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Year: 2012 Revision date: -- Revision type: --

Regional report: Water Report 39, 2013: English or Russian

PDF version:

page 157-179



(Click the map to obtain a detailed map)

Geography, climate and population


Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia with a total area of 199 949 km2. It is bordered in the north by Kazakhstan, in the east and southeast by China, in the southwest by Tajikistan and in the west by Uzbekistan. It became independent from the Former Soviet Union in August 1991. The country is divided into seven provinces (oblasts), which are Batken, Chu, Djalal-Abad, Issyk-Kul, Naryn, Osh and Talas.

Largely mountainous, the country is dominated by the western reaches of the Tien Shan range in the northeast and the Pamir-Alay in the southwest. The highest mountain is Victory Peak (Tomur Feng, 7 439 m above sea level) at the eastern tip of the country, on the border with China. The mountain stands in the Mustag massif, one of the world’s largest glaciers. About 94 percent of the country rises over 1 000 m, and 40 percent at more than 3 000 m above sea level. Much of the mountain region is permanently covered with ice and snow and there are many glaciers, covering about 4 percent of the territory. The Fergana mountain range, running from the northwest across the country to the central-southern border region, separates the eastern and central mountain areas from the Fergana valley in the west and southwest. Other lowland areas include the Chu and Talas valleys near the northern border with Kazakhstan. The world’s second largest crater-lake, is Issyk-Kul, in the northeast with a surface area of 6 236 km2.

The cultivable area is an estimated 10 670 000 ha, or 53 percent of the total area, including 9 179 000 ha of permanent pasture. In 2009, the cultivated area was 1 351 000 ha, of which 1 276 000 ha temporary crops and 75 000 ha permanent (Table 1). In 1995 and 2000 the cultivated area was an estimated 1 326 000 ha and 1 423 000 ha respectively.


The climate is continental with hot summers and cold winters, during which frost occurs throughout the country. There is a frost-free period of 185 days per year in the Chu valley, 120–140 days per year in the Naryn valley and 240 days per year in the Fergana valley. Double cropping is therefore limited to a few vegetables. Average temperatures in the valleys vary from minus18 °C in January to 28 °C in July. Absolute temperatures vary from minus 54 °C in winter to 43 °C in summer. Average annual precipitation is an estimated 533 mm, varying from 150 mm on the plains (Fergana valley) to over 1 000 mm in the mountains. Precipitation occurs during the winter, mainly between October and April, when temperatures are low. Rainfed agriculture is therefore limited. Snowfall forms an important part of total precipitation. About 10 percent of the territory, at the lowest altitude, is classed as arid.


The total population is about 5.4 million (2011), of which around 65 percent is rural (Table 1). The annual demographic growth rate was an estimated 0.8 percent during the period 2001–2011. Population density is 27 inhabitants/km2. Average population density varies from six inhabitants/km2 in the eastern mountainous zone to about 70 inhabitants/km2 in the north.

In 2010, 90 percent of the total population had access to improved water sources (99 and 85 percent in urban and rural areas respectively) and 93 percent had access to improved sanitation (94 and 93 percent in urban and rural areas respectively).

Economy, agriculture and food security

In 2010, the gross domestic product (GDP) was US$4 616 million and agriculture accounted for 21 percent of GDP, while in 2000 it accounted for 37 percent. In 2011, the total economically active population was 2.49 million or just over 46 percent of the total population. The population economically active in agriculture is an estimated 507 000, or 20 percent of the total economically active population, while in 1996 it accounted for 30 percent. Of the total population economically active in agriculture 29 percent are female.

Agriculture is a significant part of the Kyrgyzstan’s economy. There are 301 935 farms, grouped into six different categories (Table 2).

For most food products, actual consumption is far more than that produced. If no immediate measures are taken the gap between actual production and consumption may increase substantially.

Water resources

Water resources are formed by perennial and ephemeral rivers, brooks and springs, freshwater and brackish lakes, including the world’s second largest high-mountain lake Issyk-Kul.

