Water as a factor of regional integration in central asia

Abstract. Cooperation with the countries of Central Asia is one of the main guidelines in the foreign policy strategy of Kazakhstan. This is due to geographical situation, and in addition, to the fact that these countries have similar socio-economic goals and objectives. Among the problems facing the countries of Central Asia today, one of the most urgent is the problem of developing coordinated approaches to the issue of joint use and protection of water resources of the region.

The increased attention to water is explained by the fact that it becomes one of the main factors determining the state of most sectors of the economy, primarily the agricultural sector, in the countries of Central Asia.

Water shortage and reduced river flow limit the solution of socio-economic and environmental problems. The main part of the water used in the region is taken from the two main rivers – the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, formed in the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan account for the bulk of surface water flow in the region (see Table 1).

Table 1. The share of the countries of the region in the formation of the basin of the largest rivers of Central Asia


Syr Darya

Amu Darya


74.2 %

2.0 %


6.5 %



16.6 %

8.5 %


2.7 %

72.9 %



1.9 %



13.9 %

All forecasts of the future development of the region come to the conclusion that over time the water problem in Central Asia will become even more acute. Today, more than 40% of the population does not have access to centralized water supply, and this figure is projected to increase significantly in a decade. It is estimated that the population of the Central Asian countries, which today is about 70 million people, will increase by 20% by 2025, which will require additional water resources. For this reason, the issue of stable access to this type of resources becomes a priority for the countries of the region.

Nature itself is pushing countries to deepen regional cooperation. However, in practice, we face a number of chronic problems in this area. Despite the fact that the Central Asian countries agreed to establish an expert group to develop a form of water use acceptable to all countries, regular meetings, both at the highest level and at the level of ministries, have not yet led to the signing of a mutually acceptable comprehensive and long-term agreement on this issue.

Since 2016, the political climate in Central Asia has significantly changed, becoming more favorable for the discussion of regional issues and problems. Earlier, as is known, there was a sharp debate around the construction and operation of hydropower facilities and dams in the upstreams of large rivers. The “upstream” states – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - considered water their national strategic resource and sought to translate this issue into an economic plane. At the same time, the “downstream” countries - Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan - were convinced of the artificiality of this approach and rightly feared for the stability of water flow.

At the same time, international conventions on Transboundary Rivers set two conditions: the amount of water “leaving” the country should be comparable to the amount of water entering, and the quality of water should not deteriorate after its passage through the territory. When such rules are observed, as on the Danube in Europe, for example, the solution of economic, social and environmental problems becomes quite real. But not all Central Asian countries have signed these agreements, and therefore all the water does not reach the neighbors and the quality also leaves much to be desired.

Therefore, Tashkent has always spoken with great concern about the importance of a mutually acceptable regime for the operation of various large-scale hydro-power facilities in the basins of transboundary rivers. It is unquestionable that given the single ecological zone in the river deltas, there was an issue of environmental safety throughout the region.

Uzbekistan’s arguments are very serious. As you know, agriculture in Uzbekistan is completely dependent on the availability of irrigation water, and therefore the operation of potential hydropower plants can create a shortage of water in the irrigation season. In addition, the construction of such large-scale hydroelectric power plants in a seismically unstable zone increases technogenic and environmental risks. It is also known that Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have questions on the operation regime of hydropower facilities in Kyrgyzstan, in particular on the Toktogul Hydroelectric Power Plant (part of the Naryn Hydroelectric Power Plant Cascade), as well as the Kambarata Hydroelectric Power Plant under construction, affecting the flow of the Syr Darya.

With large water resources and potential for electricity generation, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are experiencing a large shortage of electricity. This is why they justify the construction of large hydroelectric power plants, which, in turn, increases the risks of lack of water for irrigation in the summer in the countries located downstream of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. A number of politicians in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan say that water is the same commodity as oil and gas, significant reserves of which are located in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Accordingly, in the irrigation period, the change from energy to irrigation mode of operation of HPPs should be compensated by the “downstream” countries. This issue should be discussed in a dialogue format and resolved on a mutually beneficial basis.

Kazakhstan is sympathetic to the energy problems of its neighbors in the region – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. All countries are interested in mutually acceptable operation of various hydraulic facilities - dams and power plants on transboundary rivers. This requires an international comprehensive examination of facilities under construction and potential hydraulic structures. The essence of Kazakhstan’s position is to maximize the use of dialogue and negotiation mechanisms to address water, energy and many other economic issues in Central Asia.

Thus, our country offers its Central Asian partners to consistently move towards close regional cooperation on a pragmatic basis, taking into account the peculiarities of each country.

Kazakhstan announced the desire for closer cooperation and intends to consolidate positive trends both politically (bilateral and multilateral dialogue) and economically (investments in energy, transport, etc.). These efforts are conditioned by the state of bilateral and multilateral relations of the countries of the region, the need to ensure stability and security in the region and to create a favorable foreign economic and political environment.

Examples of successful regional associations and, above all, the EU, show that the establishment of productive cooperation must begin with several key sectors. In the case of Europe, as is known, the creation of the EEC (1957) was preceded by the successful operation for a number of years of such an agreement as the European Coal and Steel Association (1951).

It should be recalled that the package of proposals includes the creation of industry consortia: water, energy, transport and food; joint investment structures and a number of others. These initiatives are certainly open to discussion and new proposals from our Central Asian neighbors. It is obvious that it is necessary to address extremely topical issues related to the distribution of water resources and the work of the regional energy system.

Water issues already require not just cooperation, but the development of integrated approaches. In fact, transboundary rivers and water bodies are natural integrators in Central Asia. Sustainable development of regional countries, their socio-economic situation, and ultimately peace and stability will depend on their rational use.

Year: 2019
City: Almaty