Geography, climate and population
Kazakhstan, with a total area of just over 2.72 million km2, is the second largest country of the Former Soviet Union, after the Russian Federation, and the ninth largest country in the world (Table 1). It is bordered in the northwest and north by the Russian Federation, in the east by China, in the south by Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and in the southwest by Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea. It declared its independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in December 1991. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into 14 provinces (oblasts) – Akmola, Aktobe, Almaty, Atyrau, West Kazakhstan, Jambyl, Karagandy, Kostanai, Kyzylorda, Mangystau, South Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, North Kazakhstan, East Kazakhstan – and three cities (qalalar) – Almaty, Astana and Baykonyr (former Leninsk). In 1995, the governments of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation entered into an agreement whereby the Russian Federation would lease an area of 6 000 km2 enclosing the city of Baykonyr and its space launch facilities for 20 years. In 2004 a new agreement extended the lease to 2050 (CIA, 2011).
Deserts and steppes account for more than 80 percent of the total area. In the central region is a sandy plateau with small hills named the Kazakh Melkosopochnik, surrounded in the north and northeast by the west Siberian plain, in the south by the Turan plain, and in the west by the Caspian lowlands. In the east and southeast, mountain chains (Altai, Djungar Alatau, Tien Shan) alternate with depressions (Zaisan, Balkhash-Alakol, Ili and Chu-Talas) comprising sandy deserts (Sary-Ishikotrau and Muynkum). The country’s highest peak (Khan-Tengri) is about 7 000 m above sea level in the Tien Shan mountain range in the southeast.
The cultivable area, including pastures and grazing, notably the steppes, is an estimated 222 million ha, or 81 percent of the total area. In 2009 the cultivated area was an estimated 23 480 000 ha, or 11 percent of the cultivable area, of which 23 400 000 ha or 99.7 percent were temporary crops and 80 000 ha or 0.3 percent permanent. Since 1950 there has been a dramatic increase in cultivated area, mainly because of the political decision taken that year to develop agriculture on semi-arid land, called ‘virgin land’, notably in the northern and central regions of the Republic. The cultivated area increased from 7.8 million ha in 1950 to 28.5 million ha in 1960. In 1992 the cultivated area was 35.2 million ha; although this area has decreased over the last two decades.
The climate of Kazakhstan is typically continental, with cold dry winters and hot dry summers. In the south, average temperatures vary from minus 3 °C in January to 30 °C in July. In the north, average temperatures vary between minus 18 °C in January and 19 °C in July, while records show temperatures of minus 45 °C in January. The frost-free period varies between 195 and 265 days in the south and between 245 and 275 days in the north. The cropping period is limited to one season, from March to October in the south and from April to September in the north.
Precipitation is insignificant, except in the mountainous regions. Average annual precipitation is an estimated 250 mm, ranging from less than 100 mm in the Balkhash-Alakol depression in the central-eastern region or near the Aral Sea in the south, up to 1 600 mm in the mountain area in the east and southeast. About 70–85 percent of annual rainfall occurs during the winter, between October and April. Snow often falls in November. Summer rains are often combined with severe thunderstorms, which sometimes lead to flash flooding. Almost the entire territory of Kazakhstan is characterized by strong winds that may gust at speeds over 40 m/s.
The continental climate is characterized by a high evaporation level, which, together with low rainfall, makes irrigation a necessity in large parts of the country, notably in the south.
The total population was an estimated 16.2 million inhabitants in 2011 of which 41 percent rural, in 2001 the rural population was 44 percent. During the period 2001–2011 the annual population growth rate was an estimated 0.9 percent. Average population density is 6 inhabitants/km2, but varies from 2 inhabitants/km2 in the central province of Jeskazgan to 20 inhabitants/km2 in Almaty province in the southeast.
In 2010, 95 percent of the population had access to improved water sources (99 and 90 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) (Table 1). Sanitation coverage accounted for 97 percent (97 and 98 percent in urban and rural areas respectively).
Economy, agriculture and food security
In 2010, Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product (GDP) was US$149 059 million, of which the agriculture sector accounted for 5 percent.
In 2011, the total economically active population was 8.7 million, or 54 percent of the total population. The economically active population in agriculture is an estimated 1.2 million (14 percent of total active population), of which 24 percent female.
Agriculture plays an important role in the development of Kazakhstan, the most important crops are wheat, maize, rice, oats, buckwheat, cotton, potatoes, vegetables, sugar beets, sunflowers. An important factor of subsistence support is self-sufficiency in grain for the production of bread and for livestock forage. The national economy’s priority is grain production, as basic subsistence of the population appears more problematic each year. Increased yields of high quality crops could provide a good basis for economic stabilization (UNDP, 2008).
Kazakhstan is one of the world’s six largest grain exporters, mainly spring wheat, which is exported to 40 countries worldwide. The principle buyers are the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Kazakhstan is gradually increasing wheat exports to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Tunisia, Italy, France and Afghanistan. Export volumes total from 2 to 6 million tonnes per year (UNDP, 2008).
Four major hydrologic regions can be identified: the Ob river basin draining to the Arctic Ocean, the Caspian Sea basin, the Aral Sea basin and internal lakes, depressions or deserts.
There are about 39 000 rivers and streams, 7 000 of which are over 10 km. Surface water resources are extremely unevenly distributed within the country and are marked by significant perennial and seasonal dynamics. Central Kazakhstan has only 3 percent of total water resources in the country. The western and southwestern regions (Atyrau, Kyzylorda and in particular Mangystau region) are significantly water deficit; there is hardly any fresh water. The Balkhash-Alakol and Irtysh (Ertix) river basins in the east and northeast account for almost 75 percent of surface water resources generated within the country (Table 2). About 90 percent of the runoff occurs in spring, exceeding reservoir storage capacity (UNDP, 2003).
