minimppv.gif (940 bytes)minimtoc.gif (878 bytes)minimpnx.gif (858 bytes)


Note: Tajikistan was officially included amongst the countries of MO's Regional Office for the Near East in March 1996. For the present publication, it has not been possible to perform an in-depth survey of the information on water and irrgation and so the data presented below are probably very incomplete.


Tajikistan is a mountainous, landlocked country in Central Asia, bordered in the west and north-west by Uzbekistan, in the north-east by Kyrgyzstan, in the east by China and in the south by Afghanistan. It became independent in September 1991 and has a total area of 143 100 km. The different regions of the country are separated by high mountain ranges and are often cut off from each other during the winter months. The Pamir mountains in the south-east are part of the Himalayan mountain chain and are among the highest and most inaccessible mountains in the world.

In 1992, the total cultivated area was estimated at 812 000 ha, or less than 6% of the total area of the country. About 756 000 ha consisted of annual crops and 56 000 ha consisted of permanent crops, of which more than half are vineyards. In 1991, there were 206 collective farms (kolkoz), 362 state farms (sovkhholz) and 19 inter-enterprise farms (meshkov). Private plots and land allocated to state farm employees totalled only about 75 000 ha in 1991.

TABLE 1 - Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:
Area of the country 1995 14310000 ha
Cultivable area 1992 - ha
Cultivated area 1992 812 000 ha
- annual crops 1992 756 000 ha
-permanent crops 1992 56 000 ha
Total population 1995 6 101 000 inhabitants
Population density 1995 43 inhab./km
Rural population 1995 68 %
Water supply coverage:
Urban population   - %
Rural population 1992 40 %

The total population is about 6.1 million (1995), of which 68% is rural. Annual population growth is estimated at 3.1 %. Almost 47% of the labour force is engaged in agriculture. The agricultural sector, which has registered negative growth rates since 1989, fell by about 10% in 1991 due to cold weather and heavy rainfall early in the planting season. In 1992, the situation worsened as shortages of key inputs and civil unrest severely hampered production in spite of relatively favourable weather conditions. The agricultural sector as a whole declined by 28% in 1992.



Tajikistan's mountainous terrain gives rise to a wide range of climates. In those areas where cultivation takes place, which is mainly in the flood plains of the rivers, the climate consists of hot, dry summers and mild, warm winters.

TABLE 2 - Water: sources and use

Renewable water resources:
Average precipitation   - mm/yr
    - km/yr
Internal renewable water resources   61.8 km/yr
Total (actual! renewable water resources 1995 39.5 km/yr
Dependency ratio 1995 24.5 %
Total (actual} renewable water resources per inhabitant 1995 6 474 m/yr
Total dam capacity   - 106 m
Water withdrawal:
- agricultural 1989 11 088 106 m/yr
- domestic 1989 630 106 m/yr
- industrial 1989 882 106 m/yr
Total water withdrawal   12 600 106 m/yr
per inhabitant 1989 2 065 m/yr
as % of total (actual} renewable water resources   31.9 %
Other water withdrawal   - 106 m/yr
Average groundwater depletion   - 106 m/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional water sources:
- produced wastewater   - 106 m/yr
- treated wastewater   - 106 m/yr
- reused treated wastewater   - 106 m/yr
Desalinated water   - 106 m/yr


Water resources

Water is the most abundant natural resource in Tajikistan. There are 8 500 glaciers in the country, covering 6% of the total land area. These glaciers store 455.9 km of water and, together with winter rain and snow, feed the valleys by flowing into 947 streams and rivers for a total length of 28 500 km. Annual total water runoff from the mountains is about 61.8 km.

Almost all rivers flow into one of the two major river systems of Central Asia, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, which are the main contributors to the Aral Sea. The majority of the rivers in Tajikistan belong to the Amu Darya river basin, including the Pianj, the Vakhsh and the Kafirnigan rivers. The Syr Darya river basin represents only a small area in the north. Although the country covers only 5.7% of the total area of the Aral Sea basin, it produces 54.8 km/year of runoff, which is 44% of the total runoff of the Aral Sea basin. About 1 300 lakes make up 1% of the total area of the country.


