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'Irrigation in Central Asia in figures: AQUASTAT Survey - 2012'
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Version 2013

General summary Central Asia region

The six countries forming the Central Asia region were determined by the regional distribution given in FAO's Water Report 23 "Review of world water resources by country" (2003). In that report the world was divided into ten large regions as shown in Figure 1. The six countries are Afghanistan and five countries that were part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) before their independence in 1991: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

In the previous survey on the countries of the Former Soviet Union (1997), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were grouped into the Central Asia subregion. The present survey includes Afghanistan in the Central Asia region because of the important shared water resources in the Amu Darya and the Tedzhen-Murghab basins. In the previous survey Afghanistan was included in the publication on the Near East region (1997).

This regional overview presents distinguishing features arising from the new data collected on a national scale for issues addressed in the six country profiles and one transboundary river basin profile, the Aral Sea basin profile. The interest of this new survey lies in the updating of data and in the trends during the last ten years.

Country profile:
River Basin profile:

NOTE: The Indus river basin profile has been added in the dropdown menu above, since Afghanistan is also part of that river basin, which is shared with China, India and Pakistan. The Indus river basin profile is included in the Southern and Eastern Asia publication.

arrow Presentation of the study
arrow Geography, climate and population
arrow Economy, agriculture and food security
arrow Water resources
arrow Water withdrawal
arrow Irrigation
arrow Trends
arrow Legislative and institutional framework for water management
arrow Environment and health
arrow Prospects for agricultural water management
arrow Tables
arrow Regional figures
arrow Main sources of information


To the two objectives of the previous publications (FAO, 1997a and b) a third has been added in this new survey of Central Asia:

  • to provide for every country the most accurate status of rural water resources management, with a special focus on irrigation, by featuring major characteristics, trends, constraints and prospective changes in irrigation and in water resources
  • to support regional analyses by providing systematic, up-to-date and reliable information on the status of water resources and of agricultural water management that can serve as a tool for regional planning and predictive studies
  • to prepare a series of chronological data in order to highlight the major changes that have occurred in the last decade on national and regional scales

To obtain the most reliable information possible, the survey is organized as follows:

  1. Review of literature and existing information at country and sub-country level
  2. Collection of information by country using a detailed questionnaire filled in by national experts, international consultants, or the AQUASTAT team at FAO
  3. Compilation and critical analysis of the information collected using data-processing software developed for this survey, and selection of the most reliable information
  4. Preparation of country profiles and submission to national authorities responsible for water resources or water management for verification, correction and approval
  5. Preparation of the final profile, the tables and the figures presenting the information by country
  6. Updating of the online database
  7. Preparation of the general regional analysis, the figures and the regional tables

Where possible, AQUASTAT has made use of national capacity and competence. While collecting the information by country, preference was given to national experts as they have a better knowledge of their own country and easier access to national or so-called ‘grey’ documents, which are not available outside the country. The choice of the countries for which a national consultant was recruited depended on several factors, namely: the importance of irrigation in the country; the availability of an expert; the scarcity of data observed during the previous survey; and the funds available. For five of the six countries of Central Asia (all but Afghanistan), a national consultant assisted the AQUASTAT team.

Country and river basin profiles

Country profiles

The country profiles have been prepared in English and in Russian, which are the FAO official languages in the countries of the Central Asia region. They describe the state of water resources and water use in the respective countries, as well as the state of agricultural water management. The aim of the present publication is to describe the particularities of each country and the problems met in the development of the water resources and, in particular, irrigation. Irrigation trends in the country and the prospects for water management in agriculture as described in the literature are summarized. The country profiles have been standardized and organized into the following sections:

  • Geography, climate and population
  • Economy, agriculture and food security
  • Water resources and water use
  • Irrigation and drainage development
  • Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture
  • Environment and health
  • Prospects for agricultural water management
  • References and additional information

Standardized tables are used for each country. A hyphen (-) indicates that no information is available. As most information is available only for a limited number of years, the tables present the most recent reliable information and indicate the year to which it refers. In the online AQUASTAT country database, however, all available information is accessible.

