Water-energy problems in Central Asia and the role of Tajikistan in its solution

Water-energy problems in Central Asia and the role of Tajikistan in its solution

1. Formation and use of water resources in Central Asia

Central Asia is located in the heart of the Eurasian continent – at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and occupies an area of about 4 million km². The region covers a territory of five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The main geographical territory of Central Asia is the Aral Sea basin, covering the countries listed above, plus the northern part of Afghanistan, a minor part of China and Iran. Nature of the Aral Sea Basin forms the highest mountain ranges of Pamir and Tien Shan, vast deserts and steppes, and the major Asian rivers Amu Darya, Syr Darya, which flow into the Aral Sea. Basin area within Central Asia is more than 1.5 million km². The overwhelming majority of the basin is located in the arid zone, with the main distinguishing feature being the lack of fresh water.

Geographical and climatic features of the Aral Sea basin as a whole and particularly within the Central Asian region predetermine a very uneven development of water resources. In general, the Aral Sea basin is formed by about 116 km³ of water, but the distribution is uneven. The main flow (93.33 km³ or 80.7%) is formed on the territory of the upper – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the maximum usage (85%) are in the country, located in the lower reaches – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The share of these countries in the formation of water is negligible, and is equal to only 13.94% of the total runoff in the Aral Sea. From the total runoff in the Aral Sea a unique mountainous nature of Tajikistan generates 55,4% or 64 km³ per year, including the Amu Darya basin 62.9 km³ (80.17%) and Syr Darya 1.1 km³ (3%).

Water-energy problems in Central Asia and the role of Tajikistan in its solution

The most full-flowing river is the Amu Darya region; the average annual flow is 78.46 km³. More than 80% (62.90 km³) flow of the river is formed on the territory of the Republic of Tajikistan. On the territory of Uzbekistan 4.70 km³ (6%) is formed, Kyrgyzstan – 1.90 km³ (2.42%), Turkmenistan (with Iran) – 2.79 km³ (3.5%) and Afghanistan – 6,18 km³ (7.9% ) of the Amudarya flow.

By the hydrographic attraction to the Amu Darya, or related to a possible economic use of water in their pools, some closed lakes and streams are included in the total water resources of the Amu Darya. The river Zаrafshon has an average annual flow of 5.27 km³ and Kashkadarya with a sink in the 1.34 km³, as well as Murghab Tejen, Atrek and the northern rivers of Afghanistan Khulm, Balhab, Sarypul and Kaysar total volume of runoff to 4.86 km³. Their total stock in view of the underground and unaccounted-for surface runoff is 11.51 km³.

Thus the stock directly to the Amu Darya will be 66.9 km³. Of this amount, the river Panj forms 33.4 km³ or 49.9%, Vakhsh – 20.22 km³ or 30.2%, Kunduz – 3.48 km³, or 5.2%, Kafernigan – 5.66 km³, or 8.5%, Surkhandarya – 3.91 km³, or 5.8%, and Sherabad – 0.23km³, or 0.3%.

Water-energy problems in Central Asia and the role of Tajikistan in its solution

Average annual flow of the river Syr-Darya is 37.14 km³, of which 73.8% (27.40 km³) is formed on the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic. On the territory of the Republic of Tajikistan is formed only 1.1 km³ (2.96%) from water basin Syr Darya.

The main sources of stream flow in Central Asia are the glaciers and snowfields, providing 25-30% of annual runoff. During the growing period, their share in the annual runoff makes up to 50%.