Hydroelectricity is the most important source of energy in Tajikistan and its hydropower production comes third in the world, after the United States and Russia. Exploitation of this important resource had been a high priority of the former Soviet Union since the early 1960s, when the construction of several dams on the lower Vakhsh river began, including the Nurek Dam. This dam is situated in a narrow canyon, 300 metres deep and 40 metres wide. In spite of its large size, with a capacity of 10.5 km, the Nurek reservoir does not provide adequate flow regulation, since its capacity is about half the annual inflow of the Vakhsh river (20.5 km). To provide year to year and seasonal storage to meet the irrigation demand in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, it was decided in the early 1980s to construct a larger dam (the Rogun Dam), with a reservoir capacity of 13.5 km, about 70 km upstream of the Nurek Dam. Construction of this dam started in 1988 and was planned to be completed in 1997-2002. However, progress has been slow, mainly because of financial problems. Furthermore, in May 1993 a flood caused severe damage and destroyed much of the infrastructure.

TABLE 3 - Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential 1994 1570000 ha
1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area 1992 718 000 ha
- surface irrigation   - ha
- sprinkler irrigation   - ha
- micro-irrigation   - ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater 1992 8.4 %
% of area irrigated from surface water 1992 91.6 %
% of area irrigated from non-conventional sources 1992 0.0 %
% of equipped area actually irrigated 1992 97.2 %
2. Spate irrigation area   - ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (i.v.b.)   - ha
Total irrigation (1 +2+3) 1992 718 000 ha
- as % of cultivated area   88 %
4. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1 + 2 + 3 + 4) 1992 718 000 ha
- as % of cultivated area   88 %
- increase over last 10 years   - %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area 1992 59.9 %
Full or partial control irrigation schemes: Criteria
Large-scale schemes> - ha 1992 670 000 ha
Medium-scale schemes 1992 0 ha
Small-scale schemes< - ha 1992 48 000 ha
Total number of households in irrigation      
Irrigated crops:
Total irrigated grain production   - tons
as % of total grain production   - %
Harvested crops under irrigation (full or partial control) 1992 698 000 ha
- permanent crops: total   - ha
- annual crops: total   - ha
. cotton 1992 296 000 ha
. fodder crops   - ha
. vegetables   - ha
. potatoes   - ha
. other annual crops   - ha
Drainage - Environment:
Drained area   - ha
as % of cultivated area   - %
- drained areas in full or partial control irrigated areas   - ha
- drained areas in equipped wetland and i.v.b.   - ha
- other drained areas   - ha
- total drained area with subsurface drains   - ha
- total drained area with surface drains   - ha
Flood-protected area   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation   - ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases   - inhabitants


Water withdrawal

Total water withdrawal was 12.6 km in 1989, of which 88% for agricultural purposes (Figure 1). About 91% of the total water used is surface water, mainly from the Amu Darya river system. An inadequate supply of clean drinking water is a serious health hazard in Tajikistan. Even before the civil war in 1992, only 65% of the total population had access to piped water and in many towns the distribution systems were in a poor condition. In rural areas, only 40% of the population had piped water, while the remainder obtained water from open sources. Most water is of poor quality as a result of contamination from pesticides, fertilizers, industrial waste, inadequate sewage treatment and open distribution systems.

Water sharing agreements

Water allocation in Central Asia was initially governed by decrees from Moscow. More recently, the allocation was confirmed by agreements between riparian republics. According to the agreement with the downstream riparians of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazahstan, Tajikistan is entitled to 8% of the Syr Darya's annual natural flows and 13% of those of the Amu Darya.

Figure 1 - Water withdrawal (total: 12.6 km in 1989)

Environmental issues

One of the most serious policy dilemmas facing the countries in Central Asia concerns the environmental problems of the Aral Sea basin, as a result of the lack of environmental considerations in agricultural practices, industrial development and waste management.

