Transboundary rivers in central Asia

All of the main rivers in Central Asia are transboundary, and all of them are being used simultaneously by several countries of the region in several areas in economy; mainly in irrigation and hydropower. First branch is traditional one, which is existing several thousands of years, while the second one is on a developing stage.

Therefore, problem of sharing water resources in Central Asia will not lose its relevance. Countries of this region have managed to avoid large-scale conflicts in this area for over 20 years of independence. However, ongoing debates and conflicts about changing the mode of operation of transboundary rivers such as Amu Darya and Syr Darya are creating alarming background, and causing concerns about the future of Central Asia.

The water sector in Central Asia has worsened after the collapse of Soviet Union. The conflict of interests between hydropower and irrigation developed gradually, and it did not appear at once on the background of revolutionary political reforms in Central Asia since 1991, inertia of water and energy complex control have played certain role. 

All of the main rivers in Central Asia are transboundary, and all of them are being used simultaneously by several countries of the region in several areas in economy; mainly in irrigation and hydropower. First branch is traditional one, which is existing several thousands of years, while the second one is on a developing stage.

Therefore, problem of sharing water resources in Central Asia will not lose its relevance. Countries of this region have managed to avoid large-scale conflicts in this area for over 20 years of independence. However, ongoing debates and conflicts about changing the mode of operation of transboundary rivers such as Amu Darya and Syr Darya are creating alarming background, and causing concerns about the future of Central Asia.

The water sector in Central Asia has worsened after the collapse of Soviet Union. The conflict of interests between hydropower and irrigation developed gradually, and it did not appear at once on the background of revolutionary political reforms in Central Asia since 1991, inertia of water and energy complex control have played certain role.

In accordance to the needs of the republic, system of water and energy resources redistribution worked quite efficiently in the era of centrally planned economy, due to which the interests in irrigation and hydropower were kept. Existing centralized planning mechanisms in the Soviet Union allowed maintenance of the balance of interests among hydrocarbon rich countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, in addition to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that have huge reserves of water resources. [1.40 -41].

After the Soviet collapse, system in the region started to break down and eventually collapsed too. It is worth noting that Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan gave the first push in activating the efforts of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the construction of new hydropower facilities and reservoirs transfer from irrigation to energy mode. In particular, these countries are rich in energy resources, including Uzbekistan that first refused to barter, while certain amounts of water during the growing season were in exchange for cheap energy resources in winter by selling upstream countries that do not have their own hydrocarbon gas, fuel oil and electricity at market prices. In order to generate the missing electricity Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were forced to carry water releases from reservoirs in autumn-winter period, which led to a change in capacity and the state of rivers flow, and in winter to floods and lack of water during the growing season.

In order to reduce these negative consequences of Syr Darya a number of water storage tanks were built in Uzbekistan. More attention was paid on the modernization of irrigation systems, and areas under irrigation were reduced, so there has been a shift to less moisture capacity crops. Government has been actively promoting the idea of the construction of small hydroelectric power station in Central Asia - as counterbalance to major projects implemented by Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. [2].

In its turn, Kazakhstan tired of fighting with floods and flooding of a large number of villages in the South Kazakhstan region due to Toktogul hydroelectric energy scheme built Koksarai counter regulator. This hydro construction is designed to take into water capacity, which used to come out of the crowded shores of Syr Darya, and left under its waters thousand buildings, and hundreds of thousands of hectares of fields of pastures in republic. According to Kazakhstan's government plans, water from Koksarai is going to be directed to irrigation of farmlands in South Kazakhstan and Kyzylorda regions in summer, and when the cup of the reservoir will be empty, there will be water meadows. In wet years, they plan to transfer water into the Aral Sea. Solving Aral problem together with the World Bank, Kazakhstan has built a dam between the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea, which has improved the situation in its territory. Fishing has grown ten times; quality of drinking water has also improved as well as irrigation. Kazakhstan is also increasing areas using moisture-preserving technologies. In 2010, they have expanded lands to 11.2 million hectares, and now hold 67% of the grain wedge. Drip irrigation area has increased by 2.6 times. A legislative framework of state land reclamation in 2011 year has begun its implementation in the South Kazakhstan region in pilot regime [3].

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan: situation development by negative scenario

The main apple of discord between two countries now is construction of Tajikistan's Rogun hydroelectric power station. If Tajikistan will be able to lift the dam as targeted to 335m, it will be the highest dam in the world. Completion of the Rogun construction will absolutely eliminate the energy dependence of Tajikistan from Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan sees Rogun as a direct threat to its national security. Firstly, Rogun hydroelectric power station is located in an area where earthquakes occur repeatedly; moreover, at its base, there is Ionahshsky tectonic fault with nine point’s seismic hazard. In case of Rogun hydroelectric power station dam failure, height of the wave at the beginning of descent from the reservoir, depending on its filling, will be from 240 to 260 m. To Nukus, which is in the north of Uzbekistan, it will reach at height of 4-8m. Wave of such height and force will demolish all the six hydro systems, houses and enterprises, which are located at downstream [4].

There is no less worry Uzbekistan has on any changes in the capacity and usage of river flows in the region, because the construction of hydroelectric power station can lead to provision and environmental disaster. Although Tajikistan states that it will fill the reservoir at Rogun for 8 years, and it will not seriously affect the amount of drain, Uzbek side fears that during this period water will not almost reach the downstream countries. Tashkent has another concern as well. It lies in the fact that, by adjusting the water discharge at the Rogun hydroelectric power station, Dushanbe will deliberately limit the amount of water consumed by Uzbekistan and thus dictate its terms in any disputes [5].