The distribution of the same water basin of the Aral Sea is somewhat different. It is based on schemes of integrated water resources management of river basins Amu (1987) and Syr Darya (1984). In this scheme, first of all, consider the presence of water, possible to use. According to calculations, the amount of available water resources are composed of surface water, groundwater and recycled waste and drainage water, made 133.64 km³ per year. In percentage terms, this amount was distributed as follows: Kazakhstan – 11.4%, the Kyrgyz Republic – 4%, the Republic of Tajikistan – 10,7%, Turkmenistan – 20,3% and the Republic of Uzbekistan – 53,6%

Water-energy problems in Central Asia and the role of Tajikistan in its solution

Volumes listed in the table refer to the entire Aral Sea basin, including drainless Zeravshan and Kashkadarya, and consider as repeatedly used water, as the inevitable costs and losses of runoff, including selection in Afghanistan in the volume of 2.10 km³ and controlled releases of rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya.

By schemes was also indicated of water for sampling directly from the trunk of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya with the 90% of security at the level of complete exhaustion of water resources. Water allocation with the direct abstraction of water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers intended water withdrawals in the amount of 84.19 km³ (63% of available water resources) with the following proportions between countries: Kazakhstan – 10.01 km³ (11,9%), Kyrgyzstan – 0,79 km³ (0,9%), Tajikistan – 11.31 km³ (13,4%), Turkmenistan – 22,0 (26,1 km³), and Uzbekistan – 40.08 km³ (47,6%)

It’s hard to consider such water allocation as a fair one because, having the largest volume of emerging water resources, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have the lowest share of the total water use.

Water-energy problems in Central Asia and the role of Tajikistan in its solution

Despite such a substantial impairment of interests, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, even after independence, based on principles of mutual respect and good neighbourliness, agreed to accept these schemes as the basis for the utilization of water resources.

It was affirmed by the Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on cooperation in joint management and protection of transboardary water resources (Almaty, February 18, 1992) and Nukus Declaration of the Heads of States of Central Asia, adopted 20 September 1995 in Nukus (Uzbekistan) at the International Conference on Sustainable Development (Obligations, Part I. The commitment to the principles of sustainable development: “We agree that the Central Asian states recognize previously signed and existing agreements, contracts and other legal acts regulating relationships between them on water resources in the Aral Sea basin, and take them to a steady performance “). However, one must consider that this is proposed to develop a new strategy for water allocation in the region, which, unfortunately, has not yet been implemented. Several attempts have been made in this direction, but for various reasons were not successful.

On the basis of the Agreement signed in 1992 and established by the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC), consisting of the first managers of water bodies of Central Asia, ICWC developped and approved quotas of water consumption per year for each of the countries. The quotas were adjusted according to updated forecasts depending on the current water situation. A little later, in 1993, the International Fund for Saving the Ara Sea was created through the efforts of all heads of states of the region to mitigate the Aral Sea crisis. The fund is designed to deal with complex water management problems in the Aral Sea.

2. The Aral Sea problem

Development of irrigated agriculture and water resources in the Aral Sea has resulted in the death of the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest inland lake-sea in the world. In the early 1960’s in the two main rivers of the region – the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, water levels fell to 60km³, which, taking into account precipitation and evaporation, maintained a certain balance in sea level. However, increased irrigated area and increased withdrawal of water from these rivers led to the desiccation of the Aral Sea.

From 1960 to 2000 irrigated area in the region nearly doubled, reaching more than 8 million hectares. Irrigation area is mainly grown in the lower reaches, a flat area which offers the best conditions for the development of irrigated agriculture. At present, the security of Central Asian irrigated lands within the basin of the Aral Sea looks like the following: Kazakhstan – 786 thousand hectares, Kyrgyzstan – 415 thousand hectares, Tajikistan – 743 thousand hectares, Turkmenistan – 1860 hectares, and Uzbekistan – 4,259 thousand hectares.

As shown, the largest irrigated area accounted for the lower reaches of the country, and especially to Uzbekistan, where there are more than half of all irrigated land in the Aral Sea. Accordingly, much of the region’s water resources (60%) are also used in that country. And in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the security of irrigated lands is the lowest compared with other countries in the region.

