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International water issues

Water resources in Turkmenistan are almost fully formed from transboundary watercourses such as the Amu Darya, Murghab, Tedzhen, Atrek rivers and small rivers.

During the period Soviet era, water sharing among the five Central Asian republics was based on master plans for water resources development in the Amu Darya (1987) and Syr Darya (1984) basins.

After the country’s independence, Turkmenistan confirmed its obligations to agreements concerning transboundary rivers and water. These obligations are set out in the following (Berdiyev, 2005):

  • Agreement of 20 February 1926 between the USSR and Persia about the joint use of rivers and water along the borderline from the river Geri-Rud (Tedjen) to the Caspian Sea;
  • Protocol (paragraph 11) to Agreement of 2 December 1954 between the USSR and Iran about settlement of borderline and financial issues;
  • Treaty of 15 May 1957 between the USSR and Shahinshah Government of Iran about the Soviet-Iranian boundary and procedures to address borderline conflicts and case adjustment;
  • Soviet-Iranian Agreement of 11 August 1957 on the Araks (with the Caucasus countries) and Atrek rivers;
  • Agreement of 5 March 1958 between the USSR and Shahinshah Government of Iran on the preparation of draft projects on the equitable use of the Araks (with the Caucasus countries) and Atrek rivers for irrigation and power generation.

In 1992, with establishment of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC), the newly independent republics prepared a regional water strategy covered by the Agreement of 18 February 1992. It was decided,that existing principles be respected until a new water sharing strategy could be adopted. This new ‘Agreement on joint actions to address the problem of the Aral Sea and socio-economic development of the Aral Sea basin’, was signed by the Heads of the five states in 1996. Over the years, the ICWC has achieved 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 came into being: 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).

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan signed agreements on the principles of basic water allocation, which have proved viable. Both countries have gained experience in the joint management of the Amu Darya river. ICWC played and still plays a positive role in this respect. All the above led to the conclusion of a permanent agreement in 1996 between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on cooperation on water management issues. This agreement is based on the principles that the parties:

  • recognize the need for joint use of interstate rivers and other water sources;
  • reject application of economic and other means of pressure when solving water issues;
  • acknowledge the interdependence of water problems and the responsibility for rational water use;
  • focus on increased water inflow to the Aral Sea;
  • understand the need to respect mutual interests and settle water-related issues by consensus.

The above-mentioned agreement was signed in Turkmenabad on 15 January 1996 and established:

  • land used by Uzbekistan and located within the borders of Turkmenistan is the sole property of Turkmenistan;
  • waterworks and water management organizations on the Karshi and Amu-Bukhara canals and Tuyamuin reservoir, located in Turkmenistan, are the property of Uzbekistan;
  • land for the Karshi and Amu-Bukhara canals and for the Tuyamuin hydro-unit are placed at the disposal of Uzbekistan on a chargeable basis;
  • countries will make all necessary attempts to provide normal operation of interstate waterworks located within their territories;
  • companies and organizations, including those dealing with interstate waterworks operation located on the territory of the other Party, act in accordance with international rules and the laws of that country;
  • the flow of the Amu Darya river at Kerki gauging station is divided into equal shares (50/50);
  • countries should allocate a portion of their shares to the Aral Sea;
  • countries should stop disposal of drainage water to the Amu Darya river, independent of the quality of the drainage water;
  • countries jointly implement measures on the reclamation of land, reconstruction and operation of interstate collectors and irrigation systems and construction of water disposal canals;
  • countries will prevent channel deformations and flooding of adjacent areas, caused by operation of the Amu-Bukhara, Karshi, Sovetyab, Dashoguz, Tashsaka, Kylychbay and Shabat-Gazavat water systems;
  • countries will make necessary attempts to prevent flooding of land located along the Daryalyk and Ozerny collectors crossing Turkmenistan, and will bear the costs of reconstruction of the collectors and their operation in proportion to drainage flow;
  • reduce limits to water withdrawal during the driest years as defined by the ICWC, which includes ministries of water economies of all five Central Asian countries.

In a meeting in 2004, the presidents of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan reiterated the importance of observing mutual understanding concerning all questions related to water allocation from the Amu Darya river.

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. The partnership was established between EUWI and EECCA countries at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002. A significant component is the ‘Integrated water resources management, including transboundary river basin management and regional seas issues’ (SIWI, 2010).

In 2002, Central Asian countries and the Caucasus, formed the CACENA Regional Water Partnership 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).

The Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkmenistan are planning to set up a joint water consortium (SIWI, 2010).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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