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:

  • Saudi Arabia is pushing a non-binding draft resolution at the U.N. General Assembly human rights committee that condemns Iranian and Russian intervention in Syria. Qatar and other Arab nations.The U.S., the UK, France and other Western powers co-sponsored the resolution which was prepared primarily by Saudi Arabia and is to be put to a vote next week. Even though the draft avoids explicitly mentioning ‘Russia,’ the resolution “strongly condemns all attacks against the Syrian moderate opposition and calls for their immediate cessation.” The resolution also condemns all foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and lists the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps among them. The move has prompted complaints from Iranian and Syrian delegations at the U.N.
  • Georgia-Azerbaijan cooperation that among other things is based on energy interests and transit of Caspian-sourced oil and gas became contentious in the past weeks over Gazprom’s potential appearance in the Georgian market. The concern followed Georgian minister of energy Kakha Kaladze meeting with Gazprom CEO, Aleksei Miller who discussed the company’s interest to increase gas supply to Armenia via Georgia but to also sell gas to Georgian consumers. Kaladze emphasized his government’s plans to restore relations with Gazprom for the purpose of diversifying energy supply as Georgia may not be able to receive enough natural gas from Azerbaijan. During the recent visit to Georgia, the president of Azerbaijan Aliyev remarked that Azerbaijan has enormous deposits of gas to supply not only to its neighbors but also to the whole of Europe for a period of one hundred years. Currently, Georgia receives 70% of its gas supply from Azerbaijan and Russian gas comes only as a payment for the transit to Armenia, amounting to about 300 million cubic meters a year.
  • Oil wars heat up as Iran returns to the global oil market and Russia and Iraq continue to pressure Asian markets. According to the IMF report, the Middle East is expected to run out of funds in five years if the prices remain unchanged. Saudi Arabia is at the top of this list, along with Oman, and both remain in competition with Russia. While less wealthy members of OPEC such as Venezuela and Algeria pressure for production cuts to raise prices, the opposite view argues that production cuts would simply subsidize higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Russia continues to make attempts to work with Iranians across all major sectors, including energy. The potential failure of ongoing Syrian peace talks due to fractious relations between Iran Saudi Arabia would complicate any agreement over production cuts between Iran, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries at a meeting planned in a month from now.
  • The Kyrgyz news agency reports that the country holds a leading position in the 3rd Eurasian integration rating. Now that Kyrgyzstan completed accession to the Eurasian Economic Union in legal terms as well, the stage of creating “basic configuration” has been fully passed. The summer and fall seasons of 2015 are claimed to be the serious test for the EEU to convert its “words into deeds.” Recent activities primarily marked norm-setting activities, creating joint legislation, trade rules, but also had to face economic crisis, declining turnover figures and increasing unemployment in all the key countries. The recent prepositions included the introduction of a common currency and the legalization of a parallel import system promoted by Russia. Kazakhstan already ruled out the possibility of a common currency, the evraz, forming part of the national agenda.
  • The U.S. Congress has passed a bill that authorizes $50 million in lethal aid for Ukraine and stipulates that the White House respond if Russia violates arms control treaty dating back to the 1980s. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the legislation, according to information published by the White House. In addition to other things, the considered package authorizes another $300 million to aid Ukraine in fighting Russian-backed separatists, including $50 million in lethal weaponry such as antiwar weapon systems, mortars, grenade launchers, small arms and ammunition. The previous calls to provide lethal aid to Ukraine were resisted by the Obama administration, fearing Russia’s response.
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