entering the lake was 11.9 km
/year as an average
for 1953–1969 [
]. The average flow decreased to 10.4 km
/year for the period 1970–2009. Causes
for gradually decreased flow of the river are development of irrigated agriculture, industrial use,
and development of the Kapshagai hydropower station [
]. The Lake Balkhash is one of the largest in
Asia with an area of 16,400 km
and a volume of 112 km
. The lake is rather shallow, however, with an
average depth of 5.8 m and thus, the lake area is sensitive to changes in inflow.
Another regionally important river is the Irtysh River in Kazakhstan. It originates in the Altai
Mountains between Mongolia and China, enters Kazakhstan, and continues to Russia to join the Ob
River. When it enters Kazakh territory from China the average flow is about 9 km
/year. When it
leaves Kazakh territory to Russia the average flow is about 27 km
/year [
]. Both the Ili and Irtysh
River water are likely to be used for expansion of Chinese agriculture and industry. Thus, first of
all, Lake Balkhash and secondly downstream Irtysh will be affected. Allouche [
] indicates that
China expects to use as much as 40% of the Irtysh flow. No agreement has been achieved between
Kazakhstan and China on the Ili River flow. However, so far Kazakhstan has been able to mitigate
China’s aspirations to use the Ili River flow by sending big quantities of free or greatly subsidized
foodstuff to China [63].
In view of the above, it is clear that Central Asian hydropolitics are complex and involve major
powers such as China and Russia. Thus, several water related agreements, mainly involving the
five Central Asian states have been signed (Table 3).
Table 2. Central Asia socioeconomic characteristics.
Country Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan Turkmenistan Uzbekistan
Population (million;
population 2050) [64]18 (23) 6 (8) 9 (14) 5 (7) 30 (37)
GDP (billion US$) [64] 184.4 6.6 7.9 35.9 66.7
Population undernourished (%) [
<5 6 33 <5 <5
Agriculture, value added
(% of GDP) [64]5 16 25 15 18
Irrigated area
(% of agricultural area) [25]9 75 85 100 89
Principal agricultural products [25]Wheat,
livestock Livestock Cotton,
Fruit, vegetables,
wheat, fruits
Hydropower production (TWh) [
7.9 14.0 17.1 0 6.0
Potential hydropower production
(TWh) [66]27 99 317 2 15
Dependence on transboundary
water (%) [67]42 0 0 94 77
The Almaty Agreement in 1992 (Table 3) was followed by among other things the creation of
two important interstate organizations, the Interstate Coordinating Water Commission (ICWC in
1993) and the International Fund for the Aral Sea (IFAS in 1999). This can be seen as an effort to
institutionalize the water management in the region [
]. However, due to lack of transparency and
weak political commitment, this has not resulted in a decrease in water related tensions [
]. On the
other hand, one of the IFAS activities, to save the Aral Sea, is perhaps the most successful so far.
Kazakhstan has played a leading role in this endeavor.
Water 2017,9, 139 8 of 17
Table 3.
Select water related agreements within Central Asia (after Volovik [
] and Soliev et al. [
Date States Agreement (Agreement Highlights)
18 February 1992 Almaty
Kazakhstan Cooperation in the field of joint water resources
management and conservation of interstate sources
(not to cause harm; joint decision making; preserving
Soviet Union period water allocation).
26 March 1993 Kzyl-Orda
Joint activities in the Aral Sea (collaboration for joint
development and preserving of the Aral Sea).
16 January 1996 Charjev
Cooperation on water management issues (sharing Amu
Darya flow by 50/50 at Kerki).
17 March 1998 Bishek
Kazakhstan Use of water and energy resources of the Syr Darya
Basin (focus on irrigation and energy use, Tajikistan
joined in 1999).
9 April 1999 Ashgabat
Kazkhstan Ashgabat Declaration (Funding of joint interstate
research on environment, rehabilitation, and monitoring
for the Aral Sea, involves IFAS, EC EFAS, and the
5 states’ centers of hydrology).
17 June 1999 Bishkek
Kazakhstan Cooperation in the sphere of hydrometeorology and
parallel operation of the energy systems of Central Asia
(sharing of data and information and collaboration on
energy development).
21 January 2000 Astana
Use of water management facilities of intergovernmental
status on the Rivers Chu and Talas (equity financing and
use of water facilities of interstate use).
6 October 2002 Dushanbe
Addressing problems of Aral Sea Basin, monitoring
and information sharing (collaboration on the
Aral Sea environment).
Kazakhstan was the first country in Central Asia to make efforts towards developing
a comprehensive national plan for integrated water resources management (IWRM) [
]. Other Central
Asian States have followed by incorporating various elements of IWRM such as, e.g., participatory
approach and water user associations in Uzbekistan [
]. Major work in donor-related IWRM have
been focused towards the politically complex Ferghana Valley. Compared to East and South East Asia,
however, Central Asia as a total is ranked lowest regarding indicators for monitoring, information
management, and dissemination, and low stakeholder participation. These are major components in
efficient IWRM [70].
Tables 3and 4focuses on a select number of water related agreements established after 1991. For a
broader list of existing international water law in Central Asia refer to works by, e.g.,
Soliev et al. [69]
Pak and Wegerich [
], Pak et al. [
], and Holmatov et al. [
]. Other general international agreements
involving Central Asian States are described in detail by Ziganshina [74].