The information in the country profiles is much more detailed than that in the previous AQUASTAT survey of the region. In order to establish a more complete picture of the agricultural water sector in each country, it addresses issues related to water and to irrigation that were not previously included. Some issues have been added in response to user demand.

River basin profile

In addition to the country profiles, a profile has been prepared of one transboundary river basin in the region: the Aral Sea river basin. The major aims are to describe transboundary water issues and to provide a chronology of major events in the basin. The sections in the river basin profile are organized as follows:

  • Geography, population and climate
  • Water resources
  • Water-related developments in the basin
  • Environment, water quality and health
  • Transboundary water issues

Data collection, processing and reliability

The main sources of information were:

  • National policies, and water resources and irrigation master plans
  • National reports, yearbooks and statistics
  • Reports from FAO and other projects
  • International surveys
  • Results and publications from national and international research centres and universities
  • The Internet

Furthermore, the following sources systematically provide certain data:

  • FAOSTAT. This is the only source used for variables of area (total, arable land and permanent crops) and population (total, rural, urban, female, male, and economically active). FAOSTAT data on areas are provided every year by the countries through the FAO representations. As far as population is concerned, it should be noted that the original source for total, urban and rural population data is the United Nations Population Division, while the original source for data related to economically active population is the International Labour Organization, as indicated on the FAOSTAT website.
  • World Development Indicators. This is the World Bank’s premier annual compilation of data on development. This source provides the data on gross domestic product (GDP) and value added in agriculture.
  • The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for water supply and sanitation. This is a joint programme of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which provides access to data on improved water sources.
  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This provides the data on the Human Development Index (HDI).

In total, more than 50 variables have been selected and these are presented in the national tables attached to the respective country profiles. They are standardized and ordered in categories corresponding to the various sections of the profile: characteristics of the country and population; water: resources and use; and irrigation and drainage. See the online glossary for the definitions of the variables. Additional tables have been added to the country profiles where information is available, especially in order to specify regional or river basin data.

In most cases, a critical analysis of the information is required in order to ensure the general coherence of information collected for a given country. Where several sources result in divergent or contradictory information, preference is given to information collected at national or sub-national level rather than at regional or world level. Moreover, except in the case of evident errors, official sources are privileged. As regards shared water resources, the comparison of information between countries has made it possible to verify and complete the data concerning the flows of transboundary rivers and to ensure coherence at a river basin level. This information has been added more in detail in the country water resources sheets, which can be accessed from the water resources page.

In spite of these precautions, the accuracy, reliability and frequency with which information is collected vary considerably according to the region, the country and the category of information. These considerations are discussed in the profiles.

The trend tables show the period 1999–2009 as the period between the two surveys for Central Asia as a whole. The AQUASTAT team justifies this choice by virtue of the slow evolution of data for different years for each country. However, the country data show the exact year of the value.


The total area of Central Asia is 4.66 million km2, or 3 percent of the world’s emerged landmass (Table 1 and Table 25). Out of the six countries in the region, Kazakhstan represents 59 percent, and together Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan occupy 34 percent of the region’s total area. The two smallest countries – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – together comprise barely 7 percent (Figure 2). The region is bordered to the north by the Russian Federation, to the east by China, to the south by Pakistan and to the west by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Caspian Sea and the Russian Federation. In 2009, the cultivated area was an estimated 40 million ha, which is 9 percent of the total area (Table 1). In Afghanistan 12 percent of the total area of the country is cultivated, falling to just over 4 percent in Turkmenistan.

