Central Asian Water Summit

by |April 28, 2009

This week five leaders of Central Asian nations are holding a summit to try and achieve a solution to their bitter dispute over water use in one of the driest regions of the world.  According to Reuters, the trouble over sharing water across borders has been bubbling to new heights with its growing scarcity.  Presidents of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan are attempting to reach a collective agreement on the main issue of cross-border water sharing, as well as some other critical topics such as energy security and the U.S cargo transit for troops in Afghanistan.

Image from http://www.umaine.edu/sustainability/images/boat_over_aral_sea.jpg

Image from http://www.umaine.edu/sustainability/images/boat_over_aral_sea.jpg

Overall, this is going to be tricky one considering most of these leaders remain largely in isolation while worrying about the large-scale effects of the water crisis on unsteady economies and ethnically diverse nations – situations that can quickly get out of hand.

After enduring more than 70 years of Soviet agricultural policy that concentrated on water-demanding crops, Central Asia is suffering severely arid conditions while maintaining unsustainable policies.  The most glaring example of its dry condition lies in the current state of the Aral Sea, which was once the fourth largest lake in the world and is now 70 percent smaller.  Rusty ships that have been lying underwater for decades are now discovered on quickly-drying beds of sand.

And although Russia was not invited to the Water Summit, her leaders seem quite eager to invest in hydro-projects in Central Asia and therefore continue playing a significant role in this dry saga.

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Samantha Tress
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It’s very encouraging to hear about this meeting, although I’m sure this will be a very difficult problem to solve because there are so many factors involved. Among other reforms, the solution will have to involve drastic policy changes on agriculture and cooperation between nations. Similarly, Columbia Water Center is looking at how these can play a role in abating water scarcity- we have a project on agricultural policy reform in India, and one on transboundary watershed cooperation in the Western United States.