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The Central Asian republics are fighting over the scarce water resources of the Aral Sea Basin

The lack of effective cooperation between the republics through which Central Asia's two main rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, which have historically fed the Aral Sea, flow, is preventing the region's water problems from being resolved. Short-term objectives, such as hydroelectric exploitation or oil exploration, make it difficult to understand, although recent initiatives point in the right direction.

Satellite image of the Aral Sea, with north below [NASA]

▲Satellite image of the Aral Sea, with north below [NASA]

article / Roberto Ramírez Millán

source of life, food for crops, means of navigation... There are many functions that water fulfills, such as resource human. It is indispensable and necessary for the maintenance and development of any nation. Today this resource It is being depleted due to the great industrial expansion of the last few centuries, mass population growth, and climate change. The dispute over fresh water, given its economic, geopolitical and geostrategic importance, is triggering conflicts between various countries, known as "water wars". That happens in the area of the Asia-Pacific and particularly in the case of the Central Asian region, in the Aral Sea Basin.

Due to the drought that characterizes this area, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers are under particular stress as the main suppliers of fresh water to the countries of Central Asia. Since the collapse of the USSR, together with its organizations for the negotiation of the waters of this basin, and the independence of the countries located in this region, the lack of an effective international organization to regulate the use of this basin, the lack of an effective international organization to regulate the use of this basin, the lack of an effective international organization to regulate the use of this basin, has been the result of the collapse of the USSR. resource between States has led to a series of international conflicts due to inequalities in access to water.

In 1993 the Kyrgyz Republic began using the Naryn waterfall as a source of hydroelectric power, with the intention of making up for the lack of organic fuel. With this new use of infrastructure, which entailed a great retention of water during the summer, the Kyrgyz Republic took the opportunity to sell electricity at exorbitant prices in exchange for gas and coal, which it lacks, to countries such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The pursuit of the States' own benefit and the lack of cooperation between them made it impossible to achieve any agreement. 

In addition, in 1997, Kyrgyzstan declared that the Syr Darya River would cease to be a common good for legal purposes. To this end, it remodeled and restricted the right to use it and required States that benefited from this basin to adopt a financial aid to maintain the freshwater reserves available in their territory. Not satisfied with this, he remarked that if Uzbekistan did not pay, it would sell much of this water to China, thus damaging attempts to reach a treaty. agreement between the two.

These events have not been the only ones that have hindered cooperation between these countries, we could also highlight the sharp global drop in the prices of irrigated agriculture, Uzbek cotton crops that require large amounts of water and the problems resulting from climate change, among others.

Aral Sea

In addition, the current status where the Aral Sea is located. Once one of the four largest lakes in the world and providing economic sustainability to the region, it has been in a state of continuous drought since 1960. Due to the above-mentioned operations on the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers, the Aral Sea was divided into two parts, the North Lake and the South Lake, with the eastern part of the South Lake completely evaporating. Previously, the Aral Sea provided between 20,000 and 40,000 tons of fish per year; however, it can currently only supply around 1,000 tonnes.

To deal with drought problems, Kazakhstan developed the project "Regulation of the Darya River Bed and Preservation of the Northern Part of the Aral Sea". This included the construction of the Kokaral Dam on the southern shore of the North Lake, thanks to the support of the World Bank. The dam ensured the growth of that lake by 20%. The project It also provided the Building of a fish hatchery, which fostered a production of between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes of fish per year.

Map of Central Asia

Map of Central Asia

However, these measures in favour of the development of the Aral Sea are being countered at the same time by the actions of Uzbekistan. If previously the Uzbek part of the Aral Sea was harmed by high irrigation of cotton crops, it is now oil extraction that is damaging the southern lake. Soil drilling in the delta of the Amu Darya River and at the bottom of the Aral Sea play a negative role. In the dilemma between the development of the oil and gas industry and the salvation of its share of the Aral, Uzbekistan is demonstrating what its priority is, given the benefits of the development of hydrocarbons.

Effective cooperation

Researchers and experts in the region are aware that cooperation among the six countries is essential for their development; That is why the Regional Environmental Center for Central Asia (CAREC) was established in 2001, a non-governmental organization tasked with addressing environmental and sustainability challenges in Central Asia and Afghanistan. This organization has denounced that the region is losing 4,500 million dollars annually due to "the lack of effective mutual cooperation between countries", as indicated by its director executive officer, Iskandar Abdullayev.

For this reason, on June 8, the launch ceremony of the Innovation and Innovation Cluster took place with CAREC. research Scientist at the Scope of the management the first in Central Asia, whose goal is "to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of development". These and similar initiatives are the first steps towards creating a prosperous and sustainable future, avoiding reprisals and preventing possible "water wars".



Bernauer, T., & Siegfried, T. (2012). Climate change and international water conflict in Central Asia. Journal of Peace Research, 49(1), 227-239.

Dukhovny, V. A., & Sokolov, V. (2003). Lessons on cooperation building to manage water conflicts in the Aral Sea Basin. Paris: Unesco, 7-16

Karaev, Z. (2005). Water Diplomacy in Central Asia. Middle East Review of International Affairs, 9(1), 63-69.

Sievers, E. W. (2001). Water, conflict, and regional security in Central Asia. NYU Envtl. LJ, 10, 356.

Swain, A. (2004). Managing water conflict: Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Routledge.

Tishkov, V. (1997). Ethnicity, nationalism and conflict in and after the Soviet Union: the mind aflame (Vol. 15). Sage.

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'Guerras del agua' en Asia Central

Central Asian republics dispute scarce water resources in the Aral Sea Basin The lack of effective cooperation between the republics through which the two main water resources of the... Read moreAbout'Water Wars' in Central Asia "