Eight Basins Waterworks Departments (BWD) have been formed in Kazakhstan, covering the following main river basins (UNDP, 2004):
Total internal renewable surface water resources are 56.5 km3/year and total actual renewable surface water resources, including agreements on the Syr Darya and on the Chu, Talas and Assa rivers, are 99.63 km3/year (Table 2).
Current volume of river runoff in Kazakhstan seems to differ significantly from previous estimations and long-term averages. Reduced surface runoff could provide evidence of significant climatic and anthropogenic effects on water resources and reflects the strong tendency towards possible reduction of surface water resources in the country.
Groundwater is extremely unevenly distributed throughout the country and the variable quality prevents exploitation of part of groundwater resources for economic activity. Groundwater is available in almost all the mountainous regions. About half groundwater resources (about 50 percent) are concentrated in southern Kazakhstan. Significantly fewer of these resources (up to 20 percent) are formed within western Kazakhstan. About 30 percent of all groundwater resources are located in central, northern and eastern Kazakhstan (UNDP, 2004). A total of 626 groundwater fields have been explored with total reserves of 15.93 km3/year (43.38 million m3/day); probable reserves with a salinity rate of up to 1 g/litre are an estimated 33.85 km3/year and reserves of groundwater with salinity rate up to 10 g/litre are an estimated 57.63 km3/year (UNDP, 2004). Annual renewable groundwater resources in Kazakhstan are an estimated 33.85 km3/year, of which 26 km3/year corresponds to the overlap with surface water resources. Total actual renewable water resources (TARWR), including agreements, can thus be estimated at 107.48 km3/year (=99.63+33.85-26) (Table 3).
In 2010, the total direct use of treated wastewater was 0.194 km3 (WRC, 2011). Direct use of agricultural drainage water was 0.108 km3. In 2002, about 0.150 km3 of wastewater and 0.030 km3 of agricultural drainage water were directly used (UNDP, 2004). In 2010, desalinated water produced was 0.853 km3 (WRC; Agency of Statistics 2011). In 1993, total wastewater produced was 1.8 km3/year, of which 0.270 km3/year was treated and used directly.
In 1993, about 1.3 km3 of Caspian Sea water was desalinated by the Mangistau nuclear power plant, for industry and to supply water to the cities of Mangistau and Novi Uzen. In 2002, water withdrawn from the Caspian Sea was an estimated 0.64 km3 (UNDP, 2004).
Lakes and dams
The Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world. Its level currently varies significantly. During the 1990s, the Caspian Sea level rose by about 2 m, which resulted in waterlogging of towns and villages, and the loss of agricultural land. On the other hand, the level and volume of the Aral Sea has dramatically decreased, mainly because of irrigation development upstream. This has resulted in environmental problems, which have been tentatively addressed by the Central Asia Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC).
Excluding the Caspian and Aral seas, there are 48 262 lakes, ponds and reservoirs that cover 45 000 km2, estimated volume of water 190 km3. The number of small lakes, with a surface area of less than 1 km2, accounts for 94 percent of these lakes but only 10 percent of the total area. There are 3 014 large lakes that have a surface area of more than 1 km2, with a total surface area of 40 800 km2, including 21 lakes that are over 100 km2 with a total surface area of 26 900 km2, or 59 percent of the total; 45 percent of all lakes are in the north, 36 percent in the centre and south and 19 percent in other regions (UNDP, 2003). The largest lakes are: lake Balkhash, 18 000 km2, volume 112 km3; lake Zaisan about 5 500 km2; and lake Tengiz, with an area of 1 590 km2. The main natural depression is the Arnasay depression where lake Aydarkul, with a capacity of 30 km3, was created artificially with water released from the Chardarya reservoir and with the return flow from the Hunger steppe irrigated land, which is shared with Uzbekistan.
Kazakhstan is dominated by vast desert plains and high mountain ranges to the east of the plains, which create particularities in the normal water cycle where glaciers play an important role, being the only freshwater reservoirs. The majority of glaciers are located in the south and east at more than 4 000 m above sea level. There are 2 724 glaciers covering 1 963 km2. The glaciers contain 95 km3 of water, which is almost equal to the annual flow of all rivers in the country (UNDP, 2003).
More than 200 water reservoirs have been constructed, for a total capacity of 95.5 km3, not counting ponds, small reservoirs and seasonally regulated reservoirs (UNDP, 2003). There are 19 large reservoirs, with a capacity of over 0.1 km3 each, accounting for 95 percent of total capacity. Most reservoirs are designed for seasonal flow regulation, only about 20 reservoirs are regulated year-round. The largest reservoirs, with a capacity of over 1 km3 are Bukhtarma on the Irtysh river, with a total capacity of 49.6 km3, Kapshagay on the Ili river in the Balkhash basin with 18.6 km3, Chardarya on the Syr Darya river at the border with Uzbekistan with 5.2 km3, Shulba on the Irtysh river with 2.4 km3. Most are multipurpose: hydropower production, irrigation and flood control. The reservoirs in the eastern and southeastern regions are mainly used for agriculture and in the central, northern and western regions for drinking water and industry. Bukhtarma, Shulba, Kapshagay and Chardarya are all connected to hydroelectric power stations to generate electricity (UNDP, 2003 and 2004).
Reservoir capacity in the Irtysh river basin is the largest in Kazakhstan. Besides the Bukhtarma and Shulba, an additional reservoir has been constructed on the Irtysh river, the Ust-Kamenogorsk reservoir, total capacity 0.7 km3, which regulates the river’s flow (UNDP, 2004).
