Central Asia’s Water Crisis

photo: TCA

Over 80% of Central Asia’s available water is spent on irrigation, 40% of which is lost during delivery and directly in the fields. Over the coming years, the problem of water shortage will inevitably worsen and with the commission of the Qosh Tepa Canal in Afghanistan, will become chronic from 2028.

The stark warning was issued by Evgeny Vinokurov, Eurasian Development Bank’s (EDB) Deputy Chairman of the Board and Chief Economist during the  “Water, Energy and Food in Central Asia: Partnerships and Projects for Sustainable Development” session at the EDB 2024 Annual Meeting and Business Forum on 27–28 June in Almaty.

The challenges of the Central Asian water and energy complex are too great to be tackled independently by the region’s countries. Historically, Central Asia’s five states have been closely linked by the region’s two largest transboundary rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya which flow into the Aral Sea basin, home to 80% of the population. Hence, the need for close a intersectoral relationship (nexus) concerning water, energy and food and deep regional cooperation for the effective use of shared water and energy resources to overcome the crisis.

At the session, Askhat Orazbai, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, stressed the central role played by IFAS in building essential regional dialogue. The Fund is the only regional organization with membership of all five Central Asian states and according to its mandate, was designed to address the region’s complex water-energy nexus. For over 30 years, the Fund has been the key platform for decisions on water resources management at the highest level. Currently being reformed, the Fund’s full potential will soon be fully unlocked.

The session emphasized the urgent need for increased funding to deal with challenges posed by water scarcity. Modernization of the existing irrigation infrastructure is extremely capital-intensive but budgetary funds are inadequate and private investors have shown no interest in the sector.

The contribution of multilateral development banks is therefore critical and encouragingly, over recent years, most of the region’s  MDBs have given special priority to water projects.

The EDB’s Chief Economist Vinokurov pointed out that conservation is key to solving the problem of water scarcity. Highlighting the importance of digital accounting and the introduction of effective irrigation technologies, Vinokurov suggested creating a regional cluster of irrigation equipment. Considering that the region spends from $150 million to $300 million annually on the above, the EDB plans to actively support this sector’s development.

Michael Detlefsen, a UNIDO representative, expressed confidence in the future formation of a regional cluster of irrigation equipment in Central Asia. Over the last two years, the region has seen increased activity from manufacturers from Turkey, China, Israel, and the United States on the organization of local assembly lines. In this regard, the UNIDO representative stressed the importance of working together with the EDB to form such a cluster.


Sergey Kwan

Sergey Kwan

Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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