Geologically the region is extremely varied. There are the Tien Shan and Pamir mountain ranges in the east. In Tajikistan, the highest mountain, Communism Peak, rises to 7 495 m above sea level (asl) in the northern Pamir range. Much of the mountainous region is permanently covered with ice and snow and there are many glaciers. Mountain ranges in the south include the earthquake prone Kopetdag range. In the northeast lies the second largest crater-lake in the world, the Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan.

The main agricultural area, the Fergana valley, lies on the border between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In the southwest lies the Kara Kum or Black Sand desert, one of the largest sand deserts in the world, covering over 80 percent of Turkmenistan. Another large desert, the Kyzyl-Kum or Red Sand desert, extends over Kazakhstan and the north of Uzbekistan. The west of the region is dominated by the depression of the Caspian Sea. The Aral Sea, in the central western part, lies on the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This area is known as one of the world’s most serious environmental disasters.

Central Asia is landlocked within the Eurasian continent, which determines its continental climate. Large daily and seasonal temperature differences are characteristic of the region, with high solar radiation and relatively low humidity. Various types of terrain and altitude range from 0 to 7 500 m asl, lead to diversified microclimates. Although this area is often struck by humid winds, the mountains trap most of the moisture, and little rain falls in the Aral Sea basin (CAWaterInfo, 2011).

The average temperatures range from 0–4 ºC in January to 28–32 ºC in July. Summers in some areas, such as Kara Kum in Turkmenistan, can be as hot as 52 ºC and winters can be as cold as minus 16 ºC, with an absolute of minus 38 ºC, making for a sharply contrasting overall climate, (Murray-Rust et al., 2003).

Average annual precipitation is an estimated 273 mm, varying, from 161 mm in Turkmenistan to 691 mm in Tajikistan; from less than 70 mm on the plains and deserts to 2 400 mm in the mountains of central Tajikistan (Figure 3). Annual precipitation in the lowlands and valleys is between 80 and 200 mm, concentrated in winter and spring, while in the foothills precipitation ranges between 300 and 400 mm, and on the southern and southwestern sides of the mountain ranges it is between 600 and 800 mm (CAWaterInfo, 2011).

Because summer air humidity differs dramatically between the ancient oases and newly irrigated areas, 50–60 percent and 20–30 percent respectively. Water demands in former desert areas that are now being irrigated, are significantly greater than for the oases. Other factors that particularly affect agricultural production are unstable spring temperatures and precipitation. Late frosts may occur at the beginning of May and hail may fall in June, which sometimes destroys emerging cotton plants and vegetables over large areas (CAWaterInfo, 2011).

In 2011, the total population was an estimated 94 million inhabitants, representing 1.3 percent of the world’s population (Table 2 and Table 25). Afghanistan and Uzbekistan are the most, and second most, populous countries in the region respectively, together they account for about 64 percent of the population in Central Asia. Average population density is 20 inhabitants/km2, compared to 52 inhabitants/km2 for the world as a whole and 178 inhabitants/km2 for Southern and Eastern Asia, ranging from six inhabitants/km2 in Kazakhstan to 61 inhabitants/km2 in Uzbekistan (Figure 4). The annual demographic growth rate was an estimated 1.8 percent for the period 2010–2011, compared to 1.1 percent globally. During the period 2001–2011, annual population growth ranged from 0.8 percent in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to 3.2 percent in Afghanistan, with a regional average annual growth of 1.8 percent.

The population of Central Asia is predominantly rural: about 65 percent, compared to 49 percent for the world as a whole (Table 2 and Table 25). The rural population varies from more than 77 percent in Afghanistan and 74 percent in Tajikistan to 41 percent in Kazakhstan. The percentage of the economically active population engaged in agriculture, at about 30 percent, is low compared to 39 percent for the world. This percentage varies from 59 percent in Afghanistan to 14 percent in Kazakhstan.

In 2010, around 74 percent of the total population of Central Asia, 94 percent of the urban and 64 percent of the rural had access to improved drinking water sources (Table 3).