Kyrgyzstan may be divided into two hydrological zones: (i) the flow generation zone (mountains), covering 171 800 km2, or 87 percent of the territory, (ii) the flow dissipation zone of 26 700 km2, which is 13 percent of the territory. Most rivers are fed by glaciers and/or snow melt. Peak flows occur from April to July, with 80–90 percent of the flow in about 120–180 days extending into August or September.

There are six main river basin groups (Table 3). No rivers flow into Kyrgyzstan. The river basins, listing the largest first and progressing to the smallest area are:

  • Syr Darya river basin covers 55.3 percent of the country: In Kyrgyzstan the river is called the Naryn river before it reaches the Fergana valley. It then flows into Uzbekistan as the Syr Darya river, then into Tajikistan and then again into Uzbekistan where it receives the Chatkal river, a tributary that also rises in Kyrgyzstan. It then flows towards Kazakhstan.
  • Chu, Talas and Assa river basins, cover 21.1 percent of the country: All three rivers flow to Kazakhstan, where the portion that is not withdrawn is lost in the desert.
  • Southeastern river basins cover 12.9 percent of the country: These are different river basins that drain into the Tarim basin, China. The main rivers are the Aksu (Sary Dzhaz), Aksay (Toshkan) and Kek Suu, and are located at high elevations.
  • Lake Issyk-Kul internal and interior basin, cover 6.5 percent of the country: The lake has low salinity. The estimated flow from all rivers into the Issyk-Kul lake basin that does not evaporate is used for irrigation or municipalities. The lake and the surrounding rivers that drain into the lake are all within Kyrgyzstan.
  • Amu Darya river basin covers 3.9 percent of the country: The Amu Darya river rises mainly in Tajikistan, but receives a contribution from the Kyzyl Suu tributary, which originates in the southwest of Kyrgyzstan.
  • Lake Balkhash basin covers 0.3 percent of the country: The Karkyra river, which rises in Kyrgyzstan is a small tributary of the Ili river and flows to lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan.

The average natural surface water flow is an estimated 46.46 km3/year, all internally produced. The inflow from China from the rivers on the west slope of the Barluke mountain is an estimated 0.558 km3/year. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) allocated a portion of these water resources to the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic, with the rest going to the neighbouring Kazakh, Uzbek and Tajik Soviet Socialist Republics. This rule only referred to water flows within the USSR (36.09 km3/year) and did not concern resources generated in the southeastern basins (5.36 km3/year), since they flow towards China, lake Issyk-Kul basin (4.65 km3/year), which is an endorheic basin located entirely in Kyrgyzstan, and the very limited resources generated in the Balkhash lake basin (0.36 km3/year). This allocation was re-endorsed by the five new states of Central Asia, until the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination can propose a new strategy for water sharing in the Aral Sea basin. Surface water resources allocated to Kyrgyzstan are calculated every year, depending on existing flows. On average, however, surface water represents a volume of 10.22 km3/year out of the total 36.09 km3/year. Adding the 5.36 km3/year of the southeastern basin, the 4.65 km3/year for lake Issyk-Kul basin and the 0.36 km3/year of lake Balkhash basin area, and the inflow of the west slopes of Barluke mountain (0.558 km3/year), gives a total of 21.148 km3/year of actual renewable surface water resources (RSWR) (Table 3).

Annual renewable groundwater resources are an estimated 13.69 km3/year, of which about 11.22 km3/year is common to surface water resources (Table 4). In 1991, the groundwater resources, for which abstraction equipment existed, was an estimated 3.39 km3/year, mainly in the Chu river basin (2.02 km3/year), the Syr Darya river basin (0.73 km3/year) and the lake Issyk-Kul basin (0.52 km3/year).

Total internal renewable water resources are thus equal to 48.93 km3/year (Table 4) and total actual renewable water resources equal to 23.62 km3/year (Table 5), which is equal to actual renewable surface water resources (21.15) plus groundwater resources (13.69) minus the overlap between surface water and groundwater (11.22) (Table 3 and Table 4).

In 2005, produced and treated wastewater accounted for 144 and 142 million m3 respectively.

