Water, being the most scarce, non-substitutable and vital resource for human survival, has always brought on intra and inter-national conflicts among its users; the conflict being specially bound to occur when international water basins are shared through national boundaries. Looking at the water management practices in Central Asia and comparing it to that in other parts of the world, specifically, the Rhine river in Europe, it will exhibit that the region has been badly hit by the multi-faceted after-effects of water shortage in the area. The effects are most severe in the regions economy, health and overall living condition of its inhabitants.

There are two major rivers in Central Asia: the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, both of which discharge into the Aral Sea. During the Soviet Union era, a large part (73 percent) of the Amu Darya run-off was formed in the territory of one country, with the remaining part of the run-off coming from the territories of Afghanistan and Iran. The Syr Darya basin was completely located within the Soviet Union. Therefore, the rivers were managed as national rivers, as the administrative borders between the Central Asian Soviet republics (Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek) were considered to be provincial. The primary goal of regulating the flow of the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya was to provide a reliable water supply for agriculture during the irrigation season (April September). In total, 60 reservoirs with a total storage volume of 64.5 km3 are found in the Aral Sea basin. The Syr Darya runoff is almost completely regulated and the flow of Amu Darya is regulated to about 80 percent. The Amu Darya is not as regulated as the Syr Darya, but the construction of the Rogun Dam on the Vaksh, designed in the 1960s to be the highest in the world and with a large water reservoir, would allow providing a multi-year runoff regulation of this river. However, the construction of the Rogun project was not completed during Soviet times. Water resources of the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya were allocated between many irrigation projects, some of which extended over the administrative territories of several Soviet republics, according to the quotas established by the USSR Ministry of Water Management and Land Reclamation (USSR Minvodkhoz) and the USSR State Planning

Committee (USSR Gosplan) in consultation with the five republics. In 1986, basin water management organizations (BVOs) were set up for the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya basins. The geopolitical situation in Central Asia changed in 1991 when the USSR collapsed and former Soviet republics proclaimed their sovereignty. As a result, the basins of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya were divided between the respective co-basin countries, and previously national rivers became Tran boundary.

Ageement on Cooperation of Water Resources in 1992
A few months after declaring their sovereignty, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan entered into their first regional agreement. The “Agreement on Cooperation in Joint Management, Use and Protection of Interstate Sources of Water Resources” was signed in February 1992. The 1992 Agreement confirmed the status quo of the Soviet water allocation arrangements between the countries until new modalities for water cooperation could be agreed upon. The Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC) was established to implement the Agreement and has since been a stabilizing factor and focal point in the water allocation discussions on the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. The 1992 Agreement, however, did not stipulate the provision of the energy supplies to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for their use over the winter, when the energy needs there are highest. Therefore those countries could not afford to accumulate the winter flow in the dam reservoirs. This, namely, is the principal source of the current water problems in Central Asia. As Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have lost the previously delivered winter supplies of energy, they started to rely on their only readily available source of energy: hydropower. In order to generate electricity at their hydropower stations, they are releasing large amounts of the water from their reservoirs during the winter. The water situation in Central Asia is unique, determined in particular by the fact that the main river basins were previously used and developed as national within a single state (USSR) but are presently Tran boundary and shared by independent nations. In this situation, it is not easy to provide a straightforward answer as regards the determination and interpretation of the rights and obligations of upstream and downstream countries. International water law is based on numerous instruments, bilateral as well as

multilateral, the most important of which include the non-binding “Helsinki Rules”, the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, in force since 1996, and the global United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, not in force. International water law does provide a general legal framework for transboundary water cooperation, based on the two principal but somewhat conflicting norms: equitable and reasonable utilization of transboundary water resources and the obligation of one State not to cause significant harm to another State through its use of shared water resources. It also requires that cooperation between watercourse States, with a view of attaining optimal and sustainable utilization of the shared resources, should involve consultations between the countries concerned. But if consultations do not result in an agreement, a State can in exceptional cases undertake an action without the explicit consent of its cobasin States. Should significant harm arise, various means of peaceful dispute settlement and possible compensation should be considered.

The Waters in Central Asia and their Management
• The Aral Sea The Aral Sea Basin is one of the oldest regions of irrigated agriculture where the favorable climatic conditions and natural fertility of the soil favor the development of agriculture. Until the 1950s, irrigation water demands were relatively low with the major water supplying rivers, i.e. Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya regularly discharging into the Aral Sea. Since the 1960s, however, when the states of Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan) and Kazakhstan initiated a large-scale opening up of new lands through irrigation, the equilibrium between the water demand of man for the water and that required for a healthy functioning of aquatic systems, has become destroyed. It took only about 30 years to develop into a major ecological crisis of the Aral Sea Basin. During the 1980s several years passed in which little or no water reached the Aral Sea from the river. Inflows from the Syr Darya River have drastically diminished in recent decades. As a result, the volume of the Aral Sea dropped by about 80 percent between 1960 and 2000. The Ministers of Water Supply from the five riparian states sharing the Aral Basin signed an agreement in October 1991 that was designed to resolve water conflicts.

