Falling supplies due to rising temperatures and retreating glaciers could spark conflict between water-stressed countries in the region, says Oxfam
It has been occupied by the Russians, the Mongols, the Turks, the Arabs and the Uzbeks, the Chinese, as well as Genghis Khan. But the ancient, mountainous state of Tajikistan, which has been at the crossroads of Asian civilisations for over a thousand years, is in danger of being overwhelmed by water shortages, rising temperatures and climate extremes.
A report released today by Oxfam details fast-rising temperatures, melting glaciers in the Pamir mountains, increased disease, drought, landslides and food shortages. Temperatures plummeted to -20C for more than a month in 2008-09 – unheard of in what is, in places, a subtropical region – and temperatures in the south of the country near Afghanistan have risen several degrees above normal, said the report.
About 20% of the country's 8,492 glaciers are in retreat and 30% more are likely to retreat or disappear by 2050, said Ilhomjon Rajabov, head of the state's climate change department. The largest glacier, Fedchenko, has lost 44 sq km, or 6% of its volume, in the last 34 years.
"It is indisputable that glaciers in Tajikistan are retreating. It is also indisputable that if glaciers continue to retreat, and the country experiences more extreme weather, countless people will be dealt an even harder blow. Nearly 1.5 million people are already food-insecure and that figure will likely rise if climate change is not addressed. There could even be a dangerous ripple effect across Central Asia, with countries throughout the region potentially wrestling over dwindling water resources in coming decades," said Andy Baker, Oxfam Tajikistan's country director.
Scientists and farmers have also observed significant changes in air temperatures, said Oxfam. There has been an increase in the number of days where temperatures have exceeded 40C in the past 50 years, a decline in thunderstorms and hailstorms and mean temperatures have increased in places 1.2C in 65 years – well above the global average which is around 0.8C in the past century.
The implications of climate change stretch well beyond Tajikistan's borders, said Oxfam. Because its glaciers and mountains supply much of the water for the Aral Sea and and the vast, water-hungry, cotton-growing areas of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, there is a danger climate change will increase tensions between already water-stressed countries.
The report cites a World Bank study which said: "The consequences of climate change ... would contribute to political destabilisation and trigger migration [in Central Asia]. As warming progresses, it is likely to intensify national and international conflicts over scarce resources."