In 1994, 1 720 million m3/year of agricultural drainage water was collected in the collector-drainage canals, and about 380 million m3/year of municipal and industrial untreated wastewater, for a total of 2 100 million m3/year, of which 30 percent in the Chu river basin and 70 percent in the Syr Darya river basin. Of this total, about 1 800 million m3/year returned to the rivers (300 million m3/year in the Chu river and 1 500 million m3/year in the Syr Darya river), which could be reused by downstream countries. Of the remaining 300 million m3/year, direct use of treated wastewater accounted for 0.14 million m3, while 299.86 million m3/year was directly used for irrigation, after natural desalting treatment (phytomelioration).

Water in most rivers comes from glaciers and snow, and low and unreliable flows are often the rule in August and September, in the latter part of the growing season. Regulation of these flows is required to ensure adequate water supplies are available over the entire cropping period.

In 1995, total dam capacity was an estimated 23 500 million m3. There were nine reservoirs in the Syr Darya river basin with a total capacity of 22 300 million m3, six in the Chu river basin with a total capacity of 600 million m3, and three in the Talas river basin with a total capacity of 600 million m3. The Toktogul dam, with a reservoir capacity of 19 500 million m3, is on the Naryn (Syr Darya) river. This multipurpose dam is used for irrigation, hydropower production, flood protection and regulation. However, because of its location near the border with downstream Uzbekistan, it does not play an important role in the irrigation of areas within Kyrgyzstan. The same applies to the Kirov dam, which has a capacity of 550 million m3 and is located on the Talas river near the border with downstream Kazakhstan. Twelve of the reservoirs are only used for irrigation, each of which has a capacity of more than 10 million m3 (Table 6).

In 1985, gross theoretical hydropower potential was an estimated 162 500 GWh/year, and the economically feasible potential an estimated 55 000 GWh/year. Hydropower installed capacity is about 3 GW, a number of hydropower plants are part of the Naryn-Syr Darya cascade, controlled by the Toktogul dam. Hydropower plays a key role in Kyrgyzstan and is the country’s main source of energy (about 90 percent of electricity generation in 1995), given its limited gas, oil and coal resources. However, hydropower production mainly releases water in winter, while downstream countries need water for the summer cropping season. At the regional level, competition between irrigation and hydropower appears to be a major issue. An agreement was reached with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in 1996. These two countries transfer energy, coal or gas to Kyrgyzstan in the period of power deficit, to compensate Kyrgyzstan for not releasing water for hydropower in winter.

International water issues

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.

The USSR allocated only part of the transboundary surface water flow of 36.09 km3/year internally produced in the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic to the Republic itself, the rest being allocated to the neighbouring states of Kazakh, Uzbek and Tajik Soviet Socialist Republics. This rule did not concern the resources generated in the southeastern basins (5.36 km3/year), since they flow towards China, lake Issyk-Kul basin (4.65 km3/year), which is an endorheic basin located entirely in Kyrgyzstan, and the very limited resources generated in the lake Balkhash basin (0.36 km3/year).

In 1992, with the establishment of The Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC), the newly independent republics decided, with the Agreement of 18 February 1992, to prepare a regional water strategy and continue to respect existing principles until the proposal and adoption of a new ICWC water-sharing agreement. The new agreement was confirmed as the ‘Agreement on joint actions to address the problem of the Aral Sea and socio-economic development of the Aral Sea basin’, which was signed by the Heads of the five states in 1996. The main achievement of the ICWC over the years has been the 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 the IFAS (UNDP, 2004).

The most acute disagreement in the Syr Darya basin relates to the operation of the Toktogul reservoir in Kyrgyzstan, which leads to a conflict of interests between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The two downstream countries are interested in maintaining storage in the Toktogul reservoir for summertime irrigation, whereas winter energy generation from the reservoir is beneficial to Kyrgyzstan (UNDP, 2004).

In 1998, an agreement was reached between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for the use of water and energy resources in the Syr Darya basin.

IFAS is under the authority of the deputy prime ministers of the Central Asian states, but excludes Afghanistan. The organization’s task is to administer the Aral Sea Basin Programme, or more specifically, to prepare a general strategy for water distribution, rational water use, and protection of water resources in the Aral Sea Basin (SIWI, 2010).