In 1997, the gross theoretical hydropower potential was an estimated 110 000 GWh/year, with an economically feasible potential of about 35 000 GWh/year. Total installed capacity of the hydropower plants exceeds 3 GW. Hydroelectricity represents 12 percent of total electricity generation, which meets only 85 percent of total electricity demand, the remainder being imported from neighbouring countries.
International water issues
Collaboration between countries concerning water allocation is important for Kazakhstan, the problem of sharing is one of the priorities of foreign policy, specifically because a considerable portion of the country is located in the lower reaches of transboundary rivers.
During the Soviet period, the sharing of water resources among the five Central Asian republics was based on the master plans for development of water resources in the Amu Darya (1987) and Syr Darya (1984) river basins.
After gaining independence, regional cooperation regarding water resources management needed strengthening. Based on the principle of equal rights and efficient use, passed in 1992, the parties entered into a number of agreements to regulate cooperation for joint management, protection and use of water resources. The first intergovernmental agreement (1992) established the ICWC. International agreements have addressed water allocation between Kazakhstan and its neighbours:
This new agreement was confirmed by the ‘Agreement on joint actions to address the problem of the Aral Sea and socio-economic development of the Aral Sea basin’, signed by the Heads of the five states in 1996. Over the years, the main achievement of the ICWC has been a conflict-free supply of water to all water users, despite the complexities and variations of dry and wet years.
In 1993, with the development of the Aral Sea basin programme, two new organizations emerged: the Interstate Council for the Aral Sea (ICAS) to coordinate implementation of the programme and the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) to raise and manage its funds. In 1997, the two organizations merged to create IFAS (UNDP, 2004).
The most acute disagreement in the Syr Darya basin relates to the operation of the Toktogul reservoir in Kyrgyzstan, leading to a clash of interests between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The two downstream countries are interested in maintaining storage for summer irrigation from the Toktogul reservoir, whereas winter energy generation from the reservoir is beneficial to Kyrgyzstan. A similar set of issues exist between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan regarding the management of Karikkum reservoir in Tajikistan. Changes in the operations of the Toktogul reservoir have led to the following negative developments in Kazakhstan (UNDP, 2004):
In 1998, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed an agreement concerning dams in the upper Syr Darya river basin, which includes provisions for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to share equally in the purchasing of summer hydropower from Kyrgyzstan, while payments can be made in cash or by delivery of coal or gas (SIWI, 2010).
Three rounds of experts’ negotiations have been held with China to discuss management of cross-border rivers. Kazakhstan and China agreed on a list of 23 cross-border rivers and the scope of work. In 2001, the governments of Kazakhstan and China signed a cooperation agreement for the use and protection of cross-border rivers. China is unilaterally beginning to implement plans to expand the use of water resources from the Irtysh and Ili rivers within its borders and has declared its intent to accelerate full-scale development of western China, which is one of the most underdeveloped regions of the country. This plan includes the building of a water canal Cherniy Irtysh-Karamai in the Jingxian-Uighur Autonomous Region. Part of the water from the upstream Irtysh river will be transferred along the canal to the oilfield region near Karamai (UNDP, 2004). In 2009, China and Kazakhstan discussed the reasonable and mutually acceptable use and protection of transboundary river resources (SIWI, 2010).
Several cross-border rivers link Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation to each other. The main rivers include the Ural, Irtysh, Ishim and the Tobol.
Considering the circumstances, an interstate agreement between Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation on the joint use and safeguarding of cross-border water facilities was signed in 1992. Based on this agreement, a Kazakhstan-Russia committee meets twice a year to approve the work schedule for reservoirs designated for joint use, set limits for water extraction and develop measures for the repair and operation of water facilities designated for joint use. In 1997 the validity of the agreement was extended to 2002, and further extended for another five years to 2006 (UNDP, 2004). In 2010, the agreement on joint use and protection of transboundary water bodies between the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan was signed, based on the principles of the 17 March 1992 Convention concerning protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes. Both parties are members of this United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention.
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation are exploring the possibility of diverting the Ob and Irtysh rivers. The proposed project consists of building a canal from Siberia, across Kazakhstan, to Uzbekistan. In theory, the project would solve the problem of the limited water resources available to Uzbekistan. The project would also enable the Russian Federation to play a greater role in the region and especially in Uzbekistan. There are fears related to salinization of water during transfer, significant technical issues and the possibly high cost to Central Asia of ?nancial and geopolitical costs (SIWI, 2010).
The International Caspian Environmental Programme (CEP) was developed in 1997 to encourage cooperation in protection of the environment in the Caspian Sea region. In 1998, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) project addressing transboundary environmental issues in the Caspian Sea region was established under the CEP framework. The governments of the Caspian Sea countries, took it upon themselves to ensure its implementation, and approved the project. The GEF project, implemented at regional and national levels, has set up organizational structures to develop a coordinated mechanism to manage the Caspian Sea regional environment.
The Syr Darya Control and North Aral Sea Phase I Project, currently underway, is the first phase of the rehabilitation of the Syr Darya river and was identified under the Aral Sea Basin Programme, approved by the heads of the five Central Asian States in 1994. The objectives of the project are: to sustain and increase agriculture (including livestock) and fish production in the Syr Darya basin in Kazakhstan, to maintain the Northern Aral Sea and to enhance ecological/environmental conditions for improved human health and conservation of biodiversity. The project’s components include: building water infrastructure to rehabilitate the Northern Aral Sea, improving the hydraulic control of the Syr Darya river, rehabilitating the Chardarya dam, restoring aquatic resources and promoting fisheries development and building institutional capacity. To maintain the integrity of the Northern Aral Sea, the 13 km Kok-Aral dyke was constructed to separate the Northern Aral Sea from the South Aral Sea, it was completed in August 2005. Several additional hydraulic structures were constructed on the river and existing hydraulic structures and the Chardarya dam were rehabilitated to increase the flow capacity of the Syr Darya river. The successful restoration efforts initiated by Phase I provided a catalyst for approval of Phase II in 2009. Efforts are continuing to improve water resources management in the Kazakh portion of the Syr Darya river basin. Based on the results obtained during Phase I, Phase II should ensure further improvements to the supply of irrigation water for agriculture, revitalization of the fisheries industry, enhanced public health and ecosystem recovery in the Aral Sea (World Bank, 2008).
