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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).


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