In 2000 Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan signed an agreement regarding shared water resources of the Chu and Talas rivers. The parties agreed to share operational and maintenance (O&M) costs regarding transboundary infrastructure in proportion to received water amounts. The agreement is regarded a success and has been described as the ‘way forward’ for Central Asian water politics (SIWI, 2010).

In 2002, the Central Asian and Caucasus countries formed the CACENA Regional Water Partnership under the Global Water Partnership (GWP). Within this framework state departments; local, regional and professional organizations; scientific and research institutes; and the private sector and NGOs cooperate in the establishment of a common understanding concerning the critical issues threatening water security in the region (SIWI, 2010).

The partnership between the European Union Water Initiative (EUWI) and its Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) programme seeks to improve management of water resources in the EECCA region. This partnership was established at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002. A significant component is ‘Integrated water resources management, including transboundary river basin management and regional seas issues’ (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 the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is developing integrated water resources management in the Central Asian States. In cooperation with Germany and other countries of the European Union (EU), UNECE may play a role implementing the EU Strategy for Central Asia in the water and energy sectors (SIWI, 2010).

Tensions exist between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the Fergana valley. The Andijan reservoir, lying in a border area and currently leased to Uzbekistan, increases tensions. Kyrgyzstan claims that it does not receive any compensation for the lease, while Uzbekistan has been reluctant to enter into negotiations (SIWI, 2010).

Water use

In 2006, water withdrawal was an estimated 8 007 million m3, of which about 93 percent was withdrawn by agriculture, 3 percent by municipalities and 4 percent by industry (Table 7 and Figure 1). Primary and secondary surface water and groundwater account for 92.4 percent and 3.8 percent respectively of total water withdrawal. Direct use of irrigation drainage water represents 3.7 percent and direct use of treated wastewater 0.002 percent (Figure 2). In 1994, water withdrawal was an estimated 10 100 million m3. In some basins (Syr Darya, Chu, Talas) there was a fairly severe water shortage, while in others (Amu Darya, Issyk-Kul, southeastern) there was a surplus. About 90 percent of all drinking water supplied by centralized systems is provided by groundwater.

Reduced water withdrawal from 1994 to 2006 may be explained by:

  • reduced canal capacity because of lack of means for cleaning;
  • acute recession in industrial production;
  • insufficient means of peasant farmers who are unable to cultivate their irrigated land;
  • incentive to use irrigation water economically with the introduction of payment for water use;
  • changes in crops from cotton, sugar beet, tobacco, maize, grasses to those having a shorter vegetative period (grain crops).

Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

Irrigation is of key importance to the agricultural sector. Irrigation potential is about 2.25 million ha. Compared with 0.43 million ha in 1943, irrigation covered an estimated 1 077 000 ha in 1994, developed mainly in the Syr Darya river basin (42 percent), the Talas and Chu river basins (41 percent), and around lake Issyk-Kul. In 2005, the area equipped for full control irrigation was an estimated 1 021 400 ha, three-quarters of the cultivated area. Irrigated area was reduced between 1994 and 2005 because most irrigation schemes constructed during the Soviet period, have become rainfed because of the high price of electricity and spare parts for irrigation equipment.

The main irrigation technique is surface irrigation (Table 8 and Figure 3). In 1990, sprinkler irrigation was practised on 141 000 ha and 12 ha of localized irrigation. Because of the lack of spare parts (all equipment was produced in the Russian Federation of the former Soviet Union, and because of the substantial increase in energy costs, sprinkler irrigation decreased during the 1990s. About 37 000 ha were in use in 1994, only 400 ha in 2005.

In 1994, water was mainly supplied from diverted rivers (80 percent). Only 13 percent relied on reservoir water, 6 percent on pumping from rivers and 1 percent on groundwater (Figure 4). The irrigation network comprises 12 835 km of canals, of which 82 percent are earthen, 17 percent concrete and 1 percent are pipes.

Irrigation schemes are subdivided according to their technical characteristics:

  • Engineering irrigation schemes represent 40.2 percent of the area. They have water-inlet structures on rivers, which provide silt protection, are available for flash flood water flow and provide guaranteed off-take from irrigation sources. The canals are lined.
  • Semi-engineering schemes have water-inlet structures, but canals are only partly lined and partly equipped with water distribution structures. The area served by such schemes represents 34.4 percent.
  • Non-engineering schemes have no water-inlet structures; canals are not equipped with water distribution structures and are not lined. The area served by such schemes accounts for 25.4 percent.

