The problem of sharing water resources in Central Asia

The problem of sharing water resources in Central Asia

By Arthur Dunn

The problem of sharing water resources in Central Asia does not lose its relevance. Over 20 years of independence of the countries in the region managed to avoid large-scale conflicts in this area. However, the ongoing debate about changing the mode of operation of transboundary rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya creates a disturbing backdrop of uncertainty and a concern for the future. 

 

The most full-flowing river is the Amu Darya region; the average annual flow is 78.46 km³. More than 80% (62.90 km³) flow of the river is formed on the territory of the Republic of Tajikistan. On the territory of Uzbekistan 4.70 km³ (6%) is formed, Kyrgyzstan – 1.90 km³ (2.42%), Turkmenistan (with Iran) – 2.79 km³ (3.5%) and Afghanistan – 6,18 km³ (7.9% ) of the Amudarya flow.

 

By the hydrographic attraction to the Amu Darya, or related to a possible economic use of water in their pools, some closed lakes and streams are included in the total water resources of the Amu Darya. The river Zаrafshon has an average annual flow of 5.27 km³ and Kashkadarya with a sink in the 1.34 km³, as well as Murghab Tejen, Atrek and the northern rivers of Afghanistan Khulm, Balhab, Sarypul and Kaysar total volume of runoff to 4.86 km³. Their total stock in view of the underground and unaccounted-for surface runoff is 11.51 km³.

 

Average annual flow of the river Syr-Darya is 37.14 km³, of which 73.8% (27.40 km³) is formed on the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic. On the territory of the Republic of Tajikistan is formed only 1.1 km³ (2.96%) from water basin Syr Darya. 

 

The main sources of stream flow in Central Asia are the glaciers and snowfields, providing 25-30% of annual runoff. During the growing period, their share in the annual runoff makes up to 50%.

 

The distribution of the same water basin of the Aral Sea is somewhat different. It is based on schemes of integrated water resources management of river basins Amu (1987) and Syr Darya (1984). In this scheme, first of all, consider the presence of water, possible to use. According to calculations, the amount of available water resources are composed of surface water, groundwater and recycled waste and drainage water, made 133.64 km³ per year. In percentage terms, this amount was distributed as follows: Kazakhstan – 11.4%, the Kyrgyz Republic – 4%, the Republic of Tajikistan – 10,7%, Turkmenistan – 20,3% and the Republic of Uzbekistan – 53,6%.

 

At different stages of mankind are constantly faced with the problem of lack of water resources. It should be noted that 145 countries in the world are so-called "transboundary water basins", together with its neighbors, and the territory of 21 States to fully enter the international basins. With limited water reserves of the need for their co-operation often leads to the aggravation of inter-state relations.

The very issue of sharing of transbooundary rivers is widely manifested in the XX century, when the creation of reservoirs and construction of waterworks acquired planetary character.

Transboundary water cooperation should be based on the principles of international water law, and transboundary water resources must be fairly and rationally used, and nobody has the right to be harmful to both the environment and coastal countries. It is recognized by all politicians and leaders.

 

Particular attention should be paid to improving the management of such resources, the introduction of integrated management and use of modern water-saving irrigation technologies. All for the sake of saving water! Here's what you need at the moment for the countries of Central Asia. Moreover, it is important to immediately respond to the unfair distribution, the division of the waters or the infringement of anyone's rights and interests. Meanwhile, a single international mechanism for management of natural resources and ecosystems in Central Asia does not exist. It is not just accept and Uzbek and Tajik side, on whose territory the main sources of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Unfortunately, at the moment, each country uses water resources in its sole discretion. 20 years ago the distribution of irrigation water on the Syr Darya River was more or less stable.

 

It was affirmed by the Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on cooperation in joint management and protection of transboardary water resources (Almaty, February 18, 1992) and Nukus Declaration of the Heads of States of Central Asia, adopted 20 September 1995 in Nukus (Uzbekistan) at the International Conference on Sustainable Development (Obligations, Part I. The commitment to the principles of sustainable development: “We agree that the Central Asian states recognize previously signed and existing agreements, contracts and other legal acts regulating relationships between them on water resources in the Aral Sea basin, and take them to a steady performance . However, one must consider that this is proposed to develop a new strategy for water allocation in the region, which, unfortunately, has not yet been implemented. Several attempts have been made in this direction, but for various reasons were not successful.

