October 11, 2007
TAJIKISTAN: AGITATING FOR A CENTRAL ASIAN WATER-MANAGEMENT
is agitating for greater cooperation among Central Asian states on water-related
issues. Publicly, some of Dushanbeís neighbors are resisting the Tajik water-management
initiative. But some experts say Central Asian states, in particular Tajikistan
are working quietly to resolve differences.
made a diplomatic push during the recent United Nations General Assembly to
raise the profile of Central Asiaís water dilemma. [For
background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Tajikistan
Central Asiaís poorest nations, are the chief regional
respectively the most populous and prosperous of Central Asian states, are big
in particular, requires an enormous amount of water, much of it wasted due to
antiquated infrastructure, for its cotton industry.
Although experts have cautioned that the region could be
headed for a socio-economic catastrophe if a regional accord on water usage is
not worked out soon, Central Asian states have made no discernable progress
toward an agreement in recent years. [For background see the Eurasia Insight
plan to develop its hydro-power generating capacity, which Tajik leaders view
as the countryís main engine of economic development, is helping to heighten
diplomatic tension in the region. Officials are having a tough time finding the
balancing point between various environmental and economic interests.
Sirodjidin Aslov, Tajikistanís
permanent representative to the UN, recently outlined
his countryís vision of water use in the region. Without delving into
specifics, he defended Tajikistanís
dam-building plans, insisting that the entire region would enjoy benefits. New
dams in Tajikistan,
he added, would help promote the rational use of water resources throughout the
believes it has the right to develop its hydropower branch of the economy
through building water reservoirs and dams on the major rivers of the country,"
said Aslov, citing the Declaration on the Right to
Development. "The implementation of hydropower projects in Tajikistan
is advantageous not only for the country itself, but will be able to favorably
influence sustainable development of the other states in the region."
One of Tajikistanís
major projects is the Rogun dam, construction of
which began in 1976 and which has made scant progress since. [For background
see the Eurasia Insight archive]. According to Aslov,
Rogun would be able to provide enough water to
irrigate an additional 3 million hectares of land downstream.
Additionally, Lake Sarez, which
has been acknowledged as an environmental hazard should the natural dam formed
across the Mughrab River after an earthquake in 1911
give way, could provide fresh drinking water to Central Asiaís growing
population, said Aslov. [For background see the
Eurasia Insight archive].
Referring to plans advanced by Tajik President Imomali Rahmon earlier this year
to drain water from the lake via a tunnel, Aslov said
the initiative "would make it possible to eliminate a real threat" to
the millions who live downstream.
To date, only Kyrgyzstan
has fully backed Tajikistanís
ambitious plans, as well as Dushanbeís calls for a legally binding regional water-sharing
framework. Both countries are hoping to bolster their weak state budgets with
energy exports, while at the same time freeing themselves from their seasonal
dependency on Uzbek energy imports. [For background see the Eurasia Insight
as a downstream user of Tajik and Kyrgyz water, remains cautious about what it
calls "various and ambiguous approaches" to water and energy
over-reliance on cotton as cash crop makes it extremely vulnerable to water
mismanagement at any point on either the Amu
Darya or Syr
Darya rivers which originate in Tajikistan
Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov
told the UNís General Assembly that "if needed" Uzbekistan
would seek compensation from neighboring states that pursue hydroelectric
projects without due environmental diligence or proper consultation. "It
is necessary to underscore that the point is about the use of resources and
watercourses of trans-boundary rivers, which for
centuries have been maintaining the vitally important needs of states and
people living along the stream of these rivers," Norov
believes that all decisions on the use of watercourses of trans-boundary rivers, including the construction of hydro-energy
facilities, must in no way inflict damage to the ecology and infringe upon the
interest of the populations of countries on the neighboring territories," the
Uzbek foreign minister added.
Norov hinted that a unilateral
Tajik move to proceed with dam construction would violate existing
international agreements. Stressing the need for regional approval and
cooperation, Norov cited UN conventions on trans-boundary
and international watercourses signed in 1991, 1992 and 1997. "According
to these fundamental requirements of the UN conventions, authoritative
international experts must give guarantees that the construction of hydro-technical
facilities will not have irremediable ecological consequences, and will not
break the established balance of the use. ... We are convinced that the
fulfillment of these requirements must be mandatory in implementing various
projects on building hydro-energy facilities in Central Asia with participation
of both national and trans-national companies so that not to allow for the
catastrophic deterioration of the ecological situation in the region."
a UN technical adviser on water and environment who helped organize the
Dushanbe Water Forums in 2003 and 2005, said that despite public posturing both
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan
were engaging in meaningful, though low-profile discussions.
"Undoubtedly the Uzbeks will be affected by the Rogun dam, but this project has been on the scene since 1976.
Theyíve not made much progress. It still requires a lot of research. Nobody
knows just how cost effective it will be," Chaudhry
"But the Tajiks and Uzbeks
have a working relationship. These discussions are not in the political
forefront, but are behind closed doors," he continued. "The case has
been made for cooperation not conflict, but much depends on how the Tajiks intend to share the benefits."
Editorís Note: Deidre Tynan is a
freelance journalist specializing in Central Asia.