Central Asian water conservation specialists are discussing supply problems and ways to overcome them.
The region has strong incentives to save the precious resource, they say, noting that it has ample water resources but uneven distribution. Discussions frequently lead to quarrels rather than to solutions. Border disputes, the threat of extremism, and water disputes are among the region’s primary sources of tension.
A 2010 study by the British consultancy Maplecroft listed Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as the sixth and ninth most water-insecure countries in the world. Pakistan is ranked seventh.
The upstream countries (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) have the advantage in water access over their downstream neighbors (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), but Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan annually confront power shortages in the winter when their rivers freeze up.
Another obstacle to a solution is inefficient water use in all five countries, enabled by outdated and leaky equipment and canals, widespread lack of metering and an abundance of subsidies. As the regional population grows and as the precious resource becomes scarcer, officials and specialists are scrambling for answers.
Old system broke down
In Soviet times, as part of a single country, the Central Asian republics worked together in distributing and storing water. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan accumulated snow in the winter, which they sent as water to the irrigation canals of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.
“Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, by storing water, couldn’t use it to generate electricity,” Kyrgyz environmentalist Taisiya Neronova said of the old system. “The countries they stored water for in the winter were supposed to compensate for this shortage by providing them with energy.”
With that understanding now a historical artifact, the countries all are disgruntled, Neronova said. The upstream countries don’t want to buy ever-more-expensive electricity from abroad but would rather generate hydro-electricity with their own water, she said.
Conservation a key
All five countries recognize the problem and are working on it.
Kazakhstan has begun to expand the use of water-saving technology. Back in the 1990s, through pilot projects, it introduced that technology, Karl Anzelm, chief of the South Kazakhstan Hydrogeological and Amelioration Expedition, told Central Asia Online. “By using the results of those pilot projects as a baseline point, the government has developed various methods for encouraging farmers and companies through tax breaks, operating subsidies, etc.”
Kyrgyzstan is working on its own water situation, Neronova said. “We’ve already got certain written rules for using water-conserving technology, but they have yet to be enforced,” she said. “The government is still working on tools for managing water use.”
Tajik water conservation specialist Abdulatif Khomidi cited examples of progress in Tajikistan. “The Fergana Project seeks to implement water-saving technology in irrigated fields, and it’s been a success,” he said.
Also, the Tajik government put together a 2012-2020 agriculture reform program, he said. It was the first step in implementing water-saving technology nationwide; with expansion of low-cost options like drip irrigation and collection of rain water a priority.
As far as Uzbekistan is concerned, a government decree approved the National Irrigated Land Reclamation Fund.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov took the initiative in creating the foundation, Jakhongir Gadayev, an Uzbek environmental program consultant, said.
“The foundation’s main objectives are to clean and repair irrigation and drainage canals, build new drainage canals, increase land productivity, etc.,” he said.
Turkmenistan is the only Central Asian country not participating in public discussions on joint water-resource usage. It’s opted for a unilateral effort to install reservoirs and to modernize its irrigation system.
The Interstate Commission for Water Co-ordination of Central Asia, created in 1992, oversees water usage in Central Asian countries. This organization’s objective is to monitor compliance with water-usage limits and protect water resources.
The region ultimately will solve its problems because it has come up with good ideas, Neronova predicted.
This article first appeared in the CentralAsiaOnline.com.