By the year 2000, the Aral Sea has developed the following provision of irrigated land per capita: Kazakhstan – 0.3 ha per person, Kyrgyzstan – 0.14 ha per person, Tajikistan – 0.11 ha per person., Turkmenistan – 0,41 ha per person and Uzbekistan – 0,19 ha per person. The average of the values for the Aral Sea basin was 0.20 ha per person. It should be noted that the region’s population over the past 7-8 years has increased by 7-8% and this trend will continue over the next 20-30 years. For example, at the level of 2010, specific provision of irrigated land per capita in Tajikistan is about 0.09 ha. This index tends to decrease steadily, which may lead to highly undesirable consequences.

During the Soviet period, specific limit for water was set in order to save the sea. Thus, schemes for integrated water resources Amu Darya and Syr Darya to the Aral Sea, depending on the dryness of the year, on average provided a limit of 6.42 km³. This limit was determined by taking into account the development of irrigation in Afghanistan, and the withdrawal of water from the Amu Darya is envisaged at the volume of 6.4 km³.

Water allocation in the Aral Sea basin countries to this day is based on the above scheme, and annually for the Aral Sea, as individual water users, is allocated a huge amount of water. According to ICWC. the water supply in the Aral Sea from 1992-2010 was about 258 billion m³ or an average of 14.3 billion m³ per year. This exceeds the actual annual intake of Tajikistan on the Amu Darya River Basin.

In this case, the Republic of Tajikistan annually does not reach the limit of an average of 1.6 km³ and taking into account the return water this figure reaches more than 5 km³. And over the past five years the annual shortfall limit only on the Amu Darya river basin was almost 20% or about 1.8 km³. And if you believe the specialists of Uzbekistan, who emphasize the reduction of the country’s annual intake from 65 to 52 km³, then this means 13km³ water goes back into the sea. Simple arithmetic shows that, given the unused quotas of savings and Uzbekistan, the volume of water in addition to the Aral Sea each year should reach at least 20km³ water.

However, in practice, quite a different picture emerges. The Aral Sea receives neither the amount of water or the unused water in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The reason is that much of the water is lost due to the low efficiency of irrigation systems, which barely reaches 30-40%. The biggest loss of filtration efficiency and the lowest observed are in the middle and lower reaches of the Amu Darya. Only in the last three years, flow losses in this sector amounted to 32km³ or more than 10km³ a year, almost three times higher than in the Soviet period. Studies have shown that the volume of the water, only 20% used productively, with the remaining 80% lost forever.

Significant contribution to the desiccation of the Aral Sea is made and a great number of reservoirs are constructed and built in the vast expanses of the lower reaches. Numbers built and the existing structures of this kind have exceeded a hundred, with the total volume reaching 140km³. This exceeds the current level of the Aral Sea by more than 1.5 times. And the volume of water reservoirs in Uzbekistan, given Aidarkul-Arnasai and Sarykamysh systems of lakes (respectively, with volumes of 40km³ and 46km³), as well as dozens of other man-made lakes filled with waste and drainage water, are no less than the current level of the Aral Sea.

Water allocation in the Aral Sea basin countries to this day is based on the above scheme, and annually an average of 6km³ water is allocated for the Aral sea. Analysis of water situation in the Aral Sea over the last 15-20 years shows that Tajikistan has not reached the annually assigned limit of 2-3 km³. Simple arithmetic shows that, given the unused quotas to the Aral Sea, each year on average there should be a savings of at least 10km³ of water.

However, in practice, quite a different picture emerges. The Aral Sea does not receive any unused water in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The reason lies in the fact that much of the water is lost due to the low efficiency of irrigation systems, which barely reaches 30-40%. The biggest loss of filtration efficiency and the lowest observed in the middle and lower reaches of the Amu Darya. Studies have shown that the volume of the water, only 20% used productively, with the remaining 80% is lost forever.