However, Uzbekistan now, through which almost all the communications lead to Tajikistan, has considerably larger leverage on the Tajik side, rather than the opposite. Moreover, almost all of them are involved in this process, which 2010 years events clearly demonstrated, so after the unilateral withdrawal of Uzbekistan in late 2009 from the Unified Energy Ring of Central Asia, Tajikistan stopped receiving electrical power coming through Uzbek power circuits from Turkmenistan. In order to meet the needs of the country, they had to increase workload on the existing hydroelectric power station, which increased country's energy problems. The Tajik side, in return, has accused Uzbekistan of preventing development of Tajik hydropower, periodically turns off the gas supplies and arranges transport blockade. All the attempts by international organizations to play some sort of expert and mediator role in the conflict has not yet been successful, in addition, the parties have no general understanding of the legal issues.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan Mahmudjon Sobirov states that fears about the expected artificial water shortage and related issues of irrigated agriculture, which might occur after the construction of Rogun dam, actually have no basis. According to him, they are consequences of the lack of objective and reliable information on the completion of the Rogun hydroelectric power station and other hydroelectric facilities of the country [6].

At the end of February 2013, Minister of Land Reclamation and Water Resources of Tajikistan Rahmat Bobokalanov said that Tajikistan is going to continue pursuing a policy of harmonious cooperation of Central Asian countries in the field of water resources.

"There should not be any questions on both Syr Darya and Amu Darya, or other transboundary rivers, Tajikistan is, and the following years will fulfill all its commitments in transit of waters in these rivers, the main rivers of the water basin of Central Asia ", - he said.

According to Bobokalonov, the process of filling assumed reservoir Rogun hydroelectric power station will be happening within 14 years, and this process will not influence on the availability of water resources in other countries [7, pp 102-105].

For its part, Uzbekistan is against the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power station in Tajikistan, and states that it is necessary to have UN-led international assessment of the project. According to Tashkent, the construction of hydroelectric power station capacity of 3,600 MW in the riverhead of Amu Darya will have a negative impact on agriculture of Uzbekistan, which receives water in the downstream. In addition, on April 13, 2011 the Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a formal statement "about the position of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the construction of new hydropower facilities in the upper reaches of transboundary rivers in Central Asia." It states that "any decision taken neglecting the interests of neighbors, will worsen the situation of water supplies more in the lower reaches of Amu Darya and Syr Darya, and at the same time will exacerbate the environmental situation related to the desiccation of the Aral Sea, could have a negative impact on the living conditions of millions of citizens of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.”

There is an obvious hint in the statement addressed to the leaders of Tajikistan, who seek "quick implementation of new large projects of hydropower facilities in the "best" Soviet traditions of unrestrained violence against nature, pursue commercial interests and "completely ignore neighboring countries concerns" [8].

In addition, at the same time in the Legislative Chamber of Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan a round table devoted to the issues of water resources management of water resources with the participation of members of both houses of parliament and civil society organizations was held. Liberal-Democratic Party of Uzbekistan stated that any construction changes of hydraulic facilities and use of water resources of transboundary rivers will undergo international expertise, though the neighboring countries unilaterally try to continue the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power station." Press service of the Parliament, focused its attention on the fact that "the resources of transboundary rivers cannot be a subject of bargain." "We cannot allow the water usage as an element to influence the situation in the region, as well as on their foreign policy, as a “loose change"- was said in a message.

In March 2014, in an interview with Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources of Uzbekistan Shavkat Khamraev, said that the only solution of water imbalances in Central Asia - is the construction of small hydroelectric power stations. He noted, "We are in favor, to build them, and we are building small hydroelectric power stations, which do not change the water and environmental conditions of the rivers, of the basin."

The analysis above shows that there is a very serious and intractable crisis in water issues in Central Asia, which has many dimensions: social, economic, international legal, military and political. As international experience shows, one of the most important ways of solving these kind of multidimensional and intergovernmental crises is cooperation between states, and creation of inter-state structures. The policy of unilateral decisions will only exacerbate conflicts and lead them in a blind alley [9].

 

  1. Ясинский В., Мироненков А., Сарсембеков Т. {2011}Международная практика сотрудничества и проблемы развития гидроэнергетики в бассейнах трансграничных рек. Евразийский банк развития. - Алматы: РУАН.
  2. Ашимабаев Д. Дюбовь к электричеству, или почему Таджикистан и Киргизия не считаются соседями. URL: htpp://www/analitika/org/article.php?story=200606180383325
  3. Богданов А. Формула благоденствия. Что мешает задействовать гидроэнергетические ресурсы Средней Азии. URL: htpp://www/analitika/org/article.php?story=20060882564129594
  4. Куртов А. Водные конфликты Центральной Азии. URL: htpp://www/analitika/org/article.php?story= 20050307121605551
  5. Турсунов А.А Гидрологические проблемы Республики Казахстан. URL: htpp://www/ca-c/org/journal/13
  6. Блинов А. Воды в мире или где-то слишком много, или слишком мало. URL: fergana/ru/article/php?id=711
  7. Цыценко К.В. Водно-земельные ресурсы бассейнов рек Центральной Азии: состояние и использование / Цыценко К.В., Т.И. Владимирова //Гидрометеорология и экология. Алматы, №3.С.102-105
  8. Водосбережение: идеи, модели, инструменты. URL: htpp://www/irp/kz./kirp/3/1/117
  9. Хасенов М. Стратегия водно-энергетической безопасности Центральной Азии как один из основополагающих факторов интеграции государств региона. URL: htpp://repository/enu/kz/handle /123456789/3139
Year: 2016
City: Almaty