Water 2017,9, 139 9 of 17
Table 4.
Select water related agreements involving Central Asian states and other countries
(after Volovik [68], Ziganshina [74], and Berdiev [75]).
Date States Agreement (Agreement Highlights)
27 August 1992
Orenburg Russia
Shared use and protection of transboundary water bodies (working groups
were established for Ishim, Irtysh, Tobol, Ural, and Uzeni River Basins).
Mar 2000 Kazakhstan
Complying to 1992 UNECE agreement (UN Economic Commission for Europe,
Guidance on water and adaptation to climate change to convention on the
protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes).
20 October 1999
Cooperation in building and use of the “Druzhba” (Friendship) dam on the
Tejan River (construction and operation of Druzhba dam and reservoir).
12 September 2001
Astana Kazakhstan
Cooperation in the use and protection of transboundary rivers (implementing
cooperation in the use and protection of the water resources of the
transboundary rivers).
4November 2003
Teheran Iran
Framework for protection of marine environment of the Caspian Sea
(exchange of information and cooperation on environment).
4 July 2005 Kazakhstan
Early warning on natural disasters on transboundary rivers (including flooding
and icing, and the modalities of monitoring of such natural disasters).
16 August 2007
Joint exploitation of Dostluk Water Reservoir (joint construction and
management of Dostluk water reservoir and dam).
2007 Uzbekistan
Complying to 1992 UNECE agreement (UN Economic Commission for Europe,
Guidance on water and adaptation to climate change to convention on the
protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes).
A country that is not included in Table 4is Afghanistan. A substantial amount (22 km
/year or
about 27.5%) of the Amu Darya annual flow is generated in Northern Afghanistan that belongs to the
Amu Darya Basin [
]. About 5 km
/year of this flow are used for irrigation in Afghanistan. However,
due to the turmoil in Afghanistan and little attention from the international community, Afghanistan
has to a great extent been left out from international discussions and agreements. Tajikistan, however,
has been instrumental in involving Afghanistan in international water collaboration. Two protocols
(2007 and 2010) and a Memorandum of Understanding (2007) involving collaboration on water use
and capacity building were signed by Tajikistan and Afghanistan [
]. However, still no formal
regional agreement on collaboration between the five Amu Darya riparian countries has been reached.
Afghanistan can potentially develop both hydropower and irrigation in upstream Amu Darya and
this is likely to affect downstream riparians. Consequently, formal agreements on the water sharing
between all riparians are in great need.
The Almaty Agreement in 1992 (Table 3) was the first major joint water management agreement
between the Central Asian states after the downfall of the Soviet Union. The agreement meant in
practice that the old Soviet Union water-sharing regime safeguarding the downstream cotton growing
systems was agreed upon [77]. The agreement was passed despite protests from Kyrgyzstan.
At the time, Tajikistan was on the verge of a civil war. Thus, it appears that the
three major economic powers of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) acted as
hydro-hegemons and pushed through the agreement that would guarantee the downstream irrigation
industry. The old management system involved dams and reservoirs in upstream Kyrgyzstan
and Tajikistan for use as either hydropower generation and/or downstream irrigation, mainly in
Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. The main aim was to maximize economic output [
In most cases, this meant irrigated agriculture, especially cotton. After independence, Kyrgyzstan and
Tajikistan have seen opportunities to develop their economies by expanding hydropower production.
The hydropower needs are greatest during the winter period. However, this would mean less water for
irrigation during summer and hence a conflict situation with downstream countries [
]. The conflicts
have repeatedly involved the Toktogul reservoir in Kyrgyzstan along the Syr Darya and irrigation
in mainly Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and the Nurek and possible Rogun reservoirs along the Amu
Darya in Tajikistan for hydropower and irrigation in downstream Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Water 2017,9, 139 10 of 17
Details on the history, management, and related conflicts of these reservoirs are well described in
a series of papers by Wegerich [
], Wegerich et al. [
] Dinar [
], Bichsel [
], and Menga and
Mirumachi [
] and will thus not be repeated herein. A common misconception in the scientific and
national discourse, however, appears to be that hydropower and irrigation demand is conflicting
and incompatible [
]. Many examples prove the opposite. By applying upstream hydropower
efficiency, expansion of downstream reservoir capacity, and downstream irrigation efficiency, often
a win-win situation can be achieved [
]. In any case, we recognize that much or most of the
international tension regarding water sharing in Central Asia concerns the irrigation-hydropower
nexus. For this reason, we come back to this problem in the below chapter on the future of water
management in Central Asia.
4. Climate Change
It is generally recognized that observed temperature has risen twice as fast in Central Asia as
compared to global levels since the 1970s [
]. IPCC projections show a clear increase in future
temperature by 2–4
C for 2050 and 3–5
C for 2080 for most of the region [
]. Precipitation
projections are less certain and as well as less clear but indicate a small increase until 2050 and then
a small decrease until 2085. In general, a small increase in observed annual precipitation has been
noted for Central Asia even if spatial and temporal variations are large [
]. This is in line with the
IPCC projections. Overall, small changes in future precipitation are probably to be expected.
Melt from glaciers in Tajikistan plays an important role in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya discharge.
This contributes between 10%–20% of the total discharge of the two rivers. However, for dry years
this contribution can increase up to 70% [
]. Due to increasing temperature, ice melt from the
glaciers in this region, the Tien Shan, has tripled from 1950 levels. The total glacier mass from 1961
to 2012 has decreased by about 27% [
]. This corresponds to about four times the global average.