In 1990, there were 1 346 irrigation schemes. Large schemes (>5 000 ha), mainly kolkhoz or sovkhoz, represented 60 percent of the irrigated area, medium schemes (1 000–5 000 ha) 21 percent, and small schemes (< 1 000 ha) 19 percent (Figure 5 and Table 8).

The inter-farm irrigation network is generally well maintained, particularly the main canals downstream of the large storage dams. The distribution network within the kolkhoz and sovkhoz is generally poorly designed, built and maintained. Seepage and leakage losses in the distribution system are considerable, resulting in an estimated conveyance/distribution efficiency of 55 percent.

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

In 2005, the harvested irrigated area was 1 021 400 ha. Temporary crops represent 82.3 percent of total harvested irrigated area. Main irrigated crops are wheat (35.3 percent), temporary and permanent fodder (10.7 percent), barley (8.5 percent) and potatoes (7.4 percent) (Table 8 and Figure 6). Permanent meadows and pastures account for 106 900 ha. Although the yields for irrigated land are generally low by world standards, they are about two to five times higher than yields on non-irrigated areas. In 1997, the average yields for wheat, barley and rye were 2.2, 2.2 and 1.9 tonne/ha respectively on irrigated land and 1.1, 0.9 and 1 tonne/ha respectively on rainfed land.

In 1995, the average cost of surface irrigation development was US$5 800/ha, US$8 500/ha and US$11 600/ha for small, medium and large schemes respectively. The respective cost of sprinkler irrigation was US$6 900/ha, 10 400/ha and 14 200/ha. However, these costs varied substantially depending on physiographic conditions. In general, costs were lower in the Chu valley and the Issyk-Kul basin and higher in the Syr Darya valley, which is more mountainous. Rehabilitation costs varied between US$2 400/ha and 5 000/ha.

Status and evolution of drainage systems

It is estimated that 750 000 ha of irrigated land would need drainage. In 2000 only 144 910 ha were equipped for drainage, and 3 000 ha represented un-irrigated cultivated, drained area (Table 8). In 1994 surface and subsurface drainage accounted for 56 and 44 percent respectively. Mainly subsurface drainage was developed on newly reclaimed areas in the north and southwest. With the very restricted budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Process Industry, it is unlikely that the government will be able to maintain, and effectively operate the existing drainage system or to undertake any improvement or extension. For this reason, salinity and drainage problems will most likely worsen.

The inter-farming collector and drainage network is about 646 km, out of which 619 km is surface and 27 km subsurface drainage, and 158 km is in unsatisfactory condition. The on-farm drainage network is about 4 893 km, which is managed by rural local governance, water user associations, peasant farms and others. About 1 936 km is in unsatisfactory condition, of which 1 112 km is surface and 824 km is subsurface drainage (Table 9).

In 2005, land reclamation was carried out to improve conditions on irrigated land, with the financial support of the Water Resources Department, the state register and regional budgets. This resulted in the cleaning of 127 km surface drainage and the washing out of 39 km of subsurface drainage networks. Furthermore, 55 hydraulic engineering constructions, 133 hydro stations, 920 observation wells and five vertical drainage systems were repaired, and 3.3 km of surface drainage network was cut along collectors to address flash flooding.

Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The following institutions are responsible for water resources management:

The National Parliament, Jogorku Kenesh, is responsible for: water regulation legislation, exercising state ownership rights for water resources, developing the water code and water-protection legislation, developing a state policy on the use and protection of the water fund, legislative regulation of paid water use, international contracts and agreements for water problems.

The government is responsible for: state water-economic programmes and their investment, coordination of activities between institutions and scientific-research, adoption of basic rates of payments for water use, regulation of water use and water protection, external affairs concerning water relations and water pollution.

Until 2010, the basic water management functions were concentrated in three administrative bodies: the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Process Industry (MAWR&PI), the Emergency Ministry (EM) and the Agency for Geology and Mineral Resources.

