Central Asia faces water shortage due to environmental and political reasons

Water in Central Asia is becoming not just a vital natural resource but a political tool as well. Water security is becoming an increasingly important issue as winter approaches in Central Asia due to both environment and political reasons. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan serve as major sources of water for downstream countries. While lacking the hydrocarbon resources, they are mountainous and fluvial countries which lend themselves well to hydroelectric power generation.

The scheme relies on Kyrgyz and Tajik production of excess electricity in the summertime, which is then supplied to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, in turn, provide Kyrgyzstan with electricity and gas during winter. However, last winter Uzbekistan cut its supply of natural gas to Kyrgyzstan amid a political dispute between Tashkent and Bishkek. In addition to this political vulnerability, Kyrgyzstan’s reservoir is at only 60 percent capacity this year due to rain and snowmelt shortages and corruption. The plants’ managers have been suspected of receiving bribes in exchange for opening the sluices during the summer to irrigate Uzbek crops. As a result, Kyrgyz officials are already warning of power cuts in the coming winter.

Meanwhile, water shortages also threaten Tajik-initiated project CASA-1000, which aims to transmit excess electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The project has been praised as transformational for regional energy security and increased connectivity across two regions, and secured serious funding from US, British and Australian development agencies (USAID, DFID, AusAID).The World Bank has also provided around $1 billion in financing. However, the project anticipates development of additional generation capacity, which seems questionable in the midst of environmental and political concerns.

Finally, Kazakhstan, which is poor water resources, particularly for rural households, has identified water shortage as a global challenge and included it in its national strategy for 2050. The current coverage of Kazakh rural villages equals only 40% and the average volume of drinking water diminishes annually due to decline in infrastructure conditions. In response to its water woes, Kazakhstan is looking to desalinate the Caspian Sea with private sector participation. The recent memorandum proposes a new plant to supply water to industries and population to two main cities in the province of Manghystau.

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News Briefs:

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