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Dam Governance In Central Asia: A Review Of Current Trade-offs, Future Challenges, And Prospects For Cooperation

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Zulfiya Mamatova (Wageningen, Netherlands), Art Dewulf, Dilshod Ibrokhimov
Wageningen University1, the Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan2

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 12: Transboundary river basins and shared aquifers,
AbstractDue to the number and variety of involved riparian states in the Aral basin, their opposing interests and the uncertainty about future developments, managing transboundary water resources in Central Asia is a highly complex governance issue. The major rivers of Central Asia, Syr Daya and Amu Darya originate in the mountainous areas of upstream countries, fed by snow and glacial melt water. After independence of the Central Asian states, the trade-off issues between hydropower and irrigated agriculture have become issues of transboundary water governance and geopolitical struggles. As livelihoods and economies of the five Central Asian republics (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) rely heavily upon the water recourses they are considered as a strategic resource. The uniqueness of the challenges, its interrelatedness with other water-related problem domains, the lack of a way to easily assess potential solutions, turns transboundary water governance in Central Asia into a 'wicked problem'. The issue of dam construction in upstream countries plays an important role in this discussion, which revolves around the water-energy-food nexus. The effective governance of transboundary waters is of particular relevance today. This is due to the fact that these resources could significantly affect regional cooperation and integration processes. Transboundary water governance has emerged as one of the most intense and urgent challenges of the new century, largely due to interdependencies between countries for water quantity and quality. As the so-called "blue gold", water is the vital element for addressing the energy-food-water security nexus and environmental sustainability. Since the water sector is a part of broader social-economic developments it is affected by decisions beyond the water sector. Therefore, effective transboundary water governance needs to take a broad approach in tackling water stress issues. International transboundary water resources are a crucial type of natural resources, the rational and equitable use of which is able to provide prosperity and security to individual states and entire regions. While the Central Asian water system used to be administered as a unity in the Soviet period, after independence different countries have gained control over parts of the system, creating coordination problems and potential for conflict. Downstream countries such as Uzbekistan depend heavily on the water from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river basins for irrigated agriculture. Upstream countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan lack fossil fuel resources and have a high interest in constructing dams for hydropower purposes. Downstream countries argue that this will negatively affect seasonal water availability and might lead to unilateral control over water resources. The dam projects have also been criticized on social and environmental grounds, although their impact varies considerably depending on their size and location. Despite the 1992 agreements based on bargaining water and energy resources, the trade-off system has not functioned effectively, while the Soviet system of quotas has collapsed, and a new one has not yet been agreed upon. Considerable challenges lie ahead. The future impacts of climate change tend to aggravate the issue, e.g. with the risk for glacier melt in the Pamir and Tien Shan mountain ranges. Substantial changes in rainfall are to be expected, with increasing rainfall during the winter and decreasing rainfall during the summer. Glacial meltwater releases are likely to increase on the short term, but decrease on the long term. If Afghanistan as a middle-stream country starts (re)building infrastructure and starts using water for irrigation, this affects downstream countries. Currently, Afghanistan, as part of the Amu Darya basin, utilizes only about 2 billion cubic meters of water for irrigation purposes. At the same time, old plans about diverting Siberian water resources towards Central Asia start resurfacing and relate to the future role of Russia in the region. This megaproject was designed during Soviet Union times, but was later abandoned. Despite the wickedness of the dam governance issue in Central Asia, there are some prospects for future cooperation. Central Asian countries share a history of the oldest irrigation systems in the world, and their shared cultural heritage could be form a basis for future understanding. Furthermore, the interdependencies which form the basis for conflicts of interest, can at the same time provide the basis for developing mutual gains solutions at the water-energy-food nexus. As the impacts of climate change make themselves more and more felt throughout the river basins, the necessity of cooperation might become clearer to the involved countries. Abdullaev, I. and S. Rakhmatullaev (2013). "Transformation of water management in Central Asia: from State-centric, hydraulic mission to socio-political control." Environmental Earth Sciences. Ahlers, R., et al. (2014). "Ambitious development on fragile foundations: Criticalities of current large dam construction in Afghanistan." Geoforum 54: 49-58. Ansar, A., et al. (2014). "Should we build more large dams? The actual costs of hydropower megaproject development." Energy Policy 69: 43-56. Chan, S. (2010). "Pyrrhic Victory in the "Tournament of Shadows": Central Asia's Quest for Water Security (1991--2009)." 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