MAWR&PI was the central state body for water management with the following functions: regulation of the use of the water fund; management of state-owned hydro-economic capital assets; meeting the water requirements of the population and agricultural producers; development of irrigation infrastructure; conducting state accounting of water use; administrating the state water cadastre on water use section and control of state water use. The national-level Water Resources Department (WRD) of MAWR&PI was the basic state executing body for management of water resources for irrigation. Each oblast has a basin water resources department (BWRD); each rayon (second order administrative division) has a rayon water resources department (RWRD). In 2010, the State Committee on Water and Land Reclamation was established and entrusted with water resources management, state irrigation and land reclamation.

The Emergency Ministry is responsible for prevention of accidents and natural disasters; management of water protection; legislation of environmental protection, including water fund protection; control of sewerage disposal in water bodies, sewage treatment norms and sewage use; state water cadastre on ‘surface waters’ and ‘water quality’ sections; and monitoring of surface water bodies.

The Agency for Geology and Mineral Resources carries out the following functions: state accounting of groundwater storage; monitoring of groundwater deposits; licenses for groundwater use and the protection of groundwater.

Oblasts and rayon water resources departments are the lowest-level territorial government agencies for water management implemented by WRD. They carry out the state policy for O&M of water bodies, and regulate distribution and use of water resources, water supply to agricultural water users, water use control.

The State Water Inspection, established in 1999, is responsible for monitoring the use of water bodies, water facilities and irrigation infrastructure. It supervises the observance of legislative and statutory acts on the use of the state water fund; prevents infringement of use of water resources; conducts the state inventory on use of water resources; and promotes the rational use of irrigation water and irrigated land to prevent desertification, soil erosion, salinization and waterlogging.

Local state administration bodies (municipal bodies) participate in the management of the water fund. They are responsible for protection of the rights of water users and the allotment of land for the water fund.

Water management

Kyrgyzstan has sufficient quantities of water of excellent quality for municipal and industrial use for the foreseeable future. Because of commitments to downstream countries, water availability may become a constraint to expanding irrigation, extending land reclamation, and improving the productivity of irrigated areas, unless water use efficiency is significantly improved, and a major effort made to conserve water.

Currently, a multistage branch management system for water resources is used in Kyrgyzstan, meaning that functions and responsibilities are distributed between the various ministries and departments. These are the National Parliament, the Government, MAWR&PI (with the specialized WRD), EM, the Agency of Geology and Mineral Resources, other water use ministries and departments, local governance bodies, unions and water user associations (WUA).

The WUAs carry out the following functions with voluntary cooperation:

  • operation of irrigation, water supply and drainage networks, waste network and ponds, reservoirs, pumping stations, sprinkler machines, water-outlets and other hydraulic engineering constructions and devices;
  • water distribution among WUA members according to license conditions;
  • construction, modernization, repair, cleaning and other actions to support the proper condition for WUAs’ irrigation network and its development;
  • prevention of water pollution;
  • organization to improve the professional skills of members for irrigated agriculture.

The following projects are being completed, or have already been completed, to improve the quality of water supply and water distribution:

  • Irrigation schemes rehabilitation project (World Bank credit), 1998–2006: 31 water-economy entities have been rehabilitated, including 27 linear irrigation schemes and four reservoirs have been constructed. Rehabilitation covers an irrigation area of 120 400 ha. The total project cost: US$43.8 million.
  • Water management improvement project, started in 2006, assisted rehabilitation of 20 irrigation schemes with 84 000 ha abolished irrigated land. Total project cost: US$28 million.

The following investment projects have been prepared:

  • Irrigation scheme rehabilitation project, Phase II, 2007–2012: Primary activity is restoration of design parameters, modernization of inter-economic irrigation schemes and dam safety on an irrigated area of about 106 222 ha. Estimated cost US$46 million. An additional US$3 million is reserved for organizational aspects.
  • New land development project, Phase I, 2007–2010: Primary activity is the restoration of design parameters, modernization of inter-economic irrigation schemes and dam safety on an irrigated area of about 28 000 ha. Estimated cost US$55 million.