Since the second half of the 1990s, Central Asia has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing regions showing notable development potential. This is significant for a region comprised largely of small landlocked economies with no access to the sea for trade. Among the advantages of the region are its high-priced commodities (oil, gas, cotton and gold), reasonable infrastructure and human capital, and its strategic location between Asia and Europe. Furthermore, several Central Asian countries have embarked on market-oriented economic reforms to boost economic performance and private sector competitiveness (Dowling and Wignaraja, 2006).

The sum of national Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) in 2010 amounted to US$235 541 million, which is 0.4 percent of world GDP. This corresponds to a GDP of about US$2 556/inhabitant, ranging from US$549/inhabitant in Afghanistan to US$9 301/inhabitant in Kazakhstan. Based on the Human Development Index (HDI) – where 1 = highest and 0 = lowest – in 2011 out of a total of 187 countries Kazakhstan holds the highest place among the Central Asia countries at 68 (0.745), Turkmenistan follows at 102 (0.686), Uzbekistan 115 (0.641), Kyrgyzstan 126 (0.615), Tajikistan 127 (0.607) and Afghanistan 172 (0.398) (Table 2).

In 2010, the added value of the primary sector (agriculture) contributed 10.4 percent to the GDP of the Central Asia region. This ranged from 5 percent in Kazakhstan to 30 percent in Afghanistan. An average of around 30 percent of the economically active population is engaged in the farming sector, ranging from 14 percent in Kazakhstan to 60 percent in Afghanistan (Table 2).

The cultivated area per person economically active in agriculture varies from a low 1.1, 1.3 and 1.7 ha/person in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan respectively, 2.7 ha/person in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan to almost 20 ha/person in Kazakhstan, giving an average for the region of 3.3 ha/person (Table 1).

Central Asia is rich in natural resources. Water is the most precious resource and its use is the most conflict-prone. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, large quantities of water are stored in the mountain glaciers. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have huge oil and gas deposits. At the same time, almost half the population in these countries lives in poverty and lacks access to sufficient natural resources to sustain livelihoods, while the countries’ wealth is unevenly distributed (Perelet, 2007).

Pre-independence water allocation and irrigation system infrastructure were well maintained and operated with massive funding from the central government of the Former Soviet Union. Since independence, the situation has changed dramatically in the Central Asia countries politically, institutionally and technically. Political transition from a planned to a market economy has introduced ‘new’ concepts such as land tenure, water rights and different kinds of ownership. The institutional changes are described as a transition from former state collective farms – kholkhoz and sovkhoz – to smaller private farms. Many farmers, however, do not have the capacity or the resources to afford the energy required for pumping water and to irrigate land on an individual basis (Rakhmatullaev et al., 2009).

Cereals (mainly wheat), cotton, fodder and pastures are the most important irrigated crops in the region.


Renewable water resources (primary freshwater)

This survey distinguishes between internal renewable water resources (IRWR) and total renewable water resources (TRWR). IRWR is that part of a country’s water resources generated by endogenous precipitation (produced in the country). Calculation of IRWR involves adding surface water flow and groundwater recharge and subtracting the overlap. TRWR is calculated by adding IRWR and external flow. This is a measure of the maximum theoretical amount of water available to a country without considering its technical, economic or environmental nature.

The methodology used in the survey also differentiates between natural and actual external flow: natural flow is the average annual amount of water that would flow at a given point in a river without any human influence, while actual flow takes into account volumes of water reserved by treaties or agreements.

Particular attention should be given to specific issues related to the calculation of water resources in Central Asian countries. In arid areas, the complex interrelation between surface water and groundwater makes it difficult to assess the overlap. In cases of extreme complexity, groundwater resources in one country may be infiltration from runoff generated in an upstream country, making it difficult to distinguish between internal and external water resources. Often, exchanges between countries are further complicated because rivers cross the same border several times. Part of the incoming water flow may originate in the same country that the river enters, making it necessary to calculate a ‘net’ inflow to avoid double counting of the resources.