 

Tajikistan has a clear understanding that without proper co-operation, it is impossible to achieve any breakthroughs. Countries need to express complete readiness for dialogue and cooperation based on fundamental principles such as sovereign equality, mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighbourly relations, and faithful implementation of the obligations of international agreements, etc.

 

Cooperation is supported by real actions of the country at regional and global levels. Tajikistan is one of the most active members of the international community in promoting water issues at the global level. At the initiative of our country, the UN General Assembly declared 2003 the International Year of Freshwater and the period of 2005-2015 as the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”. In June 2010, in accordance with UNGA Resolution № 64/198 of 21 December 2009, also initiated by Tajikistan in the city of Dushanbe, a comprehensive review of the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”, 2005-2015 took place. High level representatives of 80 countries and more than 60 international and regional organizations attended. Improvement of trans-boundary water cooperation, including development of water diplomacy, was one of the central themes of the event, and the discussions on this important issue are reflected in the Dushanbe Declaration on Water.

 

To consolidate this idea, as well as attract world attention on the development of cooperation in trans-boundary river basins, at the initiative of the Republic of Tajikistan, the UN General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation. The adoption of this resolution will significantly improve bilateral relations and will be another important step in addressing water problems at regional and global levels.

 

Tajikistan has repeatedly declared its readiness to cooperate with all stakeholders at the regional level. It should be noted that the issue of water resources in Tajikistan cannot be divorced from power. The main source of electricity in Tajikistan comes from water. Tajikistan has huge hydropower potential estimated at 527 billion kWh (of which 317 billion kWh are cost-effective), which is three times the current needs of the region.

 

To date, only 3-4% of the potential have been explored, which indicates the enormous potential for further development, which would contribute to an integrated solution to many current and future challenges in the region.

 

Feature of Central Asia - a very uneven distribution of its water bodies, besides the main water sources of the five Central Asian republics are within the two states.

Countries in the region are united water reserves Syrdarya and Amudarya rivers, as well as a network of hydraulic structures, dams, canals and reservoirs. In current circumstances, this may lead to a shortage of water in any of these states. And it is already perceived as a direct threat to the national interests and security; Secondly, optimization of river systems to run simultaneously claiming the two industries (irrigation and energy), if they belong to different countries, seemed a formidable task; the prospects of integration in Central Asia largely depend on how well and efficiently the region will be able to resolve the issues of water and energy resources. 

 

Serious risks of stability in Central Asia in the field of transboundary water resources have a number of reasons:

-The absence of an adequate legal framework necessary for the joint exploitation of water reserves;

- Priority to their own interests of the republics, which essentially means a single section of the water system, which can not function in the local spatial mode;

- Differences in the socio-political and economic development of the region;

- The ever-growing need for water resources. 

 

The current situation in the region, along with the Aral Sea tragedy compounded by global climate change, has resulted in an intense melting of glaciers and snowfields of the region. Increasing water demand associated with population growth and economic development of countries is also evident.

 

According to experts, the glacial resources in the region for the 20th century have declined by almost 30%. The biggest glacier in the region Fedchenko (over 70km in the 20th century) has retreated almost 1 km, with the area decreasing by 11km², losinga total of about 2km³ of ice. Forecast scenarios point to further melting of glaciers and, consequently, changes in runoff from small (5-10%) to very substantial (10-40%) performance in the long run.

 

The Central Asian region is one of the most active and demographically growing regions. Annual population growth rate is 1.5-2%. Today the region is a home to more than 60 million people. It is obvious that population growth will lead to an increase in water consumption. According to estimations of experts, by 2030 growth in demand in Central Asia will reach 15-20%.

 

A natural runoff in the Aral Sea is now completely exhausted, and the economy of the region is developing in conditions of increased water scarcity. Currently, the total use of water makes up 130-150% in the Syr Darya River basin, and 100-110% in the Amu-Darya basin.

 

This trend certainly causes concern. Continuation of such a scenario has extremely serious implications for water security in the region. All evidences lead to the adoption of urgent measures to adapt to abrupt climate change and sustainable water resources management in the region. In turn, this can be achieved only through a coordinated action by all affected countries on the basis of a well functioning regional cooperation.

 

Probably, the current situation would not have accepted such a negative form, if the state-water users (especially in the upper reaches) had high-economy, to create competitive products and therefore can allocate sufficient funds for the maintenance of water bodies in their respective territories. 

 

 

 

 

09.10.2015

 

 

 
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