In 2007 the MAWR&PI published the Agricultural Development Strategy in collaboration with numerous government agencies, donors, private sector organizations and civil society representatives. The three-year process was facilitated and funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at a cost of US$600 000. Since there is limited scope for expansion of the agricultural area, the principal source of growth must be through increasing agricultural productivity. The strategy focuses on ensuring continuous flows of knowledge and innovations to private production entities and government administration agencies.

In 2010, a new Agricultural Development Strategy (2011–2020) was formulated by the new government, which requested assistance from FAO to support the strategy. Eight priority sectors were selected: public sector services; agro-processing and marketing; land market development; water resources management; training, research and development; trade and tax policy; rural credit and rural development. The anticipated impact of the strategy will be to reduce rural poverty and food insecurity through providing a more stable agricultural policy.


The WRD and BWRDs are financed by the state budget through MAWR&PI. The RWRDs are financed from the state budget and water users funds received for water delivery services. Agreements have been concluded between the RWRDs and each water user in the rayon concerning water delivery services. Bills for payment are delivered monthly. The government authorizes the text of the contract. Payment rates for water delivery are established by Parliament. Approximately 50 percent of actual expenditure for O&M is covered by the state budget and 50 percent by payment for water delivery service.

Water use is chargeable according to the ‘Water Act’ currently in force in Kyrgyzstan. The payment is collected from all water users irrespective of the department they belong, their citizenship, kinds and patterns of ownership, except for cases established by special legislation of Kyrgyzstan (public health services, recreation, sports, rest, etc.). The order, conditions and amount paid for use of water bodies and water resources vary for different users and are determined by specific legislation. However, these amounts are still largely inadequate to cover actual O&M needs.

In 1997, the annual O&M cost of full cost recovery was an estimated US$350/ha, but the actual operational costs did not exceed US$60/ha in the four years prior to 1997. In the past, farmers were not charged for water, although the land tax was two or three times higher on irrigated land than on non-irrigated land of similar quality. In 1992–1993, a water fee was imposed on the kolkhoz and sovkhoz.

In 1995, MAWR&PI proposed a water charge equivalent to US$0.6/1 000 m3, to cover O&M costs. Parliament approved the equivalent of US$0.1/1 000 m3, this amount was divided by three for supplementary irrigation during autumn and winter. In 1995, only 29 percent of the charges due were collected.

Policies and legislation

In 2005, the Water Code was based on the concept of integrated water resources management (IWRM). The Code covers the fundamental principles of recognition of the economic value of water resources, consolidation of controlling functions over water resources within the framework of a newly established specific state authority, organization of water resources management based on hydrographic (basin) and the participation of water users in planning and management. The Water Code promotes transparent legal relations between state authorities for the management of irrigation infrastructure and the newly established and growing group of cooperative users of irrigation water (UNDP, 2010).

Environment and health

Water quality in rivers is good. Rivers are fed by glacial melt, which has a low salt concentration (0.04–0.15 g/litre) and low pollution level. Observations in all basins show a low concentration of nitrates, organic matter and nutrients (less then 1 mg/litre). There are cases of wastewater pollution; the reasons are:

  • incorrect storage and use of fertilizers, chemicals, industrial waste;
  • non-observance of the sanitary code;
  • improper technical conditions for sewerage systems, ineffective cleaning of agriculture, cattle-breeding and industrial effluent.

About 90 percent of all drinking water supplied by centralized systems is groundwater, which mostly meets standards for drinking water quality.

Nuclear tailing dump is a very serious problem in Kyrgyzstan not fully solved yet and threatening the whole region.

In 2005, irrigation caused salinization of an estimated 49 503 ha. In 1994, about 60 000 ha were considered saline by Central Asia standards (toxic ions exceeded 0.5 percent of total soil weight). In addition there were 60 000 ha, divided into 34 200 ha moderately saline and 25 800 ha highly saline, a further 63 400 ha were slightly saline. In the Chu river basin, about 15 percent of the irrigated area is considered saline, while this figure falls to 5 percent in the Syr Darya river basin. In 2005, irrigation caused waterlogging on 35 399 ha.

