Water Problems in Asia

Qush-Tepa Canal Construction - What is at Stake for Central Asia?

Authors: Dr. Iskandar Abdullaev1 and Shakhboz Akhmedov2


Central Asia, historically characterized as a water "hot spot" due to its geographical positioning, arid climate, and dynamic population shifts, has long grappled with water-related complexities, particularly in the aftermath of its post-Soviet transformations. The dissolution of the uni@ied economic system in 1991 prompted newly independent states to establish individual national water management frameworks, signi@icantly altering joint planning, allocation, and management of water resources. In response, the @ive newly formed Central Asian countries established the Interstate Coordination Water Commission (ICWC) in 1992 to oversee regional water management, initially adhering to Soviet-era water allocation principles. However, dissatisfaction with these arrangements led to a hydro-political deadlock driven by divergent economic pressures and development strategies among Central Asian countries. In the mid-1990s, upstream nations prioritized reservoir operations for energy production, causing tensions with downstream irrigation demands. Attempts to reconcile these disparities culminated in the Syr Darya agreement, which was effective only between 1999 and 2001, ultimately contributing to a protracted hydro-political deadlock and elevating water into a sensitive and securitized domain. Presently, the state of Central Asia's water systems remains uncertain, marked by ongoing transformations in regional and national water governance structures. The escalating impact of climate change exacerbates existing challenges, with droughts and water scarcity affecting both upstream energy generation and downstream agricultural irrigation. Additionally, inef@icient water utilization, limited availability, and potential adverse climate effects further compound the region's uncertain trajectory, intensifying competition for water resources across all sectors. Amidst these complexities, the recent introduction of the Taliban's Qush-Tepa canal introduces another layer of complexity, heightening tensions and stakes in the region.

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