Generally, because of the significant water withdrawals over many years, assessment of natural surface water runoff in these areas is more difficult because of the absence of a chronological series of natural flow measurements. Indeed, most of the available flow data relate to the measurement of actual runoff rather than natural flow. In addition, most figures quoted in reports correspond to the agreements covering shared water resources.

The volume of annual precipitation in Central Asia is an estimated 1 270 km3. This volume is equal to a regional average depth of 273 mm/year, compared to a global average of 812 mm/year, but with significant disparities between and within countries. Average annual precipitation varies from less than 70 mm in the plains and deserts to more than 2 400 mm in the mountains of Central Tajikistan (Figure 3). At country-level, the driest country is Turkmenistan with 161 mm/year on average, and the wettest is Tajikistan with 691 mm/year (Table 4).

Long-term average annual IRWR in Central Asia account for 242 km3, which represent 0.6 percent of the world’s total (Table 4 and Table 25). In absolute terms Kazakhstan accounts for the largest amount of IRWR, 64 km3/year or 27 percent of the region’s water resources. This refers to 59 percent of the region’s total area, thus giving a depth of only 24 mm. Tajikistan follows with 63 km3, or 26 percent of the region’s water resources, which contrary to Kazakhstan is an important value, taking into account that the country represents only 3 percent of the total area of the region, resulting in the greatest depth of 445 mm.

Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan account for 49 km3 and 47 km3 respectively, each represent 20 percent of water resources in the region. Kyrgyzstan accounts for only 4 percent of theregion’s total area, giving a depth of 245 mm, while Afghanistan accounts for 14 percent of the total area, giving a depth of 72 mm. Uzbekistan with 16 km3/year accounts for 7 percent of the region’s water resources, while its area covers 10 percent of the region, giving a depth of 37 mm. Turkmenistan has the least water resources with 1 km3/year or less than 1 percent of the water resources in Central Asia. Its area represents 10 percent of the region, giving the least depth of 3 mm (Table 4, Figure 5 and Figure 6).

Population has increased by almost 18 percent since the previous survey, resulting in a decrease in annual IRWR per inhabitant from about 3 044 m3 to 2 576 m3 in 2011. This is less than half the global average IRWR/inhabitant of 6 097 m3, and ranges from 275 m3 in Turkmenistan, 589 m3 in Uzbekistan and 1 457 m3 in Afghanistan to 3 971 m3 in Kazakhstan, 9 073 m3 in Kyrgyzstan and 9 096 m3 in Tajikistan (Table 4 and Table 25).

The distribution of total actual renewable water resources (TARWR) is different because of transboundary river basins. For example in Turkmenistan IRWR are 275 m3/inhabitant, while TARWR are 4 851 m3/inhabitant, and in Uzbekistan these figures are 589 m3 and 1 760 m3 respectively. Conversely, in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan IRWR are higher than TARWR, 9 073 and 9 096 m3/inhabitant compared to 4 379 and 3 140 m3/inhabitant respectively, because of the water allocation agreements between Central Asian countries.

Table 5 presents those countries with annual IRWR per inhabitant of less than 1 700 m3, which is considered to be a threshold below which there are indications of water stress. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan account for only 275 and 589 m3 respectively and Afghanistan accounts for 1 457 m3. Looking at annual TARWR per inhabitant, all have more than 1 700 m3, because they have a relatively large proportion of external renewable water resources (Figure 7).

Other sources of water

Water scarcity forces national economies to find alternative ways to satisfy the demand for water. Other sources of water may include:

  • Fossil groundwater
  • Overexploitation of renewable groundwater
  • secondary freshwater, which includes (treated) wastewater and/or agricultural drainage water returned to the system
  • non-conventional sources of water, which include desalinated water and direct use of (treated) wastewater and/or direct use of agricultural drainage water

No information is available on the use of fossil groundwater. Afghanistan mentions overexploitation of renewable groundwater resources meaning that withdrawal is greater than recharge, which leads to problems that include lowering of the groundwater table and groundwater pollution.

