January 3, 2008
Tajikistan's Water Woes
Sharipov and Jahongir Boboev
The complexities of Central Asia's
water issues are apparent as nations argue over the region's rivers and the
need for hydropower and irrigation
Last summer Uzbek President Islam Karimov,
speaking to his fellow regional leaders, assailed "some countries" in
Central Asia that are keen on constructing hydropower stations on cross-border
rivers for their "various and ambiguous approaches."
Although Karimov did not state
explicitly which countries he was referring to during the summit of the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it was clear he meant Tajikistan, which has
proposed or is already building a number of power stations on the Vakhsh and Pyandzh rivers.
The confluence of the two rivers is the source of the Amu Darya, Central
Asia's longest river, which forms portions of borders for both Uzbekistan
and finally empties into the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan.
"Today this issue [of water] represents the interests
of more than 50 million people living in the countries of the region," Karimov said.
He added that a failure to manage the situation
appropriately could affect the "provision of water in the lower course of
the Amu Darya and Syr Darya," another river
that runs mostly through Kazakhstan: "That is why all kinds of decisions
on the use of these rivers' sources, including the construction of hydropower
stations, must take these interests into consideration." Karimov also said hydropower development could "speed
up the ecological catastrophe of the desiccation of the Aral Sea
and make it practically impossible to live for tens of millions of residents of
Karimov's warnings highlight the
complexities of Central Asia's water issues. In
is in conflict with Dushanbe over
hydropower development in Tajikistan,
because the water that could generate additional electricity and smelt more
aluminum upstream is also needed to water Uzbekistan's
valuable cotton crop.
For its part, Tajikistan
sees new dams and hydropower plants as necessary for its economic health.
Consequently, the countries are locked in disagreement.
greatest natural resource is the water stored in its glaciers, lakes and
rivers. NASA photo.
According to an International Crisis Group report,
"Competition for water is increasing in Central Asia
at an alarming rate, adding tension to what is already an uneasy region."
The Eurasian Economic Community, a consortium of regional governments, has
reported that between 1960 and 2000, the population of the region tripled and
the area of irrigated lands -- largely used for agricultural mainstays like
cotton and rice -- almost doubled. As a result, the demand for water
In comparison to its oil- and gas-rich neighbors, Tajikistan
possesses vast water resources. According to the United Nations Development
Program in 2006, the country has 4 percent of the world's hydroelectric
potential, although much of it is untapped. The water is stored in glaciers,
rivers, lakes, and underground sources, and there currently are nine
operational reservoirs containing 15.34 cubic kilometers of water. Tajik water
is used regionally for sanitation, irrigation, and drinking.
Not surprisingly, Tajikistan's
water resources could provide large quantities of electricity for both domestic
customers and exports. But a lack of investment in the hydropower sector has
relying on imported oil and gas for most of its energy and bemoaning its inability
to earn substantial capital from hydropower shipped outside its borders.
The tension with Uzbekistan
is only exacerbating the problem. Uzbekistan
relies heavily on cotton for economic stability; it is the second largest
exporter of the crop in the world. Thus, its objections to Tajikistan's
proposed hydropower projects involve concerns about environmental and economic
mismanagement of water needed to keep fields fertile. Any changes in the flow
of the Amu Darya,
Uzbek officials say, could pose irrigation problems for Uzbekistan's
cotton crop if they are not implemented and maintained properly.
In early 2007, an agreement to construct a hydropower
station on the Zeravshan
River was secured between Barki Tajik (Tajik Electricity) and a Chinese company.