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Kyrgyzstan Takes Issue With Uzbekistan’s Hydropower Plans

Uzbekistan's grandiose hydropower development plans are irking neighboring Kyrgyzstan, which is experiencing a shortage of water resources. These shortages have in part been caused by Kyrgyzstan swapping its water with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in exchange for electricity. Uzbekistan's construction of six hydroelectric power plants (HPPs), with a total capacity of 228 megawatts, has begun on the Naryn River in the Namangan region. The Uzbekhydroenergo project is estimated at $434 million and will generate up to 1 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, enough to provide energy for 430,000 households. This will allow the country to save up to 310 million cubic meters of gas annually, to help alleviate shortages which has seen Uzbekistan turn to Russia. The launch of the hydro project will provide the Namangan region with 7.8 billion kWh per year, which far exceeds local demand. This surplus energy will be transferred to neighboring regions in the Fergana Valley, and will guarantee energy supply during periods of peak consumption. These plans contrast greatly with Kyrgyzstan's situation, as the republic imports 3 billion kWh of electricity from neighboring states during the fall and winter seasons. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan supply Kyrgyzstan with electricity in winter, and in return Kyrgyzstan provides them with water in summer, measuring the volume of water using a generator, and thus paying back the debt for the electricity. According to official data, the Toktogul Reservoir in Kyrgyzstan is designed to hold 19.2-19.6 billion cubic meters of water. Kyrgyz Deputy Energy Minister, Talaibek Baigaziyev noted at a March 4 press conference in Bishkek that with electricity consumption on the increase and water levels falling, people urgently needed to curtail their usage. Water levels had already stopped at 7.7 billion cubic meters, versus a normal level of 17.3 billion cubic meters, leading to a risk of possible blackouts. If the level reaches anything below 6.5 billion cubic meters, the Toktogul HPP will stop. In 2024, the Kyrgyz authorities plan to launch 11 HPPs, five large and six small. According to the Eurasian Development Bank, Kyrgyzstan's energy sector will be operating under a state of emergency from now until the end of 2026. Kazakhstani experts have also expressed concern about their neighbors' energy development plans. They say water shortages could worsen in the region, with water already scarce in Kazakhstan. Bulat Yesekin, an expert on environmental policy and institutional frameworks for environmental protection, notes that "large hydropower plants further aggravate the problem of water supply and disrupt environmental sustainability. All over the world today there are campaigns to demolish hydroelectric dams and restore the natural regime of rivers. Only the preservation of natural river regimes can reduce water scarcity and create a more reliable basis for water supply for agriculture and industry." The construction of HPPs in border areas continues to create transnational problems. Altering river courses can destroy or alter ecosystems, change biodiversity, affect fisheries and agriculture, erode coastlines, and increase the risk of flooding in certain areas; yet access to electricity is a key issue across Central...

Aral Sea Parallels Loom Over Lake Balkhash

Located 175 miles north-west of the country’s largest city, Almaty, Kazakhstan’s Lake Balkhash is the fifteenth largest lake in the world. The remains of an ancient sea which once covered vast tracts of land, on its shores in the city of Balkhash, a mixture of around 68,000 mostly ethnic Kazakhs and Russians eke out a living, predominantly through fishing and mining. But like its’ sister body of water, the Aral Sea, Lake Balkhash is under threat with its inflow sources diminishing. Fed by glaciers in Xinjiang, China, the Ili River has traditionally accounted for the vast majority of Lake Balkhash’s inflow, but according to research, as of 2021 China was blocking 40% of the river’s inflow, leading to a rise in anti-Chinese sentiments in Kazakhstan. In 1910, Lake Balkhash had an estimated surface area of 23,464 km². As recently as the 1960s, fishermen were netting a catch of over 30,000 tons annually, but by the 1990s, this had fallen to 6,600 tons of significantly less sought-after types of fish. Between 1970 and 1987 alone, the water level fell by 2.2 meters, with projects aimed at halting this decline abandoned as the Soviet Union fell into stagnation before dissolving. Currently, the lake covers a surface area of between 16,400 and 17,000 km². Falling water levels have also led to the appearance of new islands and impacted biodiversity, with 12 types of bird and 22 vertebrates indigenous to the region listed in the Red Book of Kazakhstan as endangered, whilst the Caspian tiger is, in all likelihood, extinct. Meanwhile, contamination from mining, both local and upstream in China, have led to the lake being classified as “very dirty.”[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="12326" img_size="full" el_class="scond-image" parallax_scroll="no" woodmart_inline="no"][vc_column_text woodmart_inline="no" text_larger="no"]With desertification now affecting one-third of the Balkhash-Alakol Basin, which includes Almaty, the resultant dust storms are leading to an increase in the lake’s salinity, with silt from these storms further affecting inflow. Parallels to the Aral Sea – arguably the worst man-made environmental disaster in modern history – are all too apparent. Spanning across Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest inland body of water in the world, covering 68,000 km². The destruction of the Aral Sea first dates back as far as the U.S. Civil War, when, finding his supply of American cotton under threat, the Russian tsar decided to use the sea’s tributaries to irrigate Central Asia and create his own cotton bowl. With 1.8 million liters of water needed for every bale of cotton, the water soon began to run out. By 2007, the Aral had shrunk to one-tenth its original size. Up until the late-1990s, the land surrounding the Aral Sea was still cotton fields; today, it’s largely an expanse of salinized grey emptiness. The desiccation of the landscape has led to vast toxic dust-storms that ravage around 1.5 million square kilometers. Spreading nitrates and carcinogens, these storms - visible from space - used to occur once every five years, but now strike ten times a year.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="13441" img_size="full"...