In 2000 Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement regarding shared water resources of the Chu and Talas rivers, where the parties agreed to share operational and maintenance costs for transboundary infrastructure in proportion to the received water amounts (SIWI, 2010).
The European Union Water Initiative (EUWI) and its Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) programme is a partnership that seeks to improve water resources management in the EECCA region. In 2002, a partnership was established between the EU and the EECCA countries at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. A significant component is ‘Integrated water resources management, including transboundary river basin management and regional seas issues’ (SIWI, 2010).
In 2002, the Central Asian and Caucasus (CACENA) Regional Water Partnership was formed under the Global Water Partnership (GWP). Within this framework, state departments, local and regional organizations, professional organizations, scientific and research institutes, as well as the private sector and NGOs, cooperate to establish a common understanding of the critical issues threatening water security in the region (SIWI, 2010).
In 2004, experts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan produced a regional water and energy strategy within the framework of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (UN-SPECA). In collaboration with EUWI and UNECE it is engaged in developing integrated water resources management in the Central Asian States. In cooperation with Germany and other countries of the EU, UNECE may also play a role in the implementation of the EU Strategy for Central Asia in the water and energy sectors (SIWI, 2010).
Water withdrawals increased regularly until the mid-1980s. Over the past two decades withdrawals have slightly decreased in the agricultural sector mainly because of the adoption of water conservation methods, and in industry as a result of the sector’s decline since independence.
Total annual water withdrawal fluctuated between 19.7 and 28.8 km3 during 1995–2002 (UNDP, 2003).
In 2010, total water withdrawal was an estimated 21.143 km3, of which 14.002 km3 or 66 percent was for agriculture (including irrigation, livestock and aquaculture), 0.878 km3 or 4 percent for municipal, 6.263 km3 or 30 percent for industry (Table 4 and Figure 1). Of total withdrawal, 18.959 km3 or 89.7 percent is for primary and secondary surface water, 1.029 km3 or 4.9 percent, primary and secondary groundwater, 0.853 km3 or 4 percent desalinated water, 0.194 km3 or 0.9 percent direct use of treated wastewater, and 0.108 km3 or 0.5 percent direct use of agricultural drainage (Figure 2).
Water from the Syr Darya, Ili, Chu, Talas and Irtysh rivers is mainly used for irrigation. The most intensive use is in Kyzylorda, South Kazakhstan and Almaty provinces, where 90 percent of overall irrigation water is used (UNDP, 2003).
Central heating energy enterprises, metallurgy and the oil industry account for the bulk of industrial water withdrawal. Three provinces use 90 percent of all industrial water: Karagandy (43 percent), Pavlodar (41 percent) and East Kazakhstan (6 percent) (UNDP, 2003).
Irrigation and drainage
Evolution of irrigation development
Irrigation potential is an estimated 3 768 500 ha.
In 1992 and 1993, the full control area equipped for irrigation was 2.24 million ha and 2.31 million ha respectively (UNDP, 2004 and FAO, 1997). During the following decade there was a sharp decrease, to less than 1 million ha in 2002, caused by the collapse of many state farms during the transition period, because they were unable to compete in the new market economy.
In 2010 the area equipped for full control irrigation was an estimated 1 199 600 ha, of which 96.6 percent surface irrigation, 2.5 percent sprinkler irrigation and 0.9 percent localized irrigation (Table 5 and Figure 3) (Kazgiprovodkhoz, 2010). In the northern regions sprinkler irrigation was the dominant technique in 1990 on about 667 000 ha in 1990, This fell, however, to about 549 600 ha in 1993 and in 2010 to 30 000 ha. In 2010, the area equipped for full control irrigation on actually irrigated area was an estimated 1 182 100 ha, or 98.5 percent of the area equipped for full control irrigation. The area covered by spate irrigation is 866 300 ha, but in 2008 only 82 870 ha were actually irrigated (Kazgiprovodkhoz, 2010). This brings the total area equipped for irrigation to 2 065 900 ha, of which 1 264 970 ha, or 61 percent, is actually irrigated.
Most of the area that has been equipped for full control irrigation (about 93 percent) is in four southern regions, in the Syr Darya and Chu, Talas and Assa, and Ili river basins, distributed as follows: South Kazakhstan 36 percent, Almaty 37 percent, Kyzylorda 12 percent and Jambyl 15 percent. The most commonly irrigated crops are cereals (wheat, maize, rice and barley), cotton, oil crops (sunflower and soybeans) and fodder (permanent and temporary grasses and maize for silage). In nine northern regions the area equipped for full control irrigation (7 percent) is distributed as follows: East Kazakhstan 29 percent, Pavlodar 11 percent, Akmola 8 percent, North Kazakhstan 1 percent, Karagandy 13 percent, Kostanai 10 percent, Aktobe 15 percent, West Kazakhstan 6 percent and Atyrau 7 percent.
