The June 27-28 conference drew representatives from over 40 nations and 30 international organizations. The aim was to build consensus for a stronger regional water management framework. "Disasters related to water pose serious impediments to sustainable development," said a communiqué adopted by conference participants. The communiqué went on to stress a need for greater regional and international cooperation.
Tajik President Imomali Rahmon used the forum to advance a proposal to create a regional water and energy consortium. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are considered Central Asia’s water powerhouses, with about 60 percent of Central Asia’s water supply originating in Tajikistan alone. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. But Rahmon acknowledged that Tajikistan is experiencing a drastic decline in water levels. "There is a water shortage of about 35 percent in Tajikistan this year in comparison with last year," the Tajik president said in a speech broadcast on state television. Although Tajikistan’s main natural asset is water, Rahmon admitted that many citizens, even in Dushanbe, lacked clean drinking water.
Rahmon urged the creation of an international consortium to develop Lake Sarez, a reservoir created by an earthquake in 1911 that now possesses an estimated 17 cubic kilometers of pure drinking water. Some experts have expressed concern about the possibility that the natural dam created by the earthquake could give way, if nothing is done to bolster it. In Rahmon’s vision, an international consortium would reinforce and monitor the dam, and also help create infrastructure that could supply up to 40 million of Central Asia’s inhabitants with fresh drinking water.
Rahmon also reiterated his desire to expand Tajikistan’s hydro-power capacity. At present, the country is utilizing only about 5 percent of its generating capacity. This fact was brought home to Tajik citizens during the frigid winter, when most areas of the country were left for extended periods without heat or electricity. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Planned power stations, especially along the Vakhsh River, would largely eliminate the possibility of future shortages, Rahmon suggested. The construction of power stations would also regulate the flow of water in many of Central Asia’s most important rivers.
"In this case, millions of hectares of land, in particular in downstream countries of the region, will be saved from the danger of flood and drought," Rahmon argued.
Despite the apparent need for urgent action, Rahmon’s consortium idea has received an enthusiastic endorsement only from Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan alone do not possess the economic muscle needed to undertake ambitious infrastructure projects.
Kazakhstan has offered to assist in developing hydropower development, but Astana is wary of Dushanbe’s desire to tie water to energy. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, has remained hostile to Tajikistan’s development plans, fearing that an expansion of Dushanbe’s power-generating capability would inversely diminish Tashkent’s political influence in Central Asia.
During his conference speech, Rahmon said "the present time demands that we take urgent measures." While he was referring to all Central Asian states, his words resonated particularly among Tajiks.
According to the Tajikistan’s Committee for Emergency Situations, water-related disasters over the past decade have caused more than 300 deaths and inflicted over $65 million in damage. These costs are enormous considering that the Tajik government’s annual budget during this period was in the neighborhood of $600 million.
This year, drought conditions are ravaging many parts of Tajikistan, according to reports distributed by the Asia Plus news agency. Many farms have already lost plantlets of cotton and other crops, meaning that the country will face a serious food shortage this fall. In addition, more than 60 thousand hectares of arable land are going uncultivated this growing season, due to the combination of water shortages and a lack of electricity to run irrigation equipment.
Konstantin Parshin is a freelance journalist based in Dushanbe. Published by Eurasianet http://www.eurasianet.org