Svetlana Valieva

As the international community observed the UN World Water Day last Friday, March 22, two Central Asian countries were part of important talks at UN Headquarters in New York concerning water-sharing. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been engaged in a dispute over the building of a reservoir-type Rogun hydroelectric power plant in Tajikistan, which Uzbekistan has contended would disrupt flow to downstream countries, including itself. Uzbekistan, a country never absent from important meetings on water issues, proposed an alternative to the Rogun project involving the construction of smaller hydroelectric plants, which would bypass or avoid changes to the stream-flow regime. These talks bring attention to a broader nexus of water, climate and energy security in Central Asia that is worth watching closely by both regional leaders and the international community.

Water security in Central Asia

The uneven distribution of water resources poses serious problems in Central Asia. Although the sources of the largest rivers are formed in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the flow is significantly weakened by hydroelectric plants as they make their way to the downstream countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Accordingly, while the reservoir dam in Tajikistan collects water in summertime, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan suffer from a lack of water for irrigation purposes, particularly during dry periods – the frequency of which has been rising. The effect on the agricultural economies of downstream countries is worrisome, with water shortages potentially inhibiting future development. Although a due diligence analysis of the project, facilitated by the World Bank, was recently conducted by an expert group, the Uzbek side refrained from supporting their findings. Instead, the Uzbek government points to a potential bias as the process was outsourced by the Tajik government to firms of their choice, without the input of all of interested parties.

The climate change aggravator

Aside from the unequal distribution of water resources, the destabilizing effects of climate change may add an additional layer of insecurity in the region. Two recent studies of the heat wave in 2010, which significantly impacted agricultural production in Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, have concluded that the event had a 70-80% likelihood of being attributed to a “long-term climatic warming trend.” A 2009 report by the Eurasian Development Bank found that the main contributor to climate change in Central Asia has been a significant increase in ground air temperature, with the plains experiencing the highest rates of average annual temperature increases.

For the complete article, please see The Center For Climate & Security.

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