The most commonly irrigated crops are potatoes, vegetables, grains and permanent grasses. The largest irrigation schemes in South Kazakhstan region include Maktaaral (138 800 ha), Aris-Turkestan (106 200 ha), Kyzylkum (76 100 ha), Shauldersky (36 500 ha) and Keles (64 500 ha). In Jambyl region large schemes cover 105 900 ha. In Almaty region irrigation schemes include Akdalinsky (30 700 ha) and other smaller schemes. In Kyzylorda region irrigation schemes include Kyzylordinskie Pravoberezhny and Levoberezhny, Kazalinsky Pravoberezhny and Levoberezhny.
In 1993, the area equipped for full control irrigation in the Syr Darya river basin was 32 percent of the total and in the Chu and Talas river basins 10 percent. About 45 percent of the area covered by spate irrigation was located in the Caspian Sea basin. The equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms were spread throughout the country and were mainly cultivated as pastures or for hay.
According to a World Bank report, almost 680 000 ha of irrigated land were not being used because of soil salinization, waterlogging, incomplete distribution systems, improper farming practices, limited inputs: fertilizers and fuel and, in some instances, lack of water.
In 2010, the source of irrigation water for full control irrigation was mainly surface water, covering 99.8 percent of the area (Figure 4). In 1993, the full control irrigation area received water as follows: 32 percent from river diversion, 32 percent from reservoirs, 26 percent from pumping from rivers, 8 percent from groundwater and 2 percent from the direct use of agricultural drainage water.
The Kirov interstate canal (Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan) is an important hydraulic infrastructure, which was constructed from 1913 to 1957 in the Talas river basin to irrigate the Hunger steppe. The canal has a capacity of 220 m3/s at his head and is 137 km long. The Irtysh-Karagandy canal was constructed between 1962 and 1974 to supply the water-scarce region of Karaganda with water from the Irtysh river. It is about 458 km long with a capacity of 76 m3/s. More than 22 pumping stations and 14 small reservoirs have been built on this canal, which raises water over a total elevation of 250 m.
Other main canals are the Dostyk interstate canal that takes water from the Syr Darya river in Uzbekistan and delivers it to South Kazakhstan region, the Kyzylkum and Arys main canals in South Kazakhstan, the Kyzylordinskie Pravoberezhny and Levoberezhny main canals and the Kazalinsky Pravoberezhny and Levoberezhny main canals in Kyzylorda region, the Big Chu interstate canal in (Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan) in Jambyl region, and the Grand Almaty canal in Almaty region. There are an estimated 14 000 km of inter-farm canals in Kazakhstan.
In 2002, out of the total 967 000 ha of regular irrigation, irrigation schemes smaller than 10 000 ha totaled 424 000 ha (44 percent). Schemes of between 10 000 and 20 000 ha occupied 200 000 ha (21 percent), and schemes larger than over 20 000 ha occupied 343 000 ha (35 percent) (Figure 5).
Role of irrigation in agricultural production, the economy and society
In 2010, harvested irrigated area was 1 182 100 ha, of which 78 percent temporary crops and 22 percent permanent crops and permanent meadows and pasture. The main temporary irrigated crops are: wheat (18 percent), maize, rice and barley (about 8 percent each), vegetables (15 percent), cotton (11 percent) (Table 5 and Figure 6).
In 1993, wheat, rice, cotton and potatoes were the major export crops and the irrigated crop yields were 1.5 tonnes/ha for wheat, 4.3 tonnes/ha for rice, 1.8 tonnes/ha for cotton, 3 tonnes/ha for maize and 2.5 tonnes/ha for grapes. Fodder crops, required for winter-feeding of the large livestock population, were grown in many areas where salinity and poor drainage conditions prevented cultivation of other crops. The fodder crop yields declined 15–40 percent in the first years of the 1990s.
In 1993, the development cost of irrigation schemes for rice using unlined canals, predominant along the Syr Darya river in the south, was US$3 500–5 000/ha. Furrow irrigation systems in the south were US$3 700–5 800/ha. The development of sprinkler irrigation in the centre of the country amounted to US$5 500–7 200/ha. Between 1985 and 1990, the average cost of irrigation development, including the cost of dams, pumping stations, main canals, infrastructures and drainage networks, was about US$18 000/ha. Rehabilitation costs vary between US$3 500 and 4 200/ha.
Status and evolution of drainage systems
In 1993, out of the total irrigated area of 2 313 100 ha, over 700 000 ha required drainage, though it had been developed on only 433 100 ha. Horizontal surface water accounted for 264 600 ha or 61 percent of the total drainage area. The area equipped with subsurface drains amounted to 15 600 ha (4 percent), while vertical drainage was carried out on about 152 900 ha (35 percent). These two drainage techniques were developed on reclaimed areas in the 1990s, these are the Hunger steppe, the Kyzylkum scheme and the Kyzyl-Orda scheme, all are in the south. Almost all drained areas (99 percent) are located in the five southern provinces. The average cost of drainage development is about US$600/ha for surface drains and US$1 400/ha for subsurface drains.
Little maintenance has been carried out on the drainage network since 1990. Moreover, part of the agricultural drainage system does not work properly because of deficiencies in design and construction. It is estimated that about 90 percent of the vertical drainage systems are not used because of the high cost of pumping. There is also the significant problem of disposal of highly saline water. In 2010, the area equipped for irrigation with a drainage system was 343 000 ha (Table 5).
Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture
The State manages water resources in Kazakhstan, an authorized state body the Water Resources Committee, manages water use and conservation, local representatives and executive bodies (maslikhats, akims or oblasts, cities, districts, auls/villages), and other state bodies, manage aspects of water use within their competencies. For example, groundwater management is carried out by the WRC in cooperation with the state body for geology and conservation of mineral resources. Other specialized authorized state bodies involved in water use and conservation include those dealing with environmental protection, mineral resources, fishery, flora, fauna, and state sanitary and veterinary supervision. The relationships between state management bodies concerning the rational use and conservation of water is regulated by Kazakhstan’s legislation (UNDP, 2004).