Figure 2 - Origin of irrigation water f/p (total: 718 000 ha in 1992)


Irrigation potential is estimated at about 1.57 million ha. Water availability is a limiting factor due to water sharing agreements with the downstream riparian countries. In 1992, the area equipped for irrigation was 718 000 ha, of which 698 000 ha were actually irrigated. The growth rate of irrigated land has been considerably lower than in the other states of the Aral Sea basin, primarily due to the difficulty of building irrigation systems under mountainous conditions. Tunnels of 12 hen long have been dug through the mountains to bring water from the mountains to the valleys. In total, some 43 000 km of irrigation canals have been built.

Approximately 60 000 ha are irrigated from groundwater and 370 000 ha are served by pumps to take water from the rivers, with lifts ranging from 10 to 400 metres (Figure 2). Almost all irrigation is surface irrigation using the furrow method. Investments in modern water saving techniques, such as sprinkler irrigation and micro-irrigation, are still considered to be quite expensive (between $US 6 000 and 7 000/ha). According to a recent World Bank Study, water can be saved under the existing system through better intake controls, by lining canals to reduce water loss and by improving drainage which will also reduce salinity levels.

More efficient water use can also be achieved through better on-farm water management, land levelling and changes in the cropping pattern.

About 670 000 ha, or over 90% of the irrigation schemes, are large- to medium-scale irrigation projects (Figure 3).

The major irrigated crop is cotton, with an area of about 296 000 ha in 1992. Per hectare yields of cotton used to be the highest in Central Asia but have fallen considerably because of poor weather and lack of fertilizes, pesticides and fuel. In 1992, much cotton remained unharvested because of civil unrest. Production in 1993 was 38% below 1991 levels. Other major irrigated crops are fodder crops (grains and green fodder), potatoes, vegetables, melons and fruit.

Figure 3 - Typology of f/p control irrigation schemes (total: 718 000 ha in 1992)

A serious problem in irrigated agriculture is the lack of adequate drainage systems and the associated waterlogging and salinization, in total affecting approximately 180 000 ha. According to the Soviet Union Environmental Survey of 1989, 15% of Tajikistan's total cropland, or about 122000 ha, were salinized and 15 000 ha of irrigated cropland were completely unusable because of high saline concentrations. Soil erosion is another effect of intensive irrigation and, according to the survey of 1989, has affected almost 53% of all irrigated cropland.


The Ministry of Water Management is responsible for managing and maintaining the irrigation systems in Tajikistan. Irrigation project design is carried out by the Tajik Giprovodkhoz and new system construction by the Tajik Vadstroi.

Coordination of water sharing between the riparian countries is overseen by the InterGovernmental Coordination Committee and implemented by two river basin commissions (BVO), one for the Amu Darya and one for the Syr Darya. The BVOs control all river and canal offtakes that affect more than one country, manage inter-republic and inter-sectoral allocations and monitor water use and quality.

The State Committee for Nature Protection (Goskompriroda) is responsible for establishing and implementing environmental policy, coordinating the environmental activities of other public and private entities, and for environmental monitoring. It has two separate research divisions: the Tajik Research Centre for the Protection of Water Resources and the Research Laboratory for the Protection of Nature.

The National Hydrometeorological (Hydromet) Service collects, analyses and disseminates hydrometeorological data to forecast floods and allocate water efficiently for irrigation, hydropower and other uses. It also monitors the glaciers and takes part in the activities to manage the region's river basins.


Tajikistan's economy is mainly dependent upon agriculture and therefore the development of sustainable land use practices is of prime importance. According to the World Bank Study, for irrigated areas this includes: improving yields, improving on-farm water management to minimize water waste, avoid waterlogging and salinization, and develop environmentally sound practices for using fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. On rainfed areas and pasture land, management practices are required to maintain productivity and avoid land degradation.

There appears to be substantial room for increasing agricultural output from existing crops in the short run by using improved crop varieties, integrated pest control, better production techniques, and by improving on-farm water management.

A significant degree of cooperation among the republics will be crucial in finding a solution to the Aral sea crisis.


World Bank. 1994. Tajikistan: A World Bank Country Study. Washington D.C.

minimppv.gif (940 bytes)minimtoc.gif (878 bytes)minimpnx.gif (858 bytes)