Knowledge Base

Water resources use

The use of Central Asiaís water resources, primarily for domestic purposes and irrigation, started more than 6,000 years ago. In the 20th century and especially since 1960, the intensity of water use increased as a result of fast population growth, industrial development and, most of all, irrigation. Overall, irrigation accounts for 90% of the regionís draw-off. Table 9 shows the trends in water use in the Aral Sea basin since 1960.

In 1960, total withdrawal was 60.61 km3 and by 1990 it reached 116.271 km3, that is, increased 1.8 times. In the same period, population in the area increased 2.7 times, while irrigated areas increased 1.7 times, and agricultural production 3 times.

Since 1994, there has been a clear decline in water use and withdrawal. In 1999, total withdrawal diminished by 11.4 km3 from 1990 levels, down to 104.955 km3. The decline was caused not only by temporary stagnation in all countries of the region but also by increased cultivation of cereal crops accompanied by a reduction in areas under water-intensive cotton, rice and feed crops. Another factor is the slow speed of reforms in the agricultural and industrial sectors of some countries, which resulted in large irrigated areas not being used. It has also been noted that weak government controls have resulted in less reliable official statistics on annual water withdrawals and use volumes. Presumably, in countries that have introduced water abstraction charges, actual withdrawal has exceeded levels shown in official statistics. Along with the above negative factors, diminishing water use has, to a certain extent, resulted from efficient water-saving technologies used by independent economic entities in a number of sectors.

Sometimes, water use figures for previous years have been aggregated in national reports in such a way that they fail to describe specifics of each basin, reflecting instead the internal administrative divisions and the status of local water bodies that have no inter-State significance. This, along with discrepancies in water use figures for different rivers, necessitates further elaboration, by all parties concerned, of their basic calculation methods. Overall, however, all national reports bear out the main trends in water use identified for 1960-2000.

Water use in the Syrdarya basin

During the Soviet period, water needs of the four republics in the Syrdarya basin were met by the Naryn cascade of reservoirs on the basis of schedules giving priority to irrigated farming.

Today, conflicting economic priorities of individual countries have led to clashes of interest over discharge schedules of the Toktogul Reservoir. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have been insisting on giving priority to irrigation, while Kyrgyzstan and partly Tajikistan prefer using water for electric power generation. As a result, since 1993, the Toktogul cascade of reservoirs has been applying schedules characterized by a sharp increase in the volume of the water accumulated in the reservoirs over summer and discharged in winter for the production of hydroenergy by Kyrgyzstan.

Since 1994 the water regime in the Syrdarya basin has been the main subject of negotiations between governments. To meet Kyrgyzstanís demands for increased supplies of energy resources and the water needs of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the summer, a decision was made to define mutual obligations of these countries in a fuel and energy exchange agreement. Expert work groups representing water authorities and the power industry of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have drawn up a complex plan of water and energy use for the Syrdarya basin based on the following principles of mutual compensation:

  • Electricity generated in the Naryn cascade by Kyrgyzstan in excess of its own (national) needs shall be purchased in equal amounts by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan;
  • Compensation for this quantity shall be made by an equivalent supply of electricity and fuel (coal, gas, etc.) for the winter needs of Kyrgyzstan.

Protocols and agreements on this basis have been signed annually since 1995, with the current agreement between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan signed on 17 March 1998. Tajikistan joined the agreement on 17 June 1998.

This approach, however, does not account sufficiently for the environmental problems in the watershed, as the discharges from the Syrdarya will be falling below minimum discharge levels recorded during the past hundred years of observation. On the other hand, the irrigation and water supply concerns of the downstream countries will only be met if the above States fully comply with the terms of signed agreements on fuel and energy supply and the purchases of excess electricity. The slightest non-compliance will undermine sustainable water supply. The implementation of the agreements has revealed that conflicting energy and irrigation needs of the four States have complicated the fulfilment of agreed water allocation terms and necessitate further negotiations.

Water use in the Amudarya basin

Until 1992, the allocation of water from the Amudarya among the four Central Asian republics was based on the water development master plan for the Amudarya basin. The allocation plan was approved by resolution 566 of the Science and Technological Council of the USSR Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Management in 1987. The resolution established the following allocation of surface waters (% of projected flow in the mainstream of the Amudarya):

  • Kyrgyzstan - 0.6%;
  • Tajikistan - 15.4%;
  • Turkmenistan - 35.8%;
  • Uzbekistan - 48.2%.

The quota principle stipulating that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are sharing equally the water of the so-called adjusted run-off at the Kerky hydrological post including the diversion to the Karakum Canal, has been applied until now. This provision was reiterated in the bilateral agreement signed by the heads of these two States in Cherdzjev (Turkmenabad) in 1996.

In low-water years, even individual countries, in particular Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, have found it difficult to allocate water between upper and lower reaches due to the time needed for water to cover the distance, fluctuations of losses along the river, and irregular patterns of river depletion and refill. Water use arrangements for the Amudarya are further complicated by the patterns of refill in the riverís reservoirs, as well as by significant withdrawals, outside water reservoirs, during low-level periods (in the Karshinsky, Amubukharsky and Khan-Yan canals, the Takhiatashskaya hydropower station, etc.). All these factors are complicated by unstable riverbed conditions and warrant further targeted studies and refinements in the methods used to forecast and regulate the water flow in the Amudarya.

Regulation of water use

In the long run, allocation may get even more complex due to the growing water needs of Afghanistan. In the recent past, economic development of its northern provinces slowed down because of the political instability. At present the country has ample water resources to meet internal demand, which does not exceed 2.0 km3/year. Water relations between the USSR and Afghanistan were based on the 1946 bilateral agreement and the 1958 Protocol.

In the future, Afghanistan may claim a bigger share of water for the socio-economic development of its northern part.This will significantly change the flow patterns for the Pyandj and Amudarya rivers, calling for a consideration of the following issues that would determine cooperation in water use:

  • Possible future requirements of Afghanistan;
  • Measures to ensure environmental stability in inter-State water basins, including estuaries and the Aral Sea;
  • The impact of return flow on water resources, particularly that of drainage waters discharged directly into rivers or depressions;
  • Mutually acceptable decisions based on a review of quota arrangements;
  • Strengthening of measures for water conservation at the national and regional level;
  • Regulation of water use in the watersheds of small inter-State rivers, such as the Chu and Talas rivers, and others;
  • Agreements of water use patterns based on the needs of the population and all economic sectors.