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Rethinking Water in Central Asia: the costs of inaction and benefits of water cooperation

International cooperation over water resources that are shared between several countries offers significant opportunities. Cooperation helps minimize the impacts that water use in one country may have on other riparian countries, and allows for a maximization of overall benefits for all basin countries. Despite a general commitment to cooperation, Central Asia is witnessing intense competition over water resources. Water policies are often driven by uncoordinated national strategies. A combination of low water efficiency, strong interdependencies, and competing national priorities has caused disagreements, and contributed to political and diplomatic disputes between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Insufficient water cooperation entails significant costs and major risks for the future development of the region. Even if only parts of these costs are taken into account, they amount to more than 4.5 billion US$ per year. By raising awareness of the costs of inaction, and by setting out a variety of pathways towards eliminating them in the future, this policy brief seeks to support the political rationale for improving water cooperation. The Challenge Until the beginning of the 1990s, Central Asian countries were part of the Soviet Union, which constructed major dams and reservoirs in the upstream countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Water was stored in these reservoirs primarily for irrigating both cotton and wheat in downstream Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, whereas upstream energy needs were satisfied through central planning that drew on downstream fossil fuel deposits. Since 1991, however, the operation regime of upstream dams has shifted towards prioritizing energy over irrigation needs. As energy prices for upstream countries rose, water releases from their reservoirs were increasingly driven by upstream winter electricity rather than downstream summer irrigation needs. This has resulted in tensions between Central Asian states and limited regional cooperation beyond the water sector. As a consequence, insufficient water cooperation hampers economic development in all countries and has the potential to undermine national and regional stability   to read full article please click on Rethinking Water in Central Asia Policy Brief final
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