Cooperation in groundwater exploration was discussed during a February 21st meeting of Kazakhstan’s minister for water resources and irrigation, Nurzhan Nurzhigitov, with the Spanish ambassador Jorge Urbiola López de Montenegro, and representatives of the Spanish company Xcalibur Smart Mapping, the global leader in natural resource mapping. Xcalibur, whose technologies are widely used in Australia, Canada, the USA, and Europe, said that it was ready to help attract grants and funding for joint projects in groundwater exploration in Kazakhstan. According to the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, 4,540 groundwater deposits have so far been explored in Kazakhstan. Today the water reserves of Kazakhstan total 102.3km³ and the operational reserves of groundwater in the country amount to 15.7km³. Slightly more than 1% of the total volume of water is used to provide the population with drinking water.
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Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will be working together to open an additional checkpoint for goods vehicles on their countries’ border. They are also set to further their cooperation in the water and energy sectors. These agreements were reached at a meeting between the Kazakh prime minister, Alikhan Smailov, and the chairman of Kyrgyzstan’s cabinet of ministers Akylbek Japarov in Almaty on February 1st. Kyrgyzstan has complained for years about long lines at the Kazakh border for its cargo trucks bringing goods to Russia through Kazakhstan. The most recent big traffic jam occurred on the Kyrgyz side of the border in August 2023, when more than 600 trucks were stuck at the crossing. These delays were caused by Kazakh authorities carrying out enhanced checks on trucks entering the country from Kyrgyzstan, ostensibly to combat illegal border activity. However, the situation caused speculation that the jams were a result of a dispute over irrigation water resources between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Irrigation water remains an issue in Kazakh-Kyrgyz relations. Last summer the southern regions of Kazakhstan experienced a severe shortage of water for their fields, while upstream Kyrgyzstan also lacked water and couldn’t supply enough of it to its northern neighbor. Kazakhstan, especially its dry southern regions, is dependent on water coming from Kyrgyzstan. At the meeting on February 1st Mr Smailov also spoke about the growing trade between the two countries, with bilateral trade growing by 12% and reaching $1.3bn between January and November 2023.
A factory that will produce components for drip irrigation systems is to open in the town of Konaev, Almaty region. The plant is a joint project between Kazakh and Chinese investors, and is expected to make components for up to 500 hectares of fields per week. A similar plant is also planned for the other southern city of Taraz. Drip irrigation in Kazakhstan is currently used on only 84,000 hectares of agricultural land, but the government is aiming to increase this figure to 312,000 hectares. To encourage farmers to use water-saving technologies, the government is increasing subsidies for building irrigation systems, and buying drip and sprinkler irrigation equipment, from 50% to 80% of their costs respectively.
On January 31st the World Bank’s executive board approved $7.64m in additional financing for its ‘Sustainable Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Development’ project in Kyrgyzstan. This funding tops up the World Bank’s earlier commitment of $59.5m for the project, aimed at improving water supply and sanitation services in rural communities. Naveed Hassan Naqvi, the World Bank’s country manager for Kyrgyzstan, said that the project will improve the quality of life of rural citizens, especially women, children and the most vulnerable, and will bring a major decrease in water-borne diseases. The total combined investments under the project are expected to reach 94 villages in the Osh, Chui and Issyk-Kul regions, and directly benefit some 200,000 people, the World Bank said. The project funds the construction and rehabilitation of 57 climate-resilient water supply subprojects, aiming to enhance both climate adaptation and mitigation by diversifying water supply sources, increasing storage capacity, replacing key assets and installing water meters. It will also retrofit sanitary facilities in 99 social institutions and provide small grants to 1,350 households to upgrade their sanitation facilities. The project will also enhance national and local institutional capacity for sustainable service delivery and climate-informed sector reforms, including the revision of water supply and sanitation laws. Odete Muximpua, the World Bank’s senior water supply and sanitation specialist, commented: “The second additional financing will address the financing gap caused by increased construction material prices as a result of the economic crisis. It will also allow for an increase in the size of grants to poor households in all project villages to finance the upgrades of their sanitation facilities.”
The government of Kazakhstan has approved the development of a water resources management system for 2024-2030. Speaking at a meeting on January 30th, the minister for water resources and irrigation, Nurzhan Nurzhigitov, said that his department plans to build 20 new and reconstruct 15 existing reservoirs, as well as modernize over 14,000km of irrigation canals and hydraulic structures. Mr Nurzhigitov added that irrigation water losses during transportation should be reduced from the current 50% to 25%, which will make it possible to increase the area of irrigated land in the country to 2.5 million hectares by 2030. To encourage farmers to use water-saving technologies, subsidies for creating irrigation systems and buying drip and sprinkler irrigation equipment will be increased from 50% to 80% of their costs respectively. Prime minister Alikhan Smailov, who chaired the meeting, emphasized the importance of the rational use of water. He pointed out that the Big Almaty Canal, for instance, had not been repaired in the 40 years of its existence. In the country’s Turkestan, Kyzylorda and Zhambyl regions most of the main and inter-farm canals are in a worn-out condition, with water losses reaching 40%. Mr Smailov also pointed out that water-saving systems in the country are currently being introduced only slowly. Drip irrigation is currently used on as little as 84,000 hectares out of the planned 312,000. Kazakhstan, especially its dry southern and eastern regions, is largely dependent on irrigation water coming from its upstream neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and China.
Over the past five years Kazakhstan has introduced water-saving technologies on a greater part of its agricultural land. Since 2019 this area has been expanded by 33%, from 210,000 hectares to 312,000 hectares in 2023, deputy minister of agriculture Amangaliy Berdalin said at a government meeting on January 22nd. He added that this year 1.58 million hectares of irrigated land are being cultivated in Kazakhstan. Of these, 1.1 million hectares, or 74% of the land, are surface irrigated (using canals and ditches), 97,900 hectares are flooded rice fields, 227,300 hectares (14.3%) use modern irrigation equipment, and 97,900 hectares (6.2%) use drip irrigation. However, at the same meeting the deputy minister of water resources and irrigation, Nurlan Aldamzharov, commented that the share of water consumption by agriculture today only accounts for 65% of the total water intake in Kazakhstan, and irrigation is impeded by large water losses, especially in the country’s dry southern regions. “In 2023, out of 1.8 million hectares of irrigated land, water-saving technologies were used on as little as 17% (312,000 hectares), which is extremely unacceptable in the current realities,” the deputy minister emphasized.