Following this pattern, 50% of the total glacier volume in the Tien Shan of today, would be lost by
2050 [
]. The consequences for the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya would be a decrease in flow by
10%–15% and 6%–10%, respectively [
]. In addition, the Ili River and other rivers feeding the Lake
Balkash would also be severely affected by the disappearing glaciers in the basin [59].
The typical pattern for the runoff that is fed by melting glaciers is that runoff could increase
for a period up to 2020–2050 during intense melting. After this, a decrease would set in due to
disappearing glacial volume. An example of this is Kyrgyzstan. For this country, surface runoff would
increase until 2020–2025 because of glacial melt. After this period, runoff could decrease [
]. Similarly,
for the most advantageous climate scenario, the overall hydropower potential of the rivers discharging
into the Lake Issyk Kul may drop by 50% up to 2100 [59].
5. Future of Water Management in Central Asia
As seen from the above, the present total population of about 68 million in Central Asia will
have grown to about 89 million inhabitants by 2050. The per capita water volume per year will not
decrease as dramatically by 2050 as for, e.g., some Middle Eastern water scarce countries. However,
since irrigated agriculture and food security is of main concern to in principle all Central Asian states,
it is reasonable to expect a much higher irrigation demand by 2050. The present irrigation systems are
highly inefficient and wasteful [
]. However, changing irrigation management and increasing overall
irrigation efficiency are complex socioeconomic processes that are expensive and will take long time
to modify. Even though irrigated agriculture must increase the production of food to an increasing
population, the production of irrigated lands and available water are decreasing. At the same time,
increasing the water use efficiency in general results in reduced harvests [
]. Thus, it is difficult to
foresee any major changes in the increasing irrigation needs for the coming decades. Climate change
is likely to further increase the irrigation needs by increasing evaporative losses. However, due to
melting glaciers, river discharge is likely to increase up to 2020–25 for Kyrgyzstan but leading to an
irrevocable and substantial decrease beyond this point as mentioned above.
Water 2017,9, 139 11 of 17
Developing IWRM has seen some success at the small scale, e.g., in the politically tense Ferghana
Valley [
] and through EU donor-related projects in Kazakhstan [
]. However, on a whole for the
region, the IWRM concept has not had much of a success regarding better water sharing. The reason for
this appears to be that the three downstream countries have not seen any real motivation to change the
original Soviet Union arrangement that was re-iterated in the Almaty agreement 1992. Several authors
have noted that the collaboration between the future independent states in many instances was quite
elaborate under the Moscow hegemon [
]. However, after independence, the tendency has rather
been towards trying to become more independent in relation to other riparians particularly within the
Syr Darya Basin. In any case, the two politically weaker upstream countries have experienced that the
old arrangement with energy for water has not been working in the new market economy. Thus, they are
desperately trying to develop their own advantageous upstream location for energy production. In this
sense, the largest reservoirs that store water for downstream irrigation are represented by Toktogul in
Kyrgyzstan and Kayrakum in Tajikistan on the Syr Darya with 19.5 and 4.2 km
in storage capacity,
respectively. The Nurek in Tajikistan on the Amu Darya similarly has a storage volume of 10.5 km
These reservoirs were designed during the Soviet Union period to provide water during the irrigation
season for downstream areas (mainly Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan). However, they were
also intended for hydropower production. Thus, Toktogul produces 93% of the electricity used in
Kyrgyzstan and Nurek 70% of the electricity used in Tajikistan [9799].
The above, much follows the analogue of the Nile Basin, with downstream countries (Egypt and
Sudan) that for historical reasons use the major part of the Nile water in well-developed irrigation
agriculture [
]. The hegemon Egypt has felt very little motivation to change its negative stance
regarding the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in the politically and economically
weaker Ethiopia. Ethiopia, however, has managed to raise funds outside of the well-established
international funding agencies and has very much presented the project as fait accompli.
The Rogun Dam project in Tajikistan displays some similarity with the Grand Ethiopian
Renaissance Dam. Both are large hydropower projects in economically and politically weaker upstream
countries. The Rogun Dam reservoir in the Amu Darya Basin holds a water volume of 13.3 km
a planned hydropower production of 13.1 TWh. The construction started already in the middle
of the 70ies but halted after the Soviet Union collapse. In 1993, a flood wave destroyed much of
the construction [
]. The construction started again in 2008 using Tajikistani funding. In 2012,
the project halted due to a World Bank assessment [
]. On 1 July 2016 the Tajikistani commission in
charge of the project selected the Italian company Salini Impregilo to proceed with the construction
estimated at $3.9 billion [
]. Interestingly, the same company is in charge of building the Grand
Ethiopian Renaissance Dam [
]. The Rogun project has continuously been condemned by mainly
the Uzbek authorities for constituting a strong threat to downstream irrigation projects [
]. Studies
indicate, however, that hydropower could be produced in the Rogun Dam with only minor effects
for downstream users [
]. This, however, would require a close cooperation between upstream
hydropower and downstream irrigation water users. In a similar way as for the Grand Ethiopian
Renaissance Dam the entire population of Tajikistan has mobilized to build the Rogun hydropower
plant by sale of plant shares [
]. Consequently, the resemblance of large-scale hydropower
development in poor upstream countries with downstream hegemons is striking when comparing the
Nile and the Amu Darya where both the Great Renaissance Dam and the Rogun Dam are portrayed as
national symbols and parts of regional projects [80,104].