In 2006, according to the Land Reclamation Cadastre 85 percent of the total irrigated area is in good condition, 6 percent in satisfactory condition and 9 percent in unsatisfactory condition. Unsatisfactory condition is caused by high groundwater level (37 percent), soil salinity (52 percent) and a combination of the two (11 percent). Poorly functioning vertical drainage systems have caused land deterioration on reclaimed land.

Harvest losses are as follows: 13–17 percent on low saline land, 32–37 percent on medium saline land and 60–64 percent on highly saline land. On average, around 27 percent of harvest is lost on saline land and up to 38 percent on land where the groundwater level is high.

Land is removed from agricultural rotation also because of the high level of soil pollution, caused by toxic waste from the mineral resource industry. Mercury, antimony, mining and smelting industries pollute the surrounding territories with heavy metals. The pollution level from heavy metals near mining and smelting enterprises exceeds by 3 to 10 times the maximum permissible concentration. High-level pollution may be controlled in the largest plants, along traffic lines and near waste disposal.

In 2005, 122 800 inhabitants were affected by water-related diseases.

Prospects for agricultural water management

Extension of irrigation land could be implemented on dry land, pastures and hayfields. This refers to about 1 200 000 ha, including 632 000 ha of land in good condition; 517 000 ha where a drainage system could be constructed; 28 000 ha requiring leaching; 1 168 000 ha needing investment; 208 000 ha where gypsum needs to be applied; 519 000 ha requiring stone collection; 1 173 000 ha requiring erosion prevention measures, 50 000 ha needing terracing. Development cost per hectare: US$2 630–US$26 320.

Assuming a 1 percent annual population growth rate, population will be 5 6 million in 2015 and 6 million in 2025. Feeding a larger population can be achieved by increasing the arable land area or by intensifying crop production and yield, or a combination of the above. Basic measures to increase food production are:

  • increasing productivity of available agricultural land by taking the necessary steps to increase land and crop productivity;
  • training agriculturists and introducing agricultural techniques: soil tillage, crop selection, crop rotation and fertilizers, and techniques for land reclamation including irrigation, drainage, leaching;
  • evaluating current use of agricultural land to ensure productive use;
  • preventing status change from agricultural land to industrial or other construction;
  • adopting appropriate measures to develop additional land and water resources.

Main sources of information

Academy of Science of the Kyrgyz Republic. 1987. Atlas of the Kyrgyz Republic. Bishkek.

Agriculture in the Kyrgyz Republic. 2004. Monthly magazine No. 9. Bishkek. 79 p. (Russian)

AGRO-press. 2007. Special edition of Magazine AGRO-press. November 2007. p. 30.

FAO. 2011. Development of an agricultural development strategy in Kyrgyzstan for 2011-2020. Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. 2006. Agriculture of the Kyrgyz Republic 2003–2005. Annual publication. Bishkek. 78 pp. (Russian)

National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. 2006. Information bulletin of the Kyrgyz Republic of food safety and poverty for nine months. Bishkek. 2006, 48 pp. (Russian)

National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. 2006. Kyrgyzstan in figures. Statistical compilation. Bishkek. 78 pp. (Russian)

National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. 2007. Social and economic development of Chu oblast. Annual publication. Bishkek. 154 pp. (Russian)

National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. 2007. Social and economic status of the Kyrgyz Republic. January–December 2007. Monthly publications. Bishkek. 251 pp. (Russian)

National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. 2006. Social trend of the Kyrgyz Republic. Statistical compilation. Bishkek. 78 p. (Russian)

Oregon State University. 2001. Atlas of International Freshwater Agreements, Oregon, USA.

UNDP. 2004. Water resources of Kazakhstan in the new millennium. New York, United Nations Development Programme.

UNDP. 2010. Final report on support to IWRM and investment strategies, plans and financial policies in Kyrgyzstan. New York, United Nations Development Programme.

Water resources department of the Kyrgyz Republic. 2005. General Report on land-reclamation on 1 September 2005. Bishkek. 34 p. (Russian)

Water resources department of the Kyrgyz Republic. 2006. Water, Land, People. Monthly magazine of the Veteran-irrigators’ Council. No. 47, 48, 49. Bishkek. 16 p. (Russian)

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