CENTRAL ASIA AND WATER CONFLICT: WHAT IS NEXT!?

BY RAVSHAN ELMURODOV

Today five Central Asian Republics are living through a critically decisive period when political will and the ability of political co-decision-making perhaps play as crucial role as never before. History has granted us a unique and long-awaited opportunity, independence, and by the same way it has granted us certain responsibilities that we need to shoulder together. The history has also cared to leave behind it so many questions that require common efforts to be answered bravely. However, there is one controversial question that seems to be both important and urgent at the same time, and around which the author would like to take his amateurish, but all-devoted walk. Historically, natural resources have always been the most powerful motive imaginable that drove nations and defined their strategies. Today this historical fact has not changed. There are different types of conflicts that still exist around the world because of disagreement over the allocation of certain natural resources. Irrational and uncompromised use of trans-boundary water resources, for example, disturbs many countries today, including those of our region, Central Asia as well. Indeed water issues in Central Asia are seen to pose a significant threat to regional security. As the European Union noted in 2008, water management is the most sensitive environmental issue in Central Asia, which, if not addressed in due time, could develop into a serious security threat for the entire region in the medium term. We are well aware that from the 1950s-1980s, major soviet investments were made in the construction of dams, reservoirs, canals and other hydro-structures to promote and manage the transfer of water from its sources in the mountains of the Kyrgyz and Tajik republics to the main irrigation areas of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In Uzbekistan alone, the soviets built approximately 170,000 kilometers of canals to irrigate 4.2 million hectares of land. In the upstream countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, waters of two major rivers of Amu Darya and Sir Darya were meant to be used for hydroelectric power during the winter season while in the downstream countries of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan the water was used for agricultural purposes in the summer. Colossal Tajik and Kirgiz hydroelectric power stations were supposed to provide energy in return for Uzbek and Kazakh coal and other natural resources as a compensation for water needed for power generation in the summer. As a result of this short-sighted policy, today the sovereign states find themselves under a serious problematic situation. The wrong soviet policy predetermined the destinies of the neighboring states and their existing infrastructures are now desperately interdependent. The upstream countries need water to develop their relatively backward industries while

the downstream neighbors need it for agriculture. Agriculture is the largest water consumer in the region and a major employer of the region’s workforce, producing a large percentage of each country’s gross domestic product. Soon or later, to a large extent or little, everybody will or will have to get involved in common regional water affairs of ours, not a single state can afford to stay out of the game. And there can be no talk about easy solution to the water conflict in any way. For now all we can do is to pave the way for sustainable dialogue among the concerned parties. Dialogue is essential and the first ever possible step towards solution because without the first step we are not able to take the second, not to mention the third. How can we ever think about tackling the problem without even being able to properly talk about it!? Ravshan Elmuradov Academic Lyceum # 2, Samarkand, Uzbekistan ravshan-elmurodov@rambler.ru March 15, 2012

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