Similar, though smaller-scale development, is recently taking place in Kyrgyzstan. In 2013, Kyrgyz
authorities accepted bidding to rehabilitate the 1200-MW Toktogul hydroelectric project, the largest
hydropower project in Kyrgyzstan [
]. The same year and supported by the Russian state-owned
RusHydro, Kyrgyzstan commenced projecting the $727 million Upper Naryn series of dams including
four hydropower stations with a total capacity of 240 MW. Another venture is the proposed 1900 MW
Kambar-Ata project. This is a planned project on the Naryn River including one of six planned dams to
be built on the river. Together, they would equal 2140 MW to Kyrgyzstan’s hydropower output [
Water 2017,9, 139 12 of 17
As in the case of the Nile Basin, the possibilities for water sharing between the Central Asian
states are largely locked in a stalemate between historical heirloom and development needs. The more
advantaged downstream countries are not likely to yield in this respect. This might be a reason
why IWRM neither has been successful in the case of the Nile Basin nor in the major basins of the
Central Asia [
]. Bichsel [
] notes that it may be questionable if the IWRM goals of economic
decentralization, self-government, and empowerment can be achieved within strongly centralized and
autocratic governance systems. She also notes that alternative approaches to IWRM may be necessary.
The inability of downstream basin hegemons to participate in a more fair basin-wide water
resources development might trigger a unilateral hydropower development as seen in both the Nile
and the Amu Darya Basins. This may not be a negative tendency. As a more even power distribution
develops among the riparians this may lead forward to a better collaboration in the basin. This means
that the upstream countries will develop the much needed hydropower resources without the consent
of the downstream countries. However, in view of the risk to lose water the former hegemons would
be more willing to act as collaboration partners, e.g., in IWRM.
In addition, more powerful neighbors such as China will likely withdraw increasing amounts of water
that will affect mainly Kazakhstan [
]. Along with climate change and population increase, available
water resources are bound to decrease in a steady manner. This does not necessarily mean increasing risk
for regional conflict. The chances for conflict are probably larger in local communities with ethnical tension.
As mentioned in the beginning of this paper, the passing of the Uzbek president Karimov on
2 September 2016 raised important questions for the future of the region with the intertwined water
issue. It appears, however, that signs a few years before the Uzbek president’s death, indicated
gradually improved relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan [
]. President Karimov visited
Dushanbe in September 2014 and his Minister of Internal Affairs (Adkham Akhmedbayev) visited
Tajikistan in June 2015. The Uzbek Foreign Minister (Abdulaziz Kamilov) visited Dushanbe on
29 September 2016 and expressed views to reset relations with Tajikistan. Similarly, the new Acting
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has offered to improve relations [
]. Even if it is too early to draw
any concrete conclusions, this may be the start of better collaboration between the two countries. In a
parallel manner in the Nile Basin, the Tripartite National Committee (Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt)
appears to frame a starting collaboration by technical development [
], where the underlying
functionalism through technical collaboration can generate positive effects in a broader political sense.
6. Concluding Remarks
Central Asia has a population of 22 million that directly or indirectly depend on irrigated
farming [
]. The irrigation consumes 90% of the sustainably available water resources. Thus, it can
be summarized that the present water disputes are results of allocation policy rather than scarcity of
water in the region [112].
Deviating national priorities have not favored regional cooperation and hence there is no shared
vision how to collaborate on water. In this sense, the main cause of instability in Central Asia is
poor governance and divisive self-sufficiency politics. The autocratic regimes of Central Asia seem in
general to be more interested in holding on to power than the well-being of their populace. Regional
leadership is needed, while bottom-up processes and eventually democratization are necessary steps
to build a stable equitable water resources plan for the region.
IWRM has seen some success at the local level. However, at regional level, results are scarce and
with the present hydropolitical map with downstream hegemons are not likely to change the situation.
However, the gradual build-up of hydropower capacity in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may eventually
alter that map. Economic development of these two countries through gradual hydropower buildup
will change the power balance in Central Asia and thus induce possibilities for a more equitable
sharing of water resources.
Consequently, the answer to the question in the title to this paper is “Yes, however
. . .
The process is likely to take time and require unilateral development of hydropower as a first step.
Changing hydropolitics in the Nile Basin appears to indicate a similar development in Central Asia.
Water 2017,9, 139 13 of 17
Aibek Zhupankhan acknowledges support from the EU Erasmus+ program for research at
Lund University. The Bolashak International Scholarship Program of Kazakhstan supported the second author.