The agreement recognized the unity of the Aral Basin and the right of each riparian state to use the common water resources under the principle of equality. A working group was set up to oversee the enforcement of the agreement. Its functions included developing a single program of utilization and creating a mechanism of water consumption in the interests of the national economies, and protection of water resources. Several measures to improve the area around the Aral Sea and to replenish it were also envisaged in the multilateral agreement. Following the 1991 agreement, an Interstate Coordinating Commission for Water Supply (ICCWS) and two river basin authorities (BVOs) – the Syr Darya BVO located in Tashkent and the Amu Darya BVO located in Urgench – were established to apportion water from the two rivers among the five independent states in an equitable manner. However, to date, accomplishments of these regional and basinspecific bodies have been very limited. Nonetheless, as we will see attempts to develop and implement multilateral mechanisms and institutions for resolving trans-boundary water issues in a cooperative manner have continued in the Aral Basin. In March 1993, all five of the Aral Sea watershed states (including Kazakhstan) signed a multinational agreement to improve the situation in the Aral Sea Basin. A fund was established to pay for needed restoration efforts, requiring each country to contribute one per cent of its annual GNP. In January 1994 another meeting, this one held in Nukus, reaffirmed their commitment to resolving the crisis. In April 1996, the three republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan announced an agreement to improve cross-border delivery of water and energy. The accord they signed calls on Kyrgyzstan to guarantee supplies of hydroelectricity and a sufficient flow of water through the Syr Darya to the downstream cotton fields of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, in return for unspecified amounts of gas from Uzbekistan and coal from Kazakhstan. The three republics have also invited the neighboring governments to join in and help resolve a host of other water and energy disputes. The Nukus declaration of the Central Asian Republics regarding the problems of sustainable development in the Aral Sea basin asserted that sustainable development is the main subject of human activity in the basin (September 21 1995, " East Truth"). This

declaration, as mentioned earlier, was signed by the heads of states of the Republics and it points the way for: • • • a transition to a more balanced agricultural and forest economics increasing irrigation efficiency through development of economical

mechanisms of water use promoting long term water and land use

The Rhine River

In the 1950s, the Netherlands became increasingly concerned about the salinity in the Rhine River. About a decade later, therefore, the International Committee for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR) was formed to address this issue, setting up a technical commission to monitor the pollution levels in the Rhine. About another decade later, in 1976, a drastic action was taken by signing the convention for the protection of the Rhine against pollution, in which specific measures had to be adopted to clean up the river. The actual work, however, began ten years later in 1986. They agreed to reduce pollution levels by 50% over the 1985 levels. Later on, other private sectors too decided to take action. The German Chemical Industry Foundation, for instance, agreed to reduce the level of toxics in the river. This sets a good example for other nations to follow in international water basin management. While this is a success story, it still explains the fact that the management of international water basins is a big challenge and requires a lot of time; it took those about four decades to tackle the issue until the river slowly began to recover. The important lesson that can be gleaned from this story is that no matter how serious the conflict, cooperation is the key for the general sovereignty. It is this whole-hearted commitment and cooperation that is missing in the Central Asian case. Those with the authority to make vital changes for the generations are instead concerned about shortterm gains.

Water’s Brutal Calculus: Downstream and Upstream
The consequences were not long in coming. The Aral Sea at one time the fourth-largest inland body of water on the globe lost two-thirds of its volume and half of its surface area in four decades. The Karakalpak town of Moynaq, which boasted the second-largest fishing fleet on the Aral, now lies more than 70 miles from the shore. Violent dust storms have increased from once every five years to five times per year, depositing a fine layer of dirt, salt, and agricultural toxins on anything that happens to be outside a hermetically sealed room. "I remember my first flight in," says Dilorom Fayzieba, an Uzbek epidemiologist who has spent the past three years working out of the provincial capital, which bears the sadly apt name of Nukus. "As we were landing, I noticed that all the ground for miles around was white. I thought, 'Oh, it must have snowed.'" The layer of salt and chemical residues in the region is so thick it piles up in drifts against houses, fences, roads, and the corpses of long-expired cattle. By the time the Amu Darya reaches Karakalpakstan, it has traveled more than 1,000 miles, irrigating millions of acres of cropland and providing tea and baths for millions of people. Along the way, water diverted from the flow may pass over irrigated cropland multiple times, each time collecting more poison and draining back into the river. Many seasons, depleted by its journey, the Amu trickles to nothing before reaching the Aral Sea. This is the brutal calculus of water management that the land farthest downstream gets only what the upstream regions discard or don't use. International consensus on the best option for the Karakalpaks is simply to leave home, and most experts have given up on the Aral itself. Why not attempt to seize back the flow stop the draining and siphoning and rerouting that takes place upstream so that Karakalpakstan can reclaim its share? Because the water upstream is spoken for, mostly by people not much better off than the Karakalpaks themselves. Turn off the tap on the power plants and cotton farms upstream, in order to revive the current below, and you'd just trade one world-class disaster for another. Yet if it's too late to reverse the devastation of Karakalpakstan, it's not too late to contain it, to prevent the desiccation of still-surviving lands. Huge portions of the Syr and Amu