Figures on the direct use of treated wastewater are available for three out of the six countries and are often underestimated. Turkmenistan reported 336 million m3 in 2004, Kazakhstan 194 million m3 in 2010 and Kyrgyzstan just 0.14 million m3 in 2006 (Table 6).

Figures on direct use of agricultural drainage water are available for five out of the six countries in the region, of which Uzbekistan is the largest user with 6 840 million m3 in 2000. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan follow, each accounting for about 300 million m3 in 2000 and 1994 respectively, while Kazakhstan accounted for 108 million m3 in 2010 and Turkmenistan for 80 million m3 in 2004.

Of the two countries bordering the Caspian Sea, only Kazakhstan reports using desalinated water, accounting for 853 million m3 in 2010, representing 4 percent of its total water withdrawal.


Total dam capacity in Central Asia is 180.5 km3, of which 53 percent is in Kazakhstan (Table 7). Sixteen dams each have a capacity greater than 1 km3, of which six in Uzbekistan, four in Kazakhstan, two in Turkmenistan, two in Tajikistan, one in Kyrgyzstan and one in Afghanistan. Most are multipurpose dams for hydropower production, irrigation, water supply and flood control. In total these sixteen large dams account for 130.6 km3, or 72 percent of total dam capacity in Central Asia. Bukhtarma dam in Kazakhstan, completed in 1960, has the largest capacity (50 km3). The Toktogul dam in Kyrgyzstan, the Kapshagay dam in Kazakhstan and the Nurek dam in Tajikistan follow with a capacity of 20 km3, 19 km3 and 11 m3 respectively. In Uzbekistan the largest dam is the Tuaymuyun dam (8 km3), in Turkmenistan the Zeid dam (2 km3) and in Afghanistan, the Kajaki dam (1 km3) (Table 8).

Transboundary waters

The main transboundary rivers in Central Asia are the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, which both flow to the Aral Sea. These two transboundary river basins as well as the Tedzhen-Murghab basin form the Aral Sea basin, which covers almost 40 percent of the total area of Central Asia (Figure 8). A more detailed description of the Aral Sea basin is given in the Aral Sea basin profile.


Water withdrawal by sector

Data on water withdrawal by sector refer to the gross quantity of water withdrawn annually for a given use. Table 9 presents the distribution of water withdrawal by country for the three large water-consuming sectors: agriculture (irrigation, livestock cleaning and watering, aquaculture), municipalities (domestic/municipal) and industry (including water for cooling of thermoelectric plants). Although able to mobilize a significant portion of water, requirements for energy (hydroelectricity), navigation, fishing, environment and leisure activities have a low rate of net water consumption. For this reason, they are not included in the calculation of the withdrawals but they do appear in the country profiles where information is available.

For most countries, data on water withdrawal could be obtained from national statistics although there is much uncertainty about the methods of computation. Data for municipal and industrial water withdrawal in Afghanistan could not be found in national reports; estimates are based on modelled data.

Total annual water withdrawal for the Central Asia region is almost 145 km3, which is 3.7 percent of world withdrawals(Table 9 and Table 25). Uzbekistan, with 56 km3, has the highest withdrawal, accounting for 39 percent of the total. This is because the country has by far the largest area actually irrigated, 2–4 times the area irrigated in the other countries. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have the lowest withdrawal with 8 percent and 6 percent respectively of the total withdrawals in the region. Water withdrawal per inhabitant is 1 811 m3/year, this average however conceals significant variations between countries. The figure ranges from 937 and 1 319 m3/year in Afghanistan and Kazakhstan respectively to 2 158 m3/year in Uzbekistan and 5 952 m3/year in Turkmenistan (Figure 9).