Author Contributions:
Aibek Zhupankhan planned the study, analyzed the initial results, and wrote the
first version of the paper; Kamshat Tussupova and Ronny Berndtsson contributed in an equal manner to the paper
by adding comments and writing parts of the final paper.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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... As all rivers are nourished by the mountain cryosphere, the flow is vulnerable to climate change Kaser et al., 2010;Reyer et al., 2017;Sorg et al., 2012). To date, regional studies of potential climate-change impacts have focused on air temperature and precipitation (Unger-Shayesteh et al. 2013;Sorg et al. 2012;Mannig et al. 2013;Ozturk et al., 2017); glacier wastage (Kutuzov and Shahgedanova, 2009;Narama et al., 2010;Farinotti et al., 2015;Severskiy et al., 2016, Brun et al., 2018Sorg et al., 2012;Mölg et al., 2018); water availability and proglacial zone hydrology (Shahgedanova et al., 2018Kogutenko et al., 2019;Huss and Hock, 2018;Immerzeel et al., 2012;Hagg et al., 2013;Kriegel et al., 2013;Duethmann et al., 2015;Unger-Shayesteh et al., 2013), the water storage of endorheic lakes (Yapiyev et al., 2017;Liu et al., 2019;Bai et al., 2011), and transboundary water management (Menga, 2017;Wegerich, 2008;Wegerich et al., 2015;Zhupankhan et al., 2017). More recently, impacts of changes in land-use and land-cover, and agricultural water demand on water resources were considered (Barrett et al., 2017;Hamidov et al., 2020;Z. ...
... There are positive examples of collaboration on water sharing and monitoring and managing water quality (e.g., between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the Chu-Talas basin; Chu-Talas Commission, 2018). However, more often such arrangements are not mutually beneficial (Bernauer and Siegfried, 2012;Wegerich et al., 2015;Zhupankhan et al., 2017;Menga, 2017). This leads to either an observed or anticipated deterioration in water quality due to transboundary pollutant transfers and the negative effect of increasing water withdrawal in the upstream countries causing deterioration of water quality downstream. ...
... This leads to either an observed or anticipated deterioration in water quality due to transboundary pollutant transfers and the negative effect of increasing water withdrawal in the upstream countries causing deterioration of water quality downstream. An example is the Ile River, flowing between China and Kazakhstan (Stone, 2012;Thevs et al., 2017;Zhupankhan et al., 2017). ...
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Study region Glacierized catchments in Central Asia Study focus The literature on hydrochemistry and water quality was reviewed to identify gaps in knowledge required to understand and quantify the impacts of climate change and deglacierization. New hydrological insights for the region The main knowledge gap was the characterization of hydrochemistry and water quality along the elevation continuum from glaciers to arid plains. The chemical composition of snow and glacier ice are understood relatively well but the pathways of pollutants stored in glacier ice and released with melt into the aquatic systems are not researched. There is a lack of publications on the release of organic carbon following deglacierization and element leaching from the exposed substrate, permafrost and rock glaciers. Snow and glacial melt dilutes pollutants along the river channels, reducing concentrations and mostly ensuring the compliance with water quality standards including downstream locations. Poor surface water quality is associated with irrigation, the practice of soil washing, and discharge of the untreated sewage. There is a notable lack of information about the links between snow and glacier melt, aquifer recharge and groundwater quality and this is a major gap in knowledge affecting environmental and health protection. Better understanding and quantification of factors and processes controlling hydrochemistry and water quality is needed to adapt to the impacts of the imminent deglacierization.
... These activities affect the amount of water available for irrigation downstream, negatively impacting on farmland and agricultural output in downstream countries, not to mention living conditions, and also cause ecological deterioration (Abdolvand et al., 2015). Furthermore, there is a lack of political willingness among Central Asian countries to share water, especially given that the upstream countries are poorer than their downstream neighbors and also less powerful politically (Zhupankhan et al., 2017). Despite the existence of various treaties and agreements restricting water consumption and resource development projects in upstream countries, they have not abided by those agreements and thus ended up in conflicts with downstream countries, exacerbating the existing political tensions in the region (Berndtsson & Tussupova, 2020;Bichsel, 2011). ...
... An important reason for non-compliance with these agreements is that the provisions they make for matters such as energy generation or water resources development are seen as unfairly providing advantages to specific countries, be they on the upstream or the downstream (Guo et al., 2016). Accordingly, there is a lack of willingness among Central Asian countries to share water (Zhupankhan et al., 2017). ...
... International water scholars have tried to find ways to resolve the problems resulting from the diverging interests of upstream and downstream states. For instance, they have advocated for additional agreements that could help to address the accompanying environmental problems identified (Hrkal et al., 2006;Karatayev et al., 2017), and ultimately lead to adjustments in interstate relationships that could improve transboundary water management (Menga, 2018;Zhupankhan et al., 2017). However, there are additional factors frustrating the implementation of the agreed terms or rules, including, for instance, the absence of compatible needs or a common language and culture, legacies of mistrust, and the presence of political instability (Chenoweth & Feitelson, 2001). ...
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In the context of international environmental law and International Water Law (IWL), the Ecosystem Approach (EA) has become a source of heated debate. In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the negative impacts that human activities have on freshwater ecosystems. Accordingly, the protection of such ecosystems has been identified as integral to ensuring the good governance of water resources. This article reviews key areas of research around the conceptualization and application of EA. First, we adopt a holistic approach to the concept of EA when applied to existing environmental challenges, before exploring the issues that arise when applying EA to water-based ecosystems. Next, we assess the effectiveness of implementing EA in the management of environmental issues linked to transboundary water contexts. Our findings indicate that International Environmental Law, which applies a sector-specific approach, poses challenges for the instrumental implementation of EA because the latter requires a holistic approach to resource management. Furthermore, in transboundary water contexts the competing needs of river-basin countries are also identified as key factors complicating the implementation of EA. The article concludes with recommendations for policy makers and scholars. This article is categorized under: • Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness • Engineering Water > Planning Water • Human Water (WBAA) > Water Governance Abstract While the Ecosystem Approach (EA) holds great potential in the management of transboundary rivers, this advanced review examines the difficulties it encounters in practice, especially in the Global South with a case study of Central Asia, and suggest a holistic approach to overcome such obstacles.