Darya rivers still run; they begin in the 20,000-foot peaks of Central Asia's two mountainous countries (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and meander through its three lowland nations (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan). Before it vanishes in Karakalpakstan, the Amu Darya parallels the Syr Darya for miles, and the Syr Darya still faithfully empties into the sea. Together the two rivers form Central Asia's imperiled Fertile Crescent. The key is to keep them flowing.

Central Asia: Water and Conflict
Competition for water is increasing in Central Asia at an alarming rate, adding tension to what is already an uneasy region. Agriculture is the mainstay of the region's economy, and thirsty crops such as cotton and rice require intensive irrigation. Water use has increased rapidly since the Central Asian states became independent in 1991 and is now at an unsustainable level. Irrigation systems have decayed so severely that half of all water never reaches crops, and several years of drought have cut available water by a fifth even as demand continues to soar. Efforts to rebuild Afghanistan will now put yet more strain on supplies. The problems of increasing demand and declining supplies have been compounded by the failure of the region's nations to work together. Under the Soviet Union, water and energy resources were exchanged freely across what were only administrative borders, and Moscow provided the funds and management to build and maintain infrastructure. Rising nationalism and competition among the five Central Asia states has meant they have failed to come up with a viable regional approach to replace the Soviet system of management. Indeed, linked water and energy issues have been second only to Islamic extremism as a source of tension in recent years. An annual cycle of disputes has developed between the three downstream countries Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - that are all heavy consumers of water for growing cotton, and the upstream nations Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The downstream countries require more water for their growing agricultural sectors and rising populations, while the economically weaker upstream countries are trying to win more control over their resources and want to use more water for electricity generation and farming.

Tensions focus on the two main rivers of the region that both flow to the Aral Sea - the Syr Darya from Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and the Amu Darya from Tajikistan through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Amu Darya and its tributaries form part of the border between the Central Asian states and Afghanistan. This report identifies four key areas of tension among the Central Asia nations:
• • • •

lack of coherent water management; failure to abide by or adapt water quotas; Non-implemented and untimely barter agreements and payments; Uncertainty over future infrastructure plans.

Water management has suffered from the Soviet legacy of top-down control and general rivalries between the states. The Interstate Coordinating Water Commission (ICWC) that was set up in 1992 has failed to take into account changing political and economic relations. It is an inter-governmental body with little transparency that focuses almost exclusively on the division of water. There is no representation from agricultural or industrial consumers, non-governmental organizations or other parties. Management is dominated by officials from Uzbekistan, leading to suspicions that it favours that country's national interests. This has contributed to a lack of political commitment by other countries to the commission, resulting in a serious shortage of funds. In the meantime, the individual countries have done little to contribute to the maintenance of water systems that benefit the region. Western donors have started to develop other management systems such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) program, in coordination with the International Fund to Save the Aral Sea (IFAS). The UN-backed Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) is also working on water management. However, none of these initiatives have made much headway in dealing with the key political obstacles, particularly the unwillingness of the states to cooperate. Shortly after independence, the five countries agreed to maintain the Soviet-era quota system, but this has become unworkable. The civil war in Tajikistan and the decay of

Kyrgyzstan's economy has meant that water-monitoring facilities have fallen into disrepair. Control and enforcement mechanisms no longer function and the various countries now often accuse each other of exceeding quotas. Turkmenistan is using too much water to the detriment of Uzbekistan, which in turn has been accused by Kazakhstan of taking more than its share. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan say that the three downstream countries are all exceeding quotas. Even within Uzbekistan, provinces have accused one another of using too much water. Some of the most serious tensions have centred on barter agreements and payments. The upstream countries trade water to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for energy in the form of gas, coal or power. Since energy deliveries have been unreliable, Kyrgyzstan has responded by releasing more water through its hydropower dam in winter, which results in downstream flooding and less water for summer irrigation. Attempts by Kyrgyzstan to demand payment for water have been resisted by the downstream countries. As each country has started to view the problem as a zero-sum game, it has taken steps to increase control over water, often to the detriment of the others. There is increasing uncertainty in Central Asia over plans to build new reservoirs and dams or to expand irrigation. There has been little consultation over most of these projects, leading to intensified suspicions between states. Since the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, there has been concern about the implications of efforts to rebuild agriculture in Afghanistan. Currently that country uses very little of the water from the Amu Darya but reconstruction of irrigation systems will put additional pressure on the river. Tensions over water and energy have contributed to a generally uneasy political climate in Central Asia. Not only do they tend to provoke hostile rhetoric, but they have also prompted suggestions that the countries are willing to defend their interests by force if necessary. Uzbekistan has carried out exercises that look suspiciously like practice runs at capturing the Toktogul Reservoir. The gas shortages and winter flooding that Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have inflicted on each other have a direct and widespread impact on the peoples of those countries and have the potential to inflame ethnic tensions in the