All this has led to the Aral Sea has losing more than 10 times its previous level (from 1015km³ to just over 90km³), and its area has decreased by almost 6 times (from 68 km² to 12 km²). Every year thousands of tons of salt from the dried bottom of the sea spread over the basin and beyond. Some of these salts are deposited on the glaciers of the region, thereby, in conjunction with global warming, contributes to their accelerated melting.

3. New challenges: population growth and climate change impact on water security

The current situation in the region, along with the Aral Sea tragedy compounded by global climate change, has resulted in an intense melting of glaciers and snowfields of the region. Increasing water demand associated with population growth and economic development of countries is also evident.

According to experts, the glacial resources in the region for the 20th century have declined by almost 30%. The biggest glacier in the region Fedchenko (over 70km in the 20th century) has retreated almost 1 km, with the area decreasing by 11km², losinga total of about 2km³ of ice. Forecast scenarios point to further melting of glaciers and, consequently, changes in runoff from small (5-10%) to very substantial (10-40%) performance in the long run.

The Central Asian region is one of the most active and demographically growing regions. Annual population growth rate is 1.5-2%. Today the region is a home to more than 60 million people. It is obvious that population growth will lead to an increase in water consumption. According to estimations of experts, by 2030 growth in demand in Central Asia will reach 15-20%.

A natural runoff in the Aral Sea is now completely exhausted, and the economy of the region is developing in conditions of increased water scarcity. Currently, the total use of water makes up 130-150% in the Syr Darya River basin, and 100-110% in the Amu-Darya basin.

This trend certainly causes concern. Continuation of such a scenario has extremely serious implications for water security in the region. All evidences lead to the adoption of urgent measures to adapt to abrupt climate change and sustainable water resources management in the region. In turn, this can be achieved only through a coordinated action by all affected countries on the basis of a well functioning regional cooperation.

4. Lack of cooperation in the region for the rational use of water and energy resources

Promoting regional cooperation is one of the key aspects in finding a solution to water and energy problems. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Central Asia. Although countries in the region have ensured stable functioning of the water industry while making the difficult transition to a market economy, by creating a series of regional institutions and the signing of several important agreements, there still exists great potential for further cooperation, which can bring great benefit to all involved countries.

According to the Human Development Report for Central Asia (UNDP 2006), the economic benefits of water cooperatives in the region on quantifiable factors each year could reach 5% of regional GDP. And it’s not all that they can gain. Conversely, a lack of cooperation entails serious risks and costs. Back in 2006, experts estimated the losses in the region of inefficient management of water resources totalled 1.75 billion dollars, or 3.6% of GDP (Report on Human Development in Central Asia, UNDP 2006).

The main obstacle to safe water and energy cooperation in Central Asia lies in the national policies and interests in the region. Countries consider the possibility of cooperation through the prism of self-sufficiency in energy policy and water resources. The policy of noncooperation has long been associated with minimal dependence on other countries, and has proven to be costly for all countries involved. For effective trans-boundary water management to happen, there must be more intensive regional cooperation.

In this context, Tajikistan has a clear understanding that without proper co-operation, it is impossible to achieve any breakthroughs. Countries need to express complete readiness for dialogue and cooperation based on fundamental principles such as sovereign equality, mutually beneficial cooperation, good neighbourly relations, and faithful implementation of the obligations of international agreements, etc.

Cooperation is supported by real actions of the country at regional and global levels. Tajikistan is one of the most active members of the international community in promoting water issues at the global level. At the initiative of our country, the UN General Assembly declared 2003 the International Year of Freshwater and the period of 2005-2015 as the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”. In June 2010, in accordance with UNGA Resolution № 64/198 of 21 December 2009, also initiated by Tajikistan in the city of Dushanbe, a comprehensive review of the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”, 2005-2015 took place. High level representatives of 80 countries and more than 60 international and regional organizations attended. Improvement of trans-boundary water cooperation, including development of water diplomacy, was one of the central themes of the event, and the discussions on this important issue are reflected in the Dushanbe Declaration on Water.