... Of the main crops, sugarcane consumes the most irrigation water, followed by cotton, rice, corn, and wheat. The International Crisis Group (ICG) Asia Report pointed out that cotton requires 8000-10,000 m 3 of irrigation water per hectare, while wheat requires less than half of that [65]. ...
... Therefore, we believe that we can adjust the crop planting mode in the study area without affecting the income of farmers, reduce the planting area of high-water-consuming crops, and improve the proportion of agricultural water [65]. The Indus River Irrigation District of Pakistan has a large area of saline-alkali land due to traditional and unsustainable irrigation methods. ...
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The safety of the water–energy–food (WEF) system in the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is critical to the sustainable development of resources, the economy, and society in the region. This paper uses the projection pursuit model of a real-code accelerated genetic algorithm (RAGA-PP) to comprehensively evaluate the WEF system security of the CPEC for the period 2000–2016. The results show that from 2000 to 2016, the projection value of the WEF system was reduced from 2.61 to 0.53, and the overall system security showed a downward trend. Moreover, the CPEC increased by 6.13 × 107 people, resulting in a rapid decrease in per capita water resources and decreased security of the water resources subsystem. With the rising social and economic development in recent years, the per capita energy consumption has likewise risen, leading to a decline in the energy subsystem. At the same time, the per capita grain output in the study area has increased from 185 to 205 kg, and the safety of the food subsystem has been enhanced. However, the significant increase in irrigated areas (from 1.82 × 1010 to 1.93 × 1010 hectares) has further highlighted the contradiction between the supply and demand of surface water resources, and the number of tube wells increased by 7.23 × 105, resulting in the consumption of a large amount of electricity and diesel resources. The water–energy (WE) subsystem also became less safe. With the implementation of water resources management policies over the past few decades, the proportion of agricultural water consumption dropped from 95.06% in 2000 to 93.97% in 2016, and the safety of the water–food (WF) subsystem increased. Unfortunately, agricultural irrigation consumes a large amount of power resources, leading to a reduction in the security of the energy–food (EF) subsystem. The research results from the present study could provide a scientific basis for the coordinated development of WEF systems across the CPEC region.
... There are two main reasons why Turkmenistan must reduce water consumption in agriculture. The first reason is the constant threat of drought in the region [ZHUPANKHAN et al. 2017]. The second reason is the increase in water consumption by industry and households, caused by population growth [LIU et al. 2020]. ...
... Approximately 90% of these water resources are used for agricultural purposes [SHCHERBAKOV, KULMEDOV 2017]. The Amudarya river water, which has an average water flow of 79.6 km 3 , was divided in half between the two neighbouring countries, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as a consequence of an agreement signed in 1996 [ZHUPANKHAN et al. 2017]. As a result of the loss of water during runoff in canals and rivers, and the increase in the amount of water drawn from the Amudarya River, hardly any water reaches the Aral Sea. ...
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The main purpose of this study is to determine the optimum water consumption for achieving water savings and obtaining good yields in cotton production, which has been expanding in Central Asia and Turkmenistan since the 1960s. In the last few decades, water resources in the region have been difficult to access, due to the expansion of agricultural activity and population growth. The oscillation of the amount of water released from dams of the Amudarya River to obtain energy for the upper countries in the winter season has been causing crises in countries of Central Asia. An experiment was carried out in an agricultural field at a cotton research centre in the Yolöten district of Turkmenistan. The experiment led to the observation that it is possible to achieve higher efficiency and lower water consumption in cotton production. At the same time, the water savings that can be achieved as a result of using the drip irrigation method in cotton production throughout the country have been calculated. The calculations have provided the basis for recommending irrigation as a solution to the problems in question.
... Even though the region has been often securitized in an excessive and exaggerated manner (Heathershaw and Megoran 2011), this is not to say that Central Asia has had no conflicts since the early 1990s. In particular, water scarcity and access to water have been a source of tensions among Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Micklin 2002;Zakhirova 2013;Abdolvand et al. 2015;Zhupankhan et al. 2017;Zinzani and Menga 2017;Zinzani 2018). ...
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This article assesses the extent to which the academic community engaged with climate change in Central Asia between 1991 and 2021. The article finds that climate change has been neglected in the field of Central Asia area studies. Out of a total 13,488 journal articles in eight key journals for Central Asia research, only 33 articles (0.24%) were on climate change or a related topic. Climate change has been similarly neglected at the events of 17 Central Asia area studies associations. Out of 1305 conference panels, none was focused on climate change. Out of 10,249 individual presentations, only two (0.02%) were focused on climate change. The very same scholars who have been most active in the securitization of Central Asia have ignored the severe security threats that climate change poses to the region. The article contributes to the field of Central Asian studies by drawing attention to severe knowledge gaps that hinder the Central Asian countries from adapting to climate change. It concludes with six recommendations.
... The increase in water withdrawal from the Amu-Darya and the Syr-Darya for industrial, agricultural [30] and domestic use, limited water flow into the Aral Sea. This led to the shrinking of the Aral Sea [31,32]. Moreover, the return flow was contaminated with industrial and agricultural wastewater. ...
