Central Asia needs unified strategy on water
Not so long ago, environmental experts from five Central Asian countries met in Almaty, Kazakhstan. They discussed environmental issues, which concern not only the Central Asian states, but also the European countries. According to WHO, up to 1.5 million people have died each year due to the environmental degradation in Europe and Central Asia. Causes of death include air pollution, as well as lack of access to clean drinking water. But, what is to be done next? According to ecologists, the five states in Central Asia must solve the issues together, especially water scarcity.
Global Times reports in its article Central Asia needs unified strategy on water that Central Asian countries have fought over water resources for more than a decade. The conflict mainly arises between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. They are the main consumers of major transboundary rivers, such as the Syr Darya and Amu Darya, which, in turn, form the Aral Sea basin which once was the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world. These rivers originate in the mountains and feed on glaciers, and that's why the major reservoirs and hydropower stations are located in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which are situated upstream of the river and it allows them to adjust the flow to their neighboring states downstream.
During the Soviet times, the countries had cooperated with each other in solving the water crisis. The countries upstream stored water in winter and sent it downstream in the summer while the countries downstream supplied their neighbors with energy resources. In the post-Soviet period, the system of reciprocity ceased, and the five countries began to solve the water issue in their own way and often would infringe upon each other's rights. For example, Uzbekistan, which relies heavily on the cotton industry and depends on the availability and adequacy of water, has already started erecting dozens of tanks in preparation for a possible water crisis in the region. Turkmenistan is trying to distance itself from the conflict over resources. However, it has also built water tanks and even improved irrigation. Kazakhstan is in a similar situation as its neighbors and like Turkmenistan, is trying to detach itself from the conflict.
All five countries, for many years, have attempted to resolve the situation. Now, Central Asia is encountering another challenge in the water crisis - the threat of water shortages due to the rapid melting of the glaciers in the mountains of Central Asia. Many international experts have called it an impending catastrophe, not only for Central Asia but also the world. Although it is projected in the medium term that there will be a rise in the water level in rivers, but it will not last in the long term. But the states in the region are not yet worried. They have constructed the Rogun and Kambarata hydropower stations.
The Kambarata hydropower plant is expected to become the most powerful in Kyrgyzstan, and it will supply the Kyrgyz with electricity exports. The Rogun project is much more ambitious - its power is predicted to be at the level of 3,600 MW. But there's a shortage of money for the construction of historical hydropower stations.
However, a solution for the water crisis can still be found. In order to resolve the conflict over transboundary rivers, the leaders of the countries in the region need to have open dialogue and give each other the opportunity to express his or her views. There must be a clear understanding that many environmental problems in the region can only be solved through the cooperation of all five states.
The International Fund for Aral Sea (IFAS), established in 1993 by Central Asian countries, can play a unique role. It can work with various organizations such as the UN, OSCE, UNESCO, world banking institutions as well as governments from countries around the world. In 2017, Turkmenistan took over the chairmanship of IFAS for the next three years. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said countries in the region need to establish a unified strategy on the conservation and use of water resources. Individual players in the region have a full understanding of the necessity of working together on this issue. The countries need to reach a general consensus and formulate measures in accordance with the circumstances in the region. In general, the Central Asian countries need to strengthen their presence in the international community.