To consolidate this idea, as well as attract world attention on the development of cooperation in trans-boundary river basins, at the initiative of the Republic of Tajikistan, the UN General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation. The adoption of this resolution will significantly improve bilateral relations and will be another important step in addressing water problems at regional and global levels.

5. Position of Tajikistan in addressing water and energy problems in the region

Tajikistan has repeatedly declared its readiness to cooperate with all stakeholders at the regional level. It should be noted that the issue of water resources in Tajikistan cannot be divorced from power. The main source of electricity in Tajikistan comes from water. Tajikistan has huge hydropower potential estimated at 527 billion kWh (of which 317 billion kWh are cost-effective), which is three times the current needs of the region.

To date, only 3-4% of the potential have been explored, which indicates the enormous potential for further development, which would contribute to an integrated solution to many current and future challenges in the region.

Hydro power potential of the rivers of the Central Asia

Countries Fixed power HPS, МWt Power generation by HPS, bln.kWt.h Economical hydro-potential

bln.kW.h Using of hydro-potential % Share of hydro-potential

Kazakhstan 2248 7.8 27 29 6
Kyrgyzstan 2910 14.0 99 14 22
Tajikistan  4037 17.0 317 5 69
Turkmenistan 10 2 0 0
Uzbekistan 1420 7.3 15 493
Total 10616 460 10 100

Source: report of SPECA “Strengthening of the cooperation on rational use of water and power resources of the Central Asia”, the United Nations, 2004, publications of Statistical committee of the CIS.

First and foremost, it is important to ensure water security and guarantee water for irrigation of all Central Asian countries in dry years by building reservoirs to regulate river flow in the long-term and taking into account the seasonal aspects. For example, the construction of Rogun in Tajikistan will provide reliable irrigation to about 4 million hectares of land and the Amu Darya basin in dry years, as well as earn more than 300 thousand hectares of new land.

Secondly, the development of cheap and environmentally clean electricity can meet the growing demand not only in Tajikistan, which annually faces an acute shortage of energy in the winter, but also in the neighbouring countries. Over the last 10 years the people of Tajikistan lived with severe energy shortage in the winter. For three years in a row due to the termination of transit, during the coldest period of the year the population only had access to 2-3 hours of electricity a day. In some areas the population did not get electricity at all for 2-3 months in a row. The lack or shortage of electricty has grave consequences on health and living standards. During this period, schools, government institutions and hospitals either shut down or operated in a very limited capability. Power shortage deals a huge blow to the economy of Tajikistan. All this leads to increased unemployment and growing social tensions.

Hydropower development contributes to a significant reduction in emissions of carbon gases. It should be noted that out of more than 200 countries, Tajikistan ranks 154 of countries emitting carbon dioxide (CO2). Greenhouse gas emissions per person in Tajikistan make up less than 1 ton per person per year, while its share of emissions at the regional level is only 5%. Thus, hydropower development fits well with efforts at the global level, making the steps towards renewable energy, a top priority in the way of improvement of our ecology.

Thirdly, the development of cheap hydroelectric power would save a lot of oil, gas and coal, which are intensively used by some countries in the region to produce electricity. Thus, hydropower is also important from the perspective of sustainable use of natural resources in the long term. According to the strategy of regional cooperation on rational and efficient use of water and energy resources of Central Asia, developed by experts in the region under a special UN program – SPECA, oil and gas reserves in the region will be available for 60 years. The gradual depletion of these reserves means that we will need to switch to coal or nuclear power, which are known for their “environmental purity.”

Fourthly, water storage will help prevent such extreme weather events like droughts, mudslides and floods each year that cause enormous economic damage to almost all countries in the region.

Thus, timely and cooperative effort would enable countries in the region to work together to confront today’s challenges and find the right solutions to existing and emerging problems. A region-wide approach to exploring water and energy resources in Central Asia would also contribute to more effective management to ensure water security, economic growth, improvement of living standards and achieve sustainable development.