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Once one of the largest saline lakes, the Aral Sea, was recognized as a significant environmental disaster as the water level decreased dramatically. Water level decrease increases water salinity, affecting biodiversity. Exposed lake beds become the source for fine dust picked up by the dust storms and spread across a long distance, affecting people’s health in surrounding areas. This review paper attempts to evaluate the potential links between the Aral Sea shrinking and the existing health issues in the case of Kazakhstan. The literature-based research revealed that the population of the Aral Sea basin region has been suffering from exposure to various pollutant residues for a long time. There is an apparent increase in morbidity and mortality rates in the region, especially in people suffering from chronic illness. Furthermore, the catastrophic desiccation of the Aral Sea has led to the sharp deterioration in living conditions and negative trends in the socio-economic situation of the region’s population. While the dust storms spread the polluted salts from the exposed bottom across the Aral Sea region, specific contaminants define the relevance and importance of public health problems linked to the basin rather than the Aral Sea drying process. There is, however, no clear evidence that associated dust storms are the only primary source of the deterioration of people’s health. Moreover, One Health approach seems to play a crucial role in achieving better outcomes in the health of people and the health of the environment.
... In Central Asia, the population of the foothills is highly dependent on water flowing from the mountains [Lutz et al., 2013]. The situation with freshwater resources is complicated by disputes between water-donor countries (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) and water-consumer countries (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and, to a lesser extent, Kazakhstan) [Zhupankhan et al., 2017]. The former are mainly interested in using water to generate electricity in the winter time, whereas the latter need water for irrigation farming in the summer. ...
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As the direct measurements for the mass balance estimation can be applied only for a limited number of glaciers, alternative methods of estimation need to be developed. One of the most promising approaches is physically-based modelling, that is now being applied globally. In this study the mass balance of the Sary-Tor valley glacier was reconstructed for the period of 2003-2016. Originally developed for the North Caucasus A-Melt model was modified to fit the conditions of continental glaciers. A block of snowpack processes was added to the model, including: head conductivity in the snowpack and in the active layer, water filtration in the snowpack and firn, congelation and regelation. The modelling results were verified using: 1) direct measurements on the ablation stakes net; 2) mass balance estimation according to geodetic method. The calibration parameters are compared to their measured values. Contrasting modeled mass-balance components for 2003-2016 and measured in 1985-1989 provided possibility to reveal climatically induced change of the Sary-Tor glacier dynamics.
... In contrast, water politics in the Ili River basin were dominated by cooperation, with water cooperative events accounting for 92 % of all water-related events. Approximately 85 % of the basin is located within Kazakhstan, with the rest 15 % being in China (Zhupankhan et al., 2017). There have been 13 water political events in the Ili River basin, eight of which were related to China (China-Kazakhstan; China-Kyrgyzstan), and seven of which were categorized as water cooperation. ...
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The growing water crisis in Central Asia (CA) and the complex water politics over the region's transboundary rivers have attracted considerable attention; however, they are yet to be studied in depth. Here, we used the Gini coefficient, water political events, and social network analysis to assess the matching degree between water and socio-economic elements and analyze the dynamics of water politics in the transboundary river basins of CA. Results indicate that the mismatch between water and land resources is a precondition for conflict, with the average Gini coefficient between water and population, gross domestic product (GDP), and cropland measuring 0.19 (highly matched), 0.47 (relatively mismatched), and 0.61 (highly mismatched), respectively. Moreover, the Gini coefficient between water and cropland increased by 0.07 from 1997 to 2016, indicating an increasing mismatch. In general, a total of 591 water political events occurred in CA, with cooperation accounting for 89 % of all events. Water events have increased slightly over the past 70 years and shown three distinct stages, namely a stable period (1951–1991), a rapid increase and decline period (1991–2001), and a second stable period (2001–2018). Overall, water conflicts mainly occurred in summer and winter. Among the region's transboundary river basins, the Aral Sea basin experienced the strongest conflicts due to the competitive utilization of the Syr and Amu Darya rivers. Following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the density of water conflictive and cooperative networks in CA increased by 0.18 and 0.36, respectively. Uzbekistan has the highest degree centrality in the conflictive network (6), while Kazakhstan has the highest degree centrality in the cooperative network (15), indicating that these two countries are the most interconnected with other countries. Our findings suggest that improving the water and land allocation systems and strengthening the water cooperative networks among countries will contribute to the elimination of conflicts and promotion of cooperation in CA.
The water-energy-food nexus index in the agricultural management of the Tarim River Basin (TRB) is an important index that reflects agricultural inputs productivity. This study used the crop water requirement, energy equivalent, and agricultural water-energy-food nexus index (WEFNI) model to comprehensively evaluate the water and energy consumption, water and energy productivity, and the WEFNI of the main crops (rice, wheat, maize and cotton) in the TRB from 1990 to 2019. The results indicated that different crops had significant differences in water and energy consumption. The blue water requirements of wheat, maize, rice, and cotton were 3174.9 m³ ha⁻¹ yr⁻¹, 4271.8 m³ ha⁻¹ yr⁻¹, 7283.3 m³ ha⁻¹ yr⁻¹ and 8769.3 m³ ha⁻¹ yr⁻¹, respectively. Of these crops, wheat had the lowest blue water requirements and cotton had the highest. In addition, the planting area of the TRB increased by 105 × 10⁴ ha during the study period, with cotton accounting for 45% of the total planting area. The expansion of the planting area led to a continuous improvement in cotton production income, leading to the highest energy economic productivity in cotton (0.065 $/MJ). However, the increase in total water and energy consumption, water and energy mass productivity in cotton were lower than in the other three crops (0.15 kg/m³ and 0.04 kg/MJ). The average WEFNI of rice, wheat, maize and cotton was 0.40, 0.45, 0.43 and 0.35, respectively. This demonstrated that wheat had the highest resources utilization productivity in agricultural inputs, while cotton had the lowest. These results can provide an important scientific basis for current and future agricultural management optimization.