Ferghana Valley. Competition for water can only increase, and tensions will rise unless better mechanisms are put in place to manage the problems. A multifaceted regional approach is needed that addresses energy, agriculture and demographic aspects of water use. Thus far, emphasis has been on bilateral agreements that lack political weight and cannot resolve what a regional problem is. Management of water must be reformed to increase accountability and transparency as currently the public, NGOs and the media have little access to information or the decision-making process. Efficient water management requires quotas that are sustainable and are backed up by enforcement mechanisms and sanctions against violators. The Central Asia nations still approach the issue purely as an engineering problem rather than one of managing multiple political, social and economic factors. There is considerable scepticism in Central Asia about foreign involvement in resolving the water issue. Donors have favoured technical rather than political solutions, and funds have been earmarked for the repair and replacement of inefficient irrigation installations. Technical solutions will only have a limited impact, however, if not accompanied by political.

To The Governments of Central Asia: On Water Management: 1. Reform the Interstate Coordinating Water Commission (ICWC) by:

making its decision-making, budgets and policies more transparent and accountable; widening participation by including water users associations and NGOs; broadening the mandate from water division to include agricultural and energy issues; providing it with powers to enforce quotas, close facilities and impose sanctions; and

• •

Reforming the management structure to make it more representative of country-members.


Enhance the monitoring capacity of the ICWC by:
• •

granting visa-free access to all officials to all member states; expanding funding for monitoring equipment, particularly automated systems; and providing diplomatic status for officials to limit pressures on them from local authorities.


Reform the Basin Water-Management Authorities (BWAs) for the Amu Darya

and Syr Darya by:
• • •

giving them authority to enforce quotas; making them more inclusive; changing senior management structures to reduce suspicions of Uzbek dominance.


Negotiate an agreement on payments for infrastructure maintenance that takes

into account:
• •

the burden on upstream countries to maintain dams and reservoirs; and The urgent need to improve water productivity in downstream nations.


Draft national water codes and support the expansion of local water users

associations as a way to:
• • • •

introduce new technology; reduce consumption; maintain existing infrastructure; and minimise risk of local disputes.

On Quotas:


Revise existing water quotas considering:
• • • •

current low water supplies; rising demand in upstream countries; the balance of water distribution within countries; and the need to tackle pressing environmental problems.

On Barter Agreements: 7. Move ahead with establishment of water and energy consortia as a way to boost

regional cooperation. In particular:

negotiate a new agreement on the Syr-Darya, taking into account infrastructure issues, and moving towards monetary exchanges; and Negotiate a similar agreement for the Amu-Darya, taking into account the energy needs of Afghanistan and Tajikistan.


Boost trust in existing barter agreements by:

working out a schedule to reach agreements before energy shortages in winter cause problems; establishing a monitoring and adjudication system for barter deals; and improving infrastructure to deliver gas.

• •


Move towards market pricing for water and energy to allow fairer exchanges, and

recognise the diverging pace of economic reforms. On Future Infrastructure: 10. Stop construction of the Lake of the Golden Century in Turkmenistan , the

reservoir system in southern Uzbekistan and the Rogun Dam in Tajikistan ; end speculation over possible diversion of Siberian rivers to Central Asia .


Establish an independent regional commission to assess the impact of planned

projects, and adopt a planning code of conduct to reduce tensions. 12. Use the joint commission to come up with a common position on future water

use in Afghanistan. To International Donors: 13. Expand funding for political and technical activities related to water, including:
• • •

drafting of agreements on quotas, barter agreements and infrastructure; support for the formation of water and energy consortia; establishment of water users associations and monitoring and environmental NGOs;

• • • •

automated and other monitoring of water supplies; water-use reduction programs; local conflict prevention initiatives; and research on local water management.


Promote regional cooperation by:
• •

funding projects designed and implemented regionally; and pressing governments to drop infrastructure projects that will harm their neighbours.


Provide technical and financial help to the Central Asian states and the

government in Afghanistan to work out a common position on future water use from the Amu Darya and Panj rivers.