The WRC of the Ministry of Agriculture carries out state management and protection of water resources at the national level; participates in the development and implementation of state policies for use and protection of water resources; develops programmes for the development of the water sector; and plans complex use and protection of water resources; issues licenses for special water use; allocates water resources between territories and sectors; adopts standard rules for water use and cooperates with neighbouring countries on water relations and other functions.
The basin water management units are territorial subdivisions of the WRC and provide integrated management of water resources and coordination between water users in the basin (UNDP, 2004). They carry out integrated management of the use and protection of water resources at the basin level, coordinate activities concerning water relations within the basin, perform state control of use and protection of water resources and compliance with water legislation, conduct state accounting, monitoring and public water inventory in conjunction with the environmental bodies and agencies for geology, protection of natural resources and hydrometeorology, issue licenses for special water use and other functions.
The Ministry of Environment carries out state control over the environment and issues permits to discharge treated wastewater into natural water bodies. The Republican State Enterprise ‘Kazgidromet’ of the Ministry of Environment monitors the country’s quantity and quality of surface water resources.
The Committee of State Sanitary and Epidemiological Surveillance oversees drinking water quality.
Local representatives (maslikhats) and executive (akimats) bodies manage water relations at the regional level, within their authorities. For example, maslikhats set the rules for common water use, based on regulations approved by the authorized body. They also approve regional programmes for the rational use and conservation of water bodies, control their implementation and regulate the leasing of water facilities under communal administration. Akimats set up water organizations to manage and maintain water facilities under communal administration. They also define water conservation areas and sanitary zones to protect sources of potable water supply, in coordination with basin water bodies and territorial bodies for geology and sanitary controls; transfer water bodies into separate or joint use, in coordination with the authorized body; work out and implement regional programmes for the rational use and conservation of water bodies; and coordinate the location and use of enterprises and structures affecting water, as well as conditions of work on ponds and in water conservation areas; and impose restrictions on the use of water bodies (UNDP, 2004).
The first water user organizations (WUAs) were established in 1996.
In 1993, sovkhoz (state farms) and kolkhoz (collective farms) were still predominant in Kazakhstan covering 92 percent of the cultivated area, which accounted for 35 million ha, with private plots covering 0.6 percent, and the joint stock companies and farmers associations 7.4 percent. The land reform process was extended further after 1994, and most land was transferred to farmers or companies, through private ownership or long-term leases (99 years).
State water management in Kazakhstan is based on the principles of recognizing the national and social importance of water resources, sustainable water use, separating the functions of state control and management and basin management. Based on these principles, in 1998 the government began structural reorganization of the water system, aimed at clear assignment of responsibilities at national and local levels. According to Government Resolution No. 1359 of 30 December 1998, oblast committees for water resources were reorganized into “republican state enterprises for water”, charged with technical maintenance of hydrosystems, water headworks, mains systems, pumping stations, group water pipelines, i.e. the facilities that provide consumers with water. The next stage of reform was the 2001–2002 transition of water facilities (excluding facilities of national importance) from national to communal ownership, as well as assigning the local level with the authority to manage them. Delineation of water resources management functions and improving the mechanisms of regulating water use allows consideration of the interests of water users, both within the entire basin and in a certain area. It also allows effective measures to be taken to protect basin waters from exhaustion (UNDP, 2004).
A number of water projects of national and regional importance are being implemented at national and basin levels. For example, the construction of hydraulic structures for various purposes in the surface water bodies, construction of groundwater intakes, regulation of river flows and modes of operation for large reservoirs, implementation of measures for maximum reduction of loss of water and its supply and distribution. At state level management, operation and maintenance of state-run water networks and facilities is carried out as well as control over the operation of water facilities owned by cooperatives, WUAs and individuals to ensure the safety and effectiveness of these facilities.
Because of the lack of national funds to address water issues, leading to deterioration of facilities and structures, there is a need to involve the private sector in the water sector – mostly in water supply and rehabilitation and maintenance of water systems. In forming this water ‘market’, the basin water management units will play an important role in setting clear goals for privatization in the water industry and elaborating its rules and legal base (UNDP, 2004).
The country is seeking assistance from international financial institutions to resolve water sector issues such as the World Bank, Asian and Islamic Development Banks, UNDP and others. Germany, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Austria and Kuwait will provide assistance and support to resolve water issues in Kazakhstan. The WRC project management team is coordinating implementation of the following water management projects funded by foreign loans and grants (UNDP, 2004): regulation of the Syr Darya riverbed and preservation of the northern portion of the Aral Sea (Phase 1); water supply for the towns of Aralsk, Kazalinsk and Novokazalinsk; water supply and sanitation for northeast Kazakhstan; restoration and management of the environment in the Nura-Ishim basin.
The UNDP Project ‘National integrated water resources management and water efficiency plan’ has the following goals: Development of a national integrated water resources management (IWRM) and water efficiency plan; creation of river basins councils; and development of a strategy for achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on water supply and sanitation. The project supports a campaign for raising public awareness in regard to the water situation in the country, the importance of MDGs, principles of IWRM and the importance of achieving those (UNDP, 2006).
The government is attending to water supply and water allocation. The programme ‘Ak Bulak’ was developed to provide quality drinking water and wastewater services from 2011 to 2020. The programme is designed in accordance with the Strategic Plan of Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan until 2020, approved by the the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Decree No. 922, dated 1 February 2010. This programme provides for the protection of water sources from pollution by sewage; involves private capital in water supply and water removal; maintains the efficient and profitable operation of enterprises and organizations; upgrades water supply and drainage systems; maximizes use of groundwater for drinking water supply and improves the quality of design and survey work for water management.