Kazakhstan Seeks to Resolve Water Management Issues with Regional Neighbors

In the modern world, water is as valuable a resource as minerals. For that reason, on September 1st, 2023, the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev by decree created the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation. “Water resources are no less important for our country than oil, gas or metals. I believe that the effective development of the water management system should be handled by an independent department,” Tokayev said at the time. Despite the short period of its work, the new Ministry has already had concrete results, the official website of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan (primeminister.kz) stated in reviewing the country’s economic performance in 2023.  In particular, the concept for the development of a water resources management system for 2024-2030 has been developed. It will allow for the area of irrigated agricultural land in Kazakhstan to increase up to 2.2 million hectares, increase the share of water-saving technologies up to 40%, and reduce the loss of irrigation water during transportation down to 15%. The Ministry has also prepared a plan for the development of the water sector of Kazakhstan for 2024-2030. Its implementation will increase the volume of the country's water resources by 3.7 cubic kilometers, reduce losses of irrigation water and increase its volume by three cubic kilometers, provide water to 41 settlements with a population of more than 55,000 people, and also reduce Kazakhstan's dependence on water supplies from neighboring countries by 25%. In 2024-2026, it is planned to begin construction of 20 new reservoirs and reconstruct 15 reservoirs across the country. A total of 339 canals with a length of 3,5000 km will be reconstructed. The Ministry also conducted negotiations with neighboring states on water security. As a result, it is expected that by April 1st, 2024, 11.1 cubic kilometers of water will flow into the Syr Darya River, and 487 million cubic meters of water are expected to be taken through the Dostyk interstate canal. This will allow for the accumulation of the volume of water required for growing season in Kazakhstan’s Turkestan and Kyzylorda regions, as well as sending 1.6 cubic kilometers of water to the Aral Sea.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="13383" img_size="full" el_class="scond-image" parallax_scroll="no" woodmart_inline="no" title="Butakov Bay, Small Aral Sea. Photo: TCA"][vc_column_text woodmart_inline="no" text_larger="no"]An agreement was reached with upstream Kyrgyzstan on the supply of irrigation water to the Zhambyl region in southern Kazakhstan, which experienced a severe water shortage this past summer. The Ministry is also negotiating with upstream China on more than 20 rivers that flow to Kazakhstan, including the Ertys, Ili, and Emel. Today, the two neighboring countries have reached a consensus on a number of issues regarding water distribution. Finally, a draft agreement is being developed on a mechanism for water and energy cooperation between the countries of Central Asia, with the participation of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Blogger and Activists Placed in Pretrial Detention Following Protest over Drinking Water

As reported by RFE/RL on July 18th, the Sokuluk district court in northern Kyrgyzstan has ordered the detention of prominent blogger Ertai Iskakov along with activists Bakyt Balbaev and Baktybek Bekbolotov until September 15. Their detention relates to a recent demonstration held by two villages urging the restoration of drinking water supplies. The charges against the men include hooliganism and the unlawful obstruction of a highway. Lawyers representing the men informed said that their clients pleaded not guilty. Iskakov, a well-known blogger recognized for addressing social issues in his content. Several villages in close proximity to Bishkek, the capital, have encountered prolonged shortages in drinking water supplies.

USAID and Aga Khan Foundation Improve Access to Water and Sanitation in Bartang Valley

As outlined in a press release on its website, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in partnership with the Government of Tajikistan completed and inaugurated a new drinking water supply system and a school latrine in two villages of Rushan’s Bartang valley. The drinking water supply systems will provide uninterrupted access to clean water for 72 households (397 people) in Pasor and Bopasor villages. Additionally, 40 schoolchildren and teachers will have access to sanitary toilets in school #40 of Bopasor village, the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan said. In the remote mountainous villages of Pasor and Bopasor, lack of access to potable water was a significant problem. Although the villages are blessed with an abundance of water, the absence of infrastructure forced the residents to fetch water from a distance of 500-800 meters at an elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level during harsh winters that last for five months. The USAID and AKF joint partnership, Thrive Tajikistan, works hand-in-hand with the Government of Tajikistan and people of the Bartang Valley to tackle this monumental challenge. To date, Thrive Tajikistan has provided 14 potable water supply systems and 14 school latrines in Farkhor, Hamadoni, Nosiri Khusrav, Panj, Qubodiyon, Roshtqala, Shahritus, and Rushan districts. These systems provide 43,558 people with access to clean drinking water and improved sanitation and hygiene services to 8,344 people. The five-year (2018-2023) “Thrive Tajikistan: Partnership for Socio-Economic Development” program expands the partnership between USAID, AKF and the Government of Tajikistan to improve the quality of life for people in all 16 districts of Tajikistan along the country’s border with Afghanistan in Khatlon province and Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast.

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