Speaking of water…

by Nathan Hamm on 8/16/2004

Tochno. Water is absolutely crucial and it already is a contentious and ongoing issue in Central Asia. The resource-rich countries downstream need it and the resource-poor countries upstream have it. That they should trade seems simple enough, but no one can seem to agree on a fair price. What, after all, is the value of something that most of us take for granted?

Ferghana.ru reports on the future of water in Central Asia. There are apparently plans to build new reservoirs in the Ferghana Valley, though I don’t know what the likelihood of that actually happening are.

What struck me as most interesting is that the mismanagement of the Syr Daryo, while contributing to the decline of the Aral, has given rise to the Aydar-Arnasai lakes. They are fairly prominent in the center of this satellite shot and are actually on this map (Aydar-kul sometimes isn’t shown on maps). The water-level in these lakes has apparently increased for years.

While one might expect a new and very large lake to be welcome in such an arid region, it is both a symptom and source of the ongoing water disputes in the region:

Kyrgyzstan opted to use its own natural resources for its own benefit; it ran the Toktogul dam for power generation in the winter.

The surge of water caused massive flooding downstream. The river’s carrying capacity was reduced because the northern Syr Darya freezes in the winter. With the dams lowering the water level in the river, villages and fishing communities had crept closer. The rush of water hit the reduced capacity of the river, overflowed its banks, and washed away many of these villages, including some inhabitants and their livestock. To protect against further depredations, Kazakhstan attempted to contain the water behind the Chardara dam. However, the capacity of its reservoir was soon exceeded and the water broke through into the Arnasai depression in Uzbekistan. Subsequent releases have filled this depression and created full lakes of the former lowland marshes Aidar and Tuzkon. Annually, these lakes grow and flood the surrounding countryside, swamping villages, valuable pasturelands, and infrastructure including power and communication lines, roads, and gas pipelines. To date, flooding has cost Uzbekistan an estimated $3.8 million in losses.

If you’re looking for a more extensive discussion of water conflicts in the region, check out this Master’s Thesis.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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