In 1994, Kazakhstan was the first Central Asian country to implement water fees. The price of water, which is different for each province, was defined by volume and according to the added value irrigation could bring to agricultural production.
Water user fees fund maintenance of hydraulic structures and water facilities. Facilities on state property that are import to the nation and oblasts, are partly funded by the national budget (UNDP, 2004). Rates for water supply services to water users, water delivery and water drains are approved in accordance with Kazakhstan legislation on natural monopolies and regulated markets. The procedure and terms of payment for water supply services are determined by the agreements between the parties.
Despite numerous water-related problems over the 1990s, the government has taken measures to help ameliorate this critical situation. As of 2002, the government resumed financing of the water sector and allocated US$6 million in that year, for a total of US$15 million. The national ‘Drinking water programme’, which was passed by the government, commited to investing US$40 million to implement the programme until 2010 (UNDP, 2004).
Policies and legislation
During the Soviet period the Law of 1970 ‘Basics of water legislation of the USSR and Union Republics’ and the Water Code of the Kazakh SSR of 1972 served as a legal framework for water relations. After declaring sovereignty in 1993 Kazakhstan adopted the Water Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Over the past period many provisions of the prior Water Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (1993) have become obsolete and are constraining market reforms in the water sector (UNDP, 2004).
In 2003, a new Water Code was adopted, which was required to address development of market relations in the water sector and agriculture. Specifically, the new Water Code provides for transfer of waterworks facilities to water users for rent, trust management or use without charge. The document was based on the international principles of the fair and equal access of water users to water; priority was given to drinking water supply. The new Water Code designated the WRC to issue all approvals related to surface water and groundwater. Prior to this, the Committee of Geology and Conservation of Earth Resources, under the Ministry of Power Engineering and Mineral Resources was in charge of issues pertaining to the use and protection of groundwater (UNDP, 2004).
An important innovation of the Water Code has been the strengthening of the principles of water management related to basins. For example, the role and goals of the Basin Water Departments, previously defined by WRC, are now included in the Water Code. In order to define and coordinate the activities of various governmental and non-governmental entities, such as WUAs, non-governmental water organizations, and basin councils. the Water Code provides for their entering into basin agreements to rehabilitate and protect water sources.
A basin council is an advisory body at the basin level that jointly resolves issues related to water fund use and the protection and implementation of signed basin agreements. In addition, the Code focused attention on transboundary waters and included a special section on international cooperation (UNDP, 2004). In 2009 the Code was amended and supplemented.
The Land Code contains a special chapter on water fund land, which includes land occupied by reservoirs, hydraulic structures and other water facilities, as well as water protection areas and strips and zones that provide sanitary protection of water intakes for drinking water. The main economic purpose of water fund land is to serve the use and protection of water. This type of land, therefore, is subject to special legislative provisions specifically reflecting the legal status of land in this category.
The Code on ‘Administrative Offences’ of 2001 sets out the responsibilities of legal entities and individuals for violation of the water legislation of Kazakhstan (UNDP, 2004).
In 2003, the ‘Law on rural consumer cooperatives of water users’ was adopted. This law deals with issues pertaining to the rights and responsibilities of water users, water management at sources for irrigation and water supply development, procedures for establishing rural WUAs, the legal capacity of these associations, membership, property rules, as well as procedures for the reorganization and liquidation of such associations (UNDP, 2004).
The Environmental Code (2007) defines the legal, economic and social basis of environmental protection. It regulates the use of natural resources, including protection from domestic and industrial pollution. The Code also establishes a framework for economic instruments, such as payment for the use of natural resources and disposal of household and industrial waste as well as economic incentives for environmental protection.
Environment and health
Most of Kazakhstan is located in the arid zone, agriculture in these circumstances is extremely risky, and most grassland belongs to the desert or semi-arid type. Peculiarities of the country’s location at the centre of the Eurasian continent, with the associated climatic characteristics, means that Kazakhstan is among those countries having the most vulnerable ecosystems.
The quality of most water sources is unsatisfactory. Most water pollution is caused by discharge from the chemical, oil, manufacturing and metallurgical industries. Out of 44 water sources researched by the Kazakhstan Hydrometeorology Service Bureau, in 2002 only nine rivers, two lakes and two reservoirs where considered to be clean water sources; six rivers and one reservoir were listed as dirty or very dirty. In addition to industrial, extracting and refinery enterprises there are other polluters such as urban buildings, farms, irrigated fields, waste containers and storage facilities for liquid and solid wastes and oil products (UNDP, 2003).
The environmental crisis in the Aral Sea basin is a major disaster that has affected the territories of all five riparian Central Asian states, with a total population of over 40 million people. The intensive extraction of water for irrigation from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers over the last 40 years has caused the level of the Aral Sea to fall by 17 19 m and reduced the volume of its water resources by 75 percent. As a result, the mineral (saline) concentration of the seawater has increased from 10 to 60 percent (UNDP, 2004). By the end of the 1980s, the Aral Sea no longer reached its former borders. As the waters receded, the Aral Sea split into the Northern Aral Sea within Kazakhstan and the larger South Aral Sea shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The desiccation of the Aral Sea has resulted in serious economic, social, and environmental degradation. Fresh fish production has virtually disappeared, salinity and pollution levels have risen dramatically, dust and salt storms have occurred often, and there have been measurable changes to the local climate. Drinking water supplies became polluted and human health problems increased sharply. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost in the fishing, agricultural and service sectors (World Bank 2008). In 2002, the heads of the Central Asian states decided to develop a ‘Programme of concrete action to improve the environmental and economic environment of the Aral Sea basin for 2003-2010’ (UNDP, 2004).