In this study, a two-stage factorial-analysis-based input-output model (TFA-IOM) is advanced for virtual water assessment, which integrates techniques of factorial analysis (FA) and ecological network analysis (ENA) into input-output model (IOM). TFA-IOM can not only identify the crucial water transaction sectors and the associated integral utility relationships, but also investigate the individual and interactive effects of multiple factors on virtual water metabolic network (VWMN) through measuring water consumptions of different sectors. The developed TFA-IOM is applied to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia to quantify its virtual water and identify its metabolic network, where agricultural and animal husbandry sectors are the main water consumers. Our major findings are: (i) Kyrgyzstan is a country relying on net virtual water import (reaching up to 3,242 × 10⁶ m³); (ii) WHT (wheat) is the main virtual water supplier (with 349 × 10⁶ m³ virtual water to others); (iii) WHT, VGF (vegetables, fruit, and nuts), PFB (plant-based fibers), CTL (bovine cattle) and RMK (raw milk) are the main sectors affecting the VWMN (e.g., utility relationships and integral virtual water recycling index). From a long-term and sustainable development point view, stimulating Kyrgyzstan’s domestic WHT and RMK productions and improving VGF, PFB and CTL water-use efficiencies can facilitate reducing net virtual water import and promoting the mutualism degree of the national VWMN.
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Basin riparians are not equally endowed in their resources and capacity to control water within a shared international river basin. Beyond hydrological constraints and geographical positions, other less tangible factors such as discourses and narratives influence interactions among basin riparians for water resources control and river basin development, requiring further analytical refinement of the role of power. The analysis of discursive and ideological dimensions of power, or 'soft' power, in particular, enables insights to strategies and tactics of water control under conditions of power asymmetries between basin states. This paper examines the debate around the controversial large-scale Rogun Dam project on the Vakhsh River in Tajikistan, exploring how the exercise of 'soft' power can, and sometimes cannot, shape transboundary water outcomes over water allocation. By focusing on international diplomacy and narratives, the paper provides insights into the non-coercive ways in which hydraulic development is justified. In particular, it is shown how 'soft' power was utilised by the Tajik decision-makers to legitimise dam development both at the international and domestic levels. The paper illustrates how, in the case of the Rogun Dam, 'soft' power falls short of determining a hydraulic development that changes the status quo of water allocation for Tajikistan.
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The Ili River originates in the Tian Shan Mountains of Northwest China before flowing into Kazakhstan and Lake Balkash. Melting snow and ice are its major contributors. We analyzed glacial changes in the upper Ili River basin between the 1960s and 2007/2009 using topographic maps and satellite imagery from a Landsat TM. The relationships between glacial changes and glacial size, topographic factors, and debris cover were examined. Our results found that total glacial area decreased by 485 ± 177.3 km 2 (24.2% ± 8.8%) during the study period, and there were no advancing glaciers. Additionally, 331 glaciers disappeared and 18 disintegrated into two or three smaller glaciers. This study demonstrated a linear relationship between glacial area change and elevation. Changes in glaciers smaller than 1 km 2 were affected by both glacial size and topographic factors, while larger ones were affected by size only. Area losses in debris-covered glaciers were smaller by 2.5% to 7.5% compared to clean ice of the same size in this basin. As in other glaciated regions, glacial retreat in the Ili River basin is attributed to global warming. The slightly increasing precipitation over the study period could not offset the ice melting.
Water, energy, and security form a complicated nexus in Central Asia, where domestic, regional, and international interests intertwine in numerous ways. A relatively large amount of literature exists on these three issues, either separately or in different combinations, yet it is difficult to see how the three intertwine and what their macro-level impacts might be on sustainable development, security, and the five Central Asian countries. This paper aims to understand what constitutes the water-energy-security nexus in Central Asia on the basis of definitions, indicators, and data. The nexus is also examined in the context of the broader global political economy, and gaps in current knowledge and suggestions for future research are pointed out.
Water scarcity in Central Asia was analyzed by using two water scarcity indices at the scale of sub-basin areas (SBAs): water stress index (consumption-to-availability ratio) and water shortage index (water availability per capita). These indices were calculated for a baseline scenario that included virtual water flows, and again for a scenario where international trade was eliminated, thus assessing the role of virtual water flows in water scarcity. Over 80% of the study area population suffers from water stress and approximately 50% from water shortage as well. Removing virtual water flows considerably decreased water scarcity for approximately half the population. Reducing the exports of water-intensive products could thus be an option, along with other more traditional measures, for alleviating water scarcity in Central Asia.
Recent events have made Moscow's attempts to preserve its exclusive regional control seem no longer feasible or cost-effective.
"The United States, Russia, and China have spent the past few years jockeying for position in the region...[but] the challenges facing Central Asian states remain largely unchanged, and goverments there have received few new tools to address them"