Salinity in lakes varies from 0.12 g/litre in east Kazakhstan to 2.7 g/litre in the central region. More than 4 000 lakes have been inventoried as saline. Irrigation development during the 1980s and 1990s in the basin of the Ili river, which flows into lake Balkhash, has led to ecological problems in the region, notably the drying up of small lakes. It has been estimated that about 8 000 small lakes have dried up recently because of the overexploitation of water resources.
In 1993, about 242 000 ha (11 percent) of the irrigated areas were classed as saline by Central Asian standards (toxic ions exceed 0.5 percent of total soil weight). These areas are mainly concentrated in the south. In 2010, irrigated areas, subject to salinity, amounted to 404 300 ha.
Over the past 10 years, over 300 floods have been recorded caused by different phenomena. Most damage is caused by flooding of the Ural, Tobol, Ishim, Nura, Emba, Torgai, Sarysu, Bukhtarma rivers and their numerous tributaries (UNDP, 2004).
Studies conducted in the framework of technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank ‘The availability of water supply services as part of poverty assessment’ showed that lack of water leads to the population becoming incapable of observing norms of sanitation and hygiene, resulting in increased morbidity; income level in water deficient areas per capita is almost two-times lower than the officially established subsistence level. As with many other countries, Kazakhstan is interested in finding solutions to the problems of environmental protection and promoting the rational use of natural resources.
Prospects for agricultural water management
Structural reforms on irrigated land are needed to maintain food security in Kazakhstan, to ensure a high level of the population’s self-sufficiency in agricultural production. This includes increasing economic performance, meeting environmental requirements and introducing water-saving technologies. Restructuring of irrigated cultivated areas consists of reducing cotton and cereals and increasing the share of oilseeds and legumes, including perennial grasses. In parallel an increase in productivity in rainfed areas, where most of the cereals are grown, is important.
Further socio-economic development and the solution of various ecological problems will be greatly determined by a water policy that addresses development and control of water management. Radical economic reforms taking place – including in the area of water management – also make specific demands on water policy (UNDP, 2004).
The aim of the national water-use strategy is to first protect water and implement efficient water-saving technologies in all spheres of water management. This will decrease the volume of water consumed as well as the amount of sewage discharged. National water conservation plans should be systematic for all aspects of water use, thus creating a basis for transition to integrated management of water resources. The main objective of a regional water strategy and policy is the implementation of agreed national activities for preservation of the resource potential of the river system and its ecological security.
Rapprochement between neighbouring countries for national policies and strategies, for protection and use of transboundary waterways, should be based on the general provisions found in international conventions, and the principles concerning use and protection of transboundary waterways. National strategies for the protection and use of water resources should stipulate a transition to ecosystem control over water resources, unification of criteria and purpose-oriented indicators of water quality, application of concerted methods of data collection and exchange of information. A regional basin organization should be created to coordinate all the above and to promote interstate cooperation and the pursute of a common water policy in the river basin (UNDP, 2004).
Main sources of information
Statistical Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2007. Agricultural Census 2006/2007.
Statistical Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2011. Agriculture, forestry and fishing industry of Kazakhstan. In: Statistical bulletin, Chief Editor Smailov, A.A.
Statistical Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2011. Economic activity of population in Kazakhstan. In: Statistical bulletin, Chief Editor Smailov, A.A.
Statistical Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2011. Environmental protection and sustainable development of Kazakhstan. In: Statistical bulletin, Chief Editor Smailov, A.A.
Statistical Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2011. Industry of Kazakhstan and its regions for 2006-2010. In: Statistical bulletin, Chief Editor Smailov, A.A.
Statistical Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2011. Kazakhstan in 2010. In: Statistical yearbook, edited by Smailov, A.A.
Statistical Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2011. Regions of Kazakhstan in 2010. In: Statistical bulletin, Chief Editor Smailov, A.A.
CIA. 2011. The World Factbook: Kazakhstan. Washington, DC, Central Intelligence Agency.
FAO. 1997. Irrigation in the countries of the former Soviet Union in figures. FAO Water Report No. 15. Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2003. Water Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan of 9 July 2003, No. 481-II.
Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2009. The Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan: On amendments and additions to the Water Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 12 February 2009, No. 132-4.
Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 2011. The Ak Bulak Programme for 2011–2020 (approved by the resolution of the 24 May 2011. No, 570).
Kazgiprovodkhoz Institute (Production Cooperative). 2010. The General Scheme integrated use and protection of water resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Summary.
SIWI. 2010. Regional Water Intelligence Report Central Asia. Stockholm International Water Institute.
UNDP. 2003. Review of water situation in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan: National Human Development Report. Chapter 3. New York, United Nations Development Programme.
UNDP. 2004. Water resources of Kazakhstan in the new millennium. New York, United Nations Development Programme.
UNDP. 2006. National integrated water resources management and water efficiency plan project. New York, United Nations Development Programme.
UNDP. 2008. National Human Development Report 2008. Climate change and its impact on Kazakhstan’s human development. New York, United Nations Development Programme.
World Bank. 2008. Innovative approaches to ecosystem restoration: Kazakhstan’s Syr Darya control and Northern Aral Sea Phase I Project. Water feature stories. Issue 23, October 2008. Washington, DC.
WRC. 2011. The main indicators of withdrawal, use and disposal of water in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2010. Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Water Resources Committee.
Yasinsky, V.A., Mironenkov, A.P. & Sarsembekov, T.T. 2010. Water resources of transboundary rivers in the regional cooperation between the countries in Central Asia. Almaty, Kazakhstan, Eurasian Development Bank.
Web-site: The knowledge portal on water resources and ecology of Central Asia: www.cawater-info.net.