About 89 percent of inventoried withdrawal is water withdrawn by agriculture, which is higher than the value for global agricultural water withdrawal (69 percent) (Table 25). In all countries, except Kazakhstan, agricultural withdrawal accounts for more than 90 percent of total water withdrawal. In Kazakhstan it represents only 66 percent (Table 9).

Figures for agricultural water withdrawal, expressed in cubic meters per hectare of actually irrigated land, show large discrepancies between countries, which cannot be explained solely by differences in climatic conditions. Rather, their differences are to be found in computation methods. The gross average for the region is 12 294 m3/ha per year. Figures for Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are 15 500, 13 600 and 13 200 m3/ha of actually irrigated land respectively.

Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, however, show lower values, where agricultural water withdrawal is 11 800, 10 500 and 7 300 m3/ha per year respectively. The scheme-level water requirement ratio is also called irrigation efficiency, which is the ratio of the estimated irrigation water requirement to the actual irrigation water withdrawal. This is around 47 percent and varies between 40 and 55 percent. However, more research and improved computation methods are needed to obtain homogenous information on agricultural water withdrawal among countries.

Municipal water withdrawal accounts for 5 percent of total water withdrawal in Central Asia, varying from 1 percent in Afghanistan to 7 percent in Uzbekistan. Municipal water withdrawal per inhabitant is 85 m3/year or 233 litres/day for the region as a whole, with variations between countries from 9 m3/year or 25 litres/day in Afghanistan to 161 m3/year or 440 litres/day in Turkmenistan.

Industrial water withdrawal accounts for 7 percent of total water withdrawal in the region. At country level it is particularly significant in Kazakhstan with 6.3 km3, accounting for 30 percent of total withdrawals in the country. In the other five countries industrial water withdrawal varies from 4 percent in Kyrgyzstan to less than 1 percent in Afghanistan (Table 9).

Water withdrawal by source

Data for water withdrawal by source refer to the gross quantity of water withdrawn annually from all possible sources, which are divided into primary and secondary (wastewater and agricultural drainage water returned to the system) freshwater resources, direct use of treated wastewater and agricultural drainage water and desalinated water produced. Table 10 presents the distribution of water withdrawal by country. For most countries, methods used for calculation or the measurements for obtaining the values of the withdrawal by source are not specified. For countries for which recent data were unavailable, or were considered unreliable, estimations took into account total water withdrawal by sector, given that total water withdrawal by source and total water withdrawal by sector must be equal.

Primary and secondary freshwater withdrawal accounts for 136 km3, which is 3.6 percent of global water withdrawal (Table 10 and Table 25). This represents 93.8 percent of total water withdrawal (which is similar to the percentage in the South and East Asia region). Direct use of treated wastewater and agricultural drainage water accounts for 8 km3 or 5.6 percent, and desalinated water accounts for 0.85 km3 or 0.6 percent. However, while in three and five countries a figure is given for direct use of treated wastewater and direct use of agricultural drainage water respectively, the other countries could also engage in these types of water withdrawal.

In many cases it is not possible to make a distinction between the use of (un)treated wastewater and agricultural drainage water. These two sources are usually mixed before reusing. Moreover, it is not always clear from the statistics whether the agricultural drainage water is considered as secondary surface water or non-conventional water. Sometimes no distinction is made between wastewater and agricultural drainage water returned to the system and the portion that is directly used.

Considering only primary and secondary freshwater withdrawal, surface water withdrawal represents 91 percent of freshwater withdrawal and groundwater represents 9 percent, but there are differences depending on the country. In Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, surface water amounts to 97, 92 and 90 percent of total freshwater withdrawal respectively, while in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan it accounts for 85, 80 and 79 percent respectively.

Of the two countries bordering the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, only Kazakhstan reports producing 0.853 km3 of desalinated water, which represents 4 percent of total water withdrawal in the country (Table 10 and Table 25).

The Millennium Development Goals - The Water Indicator

The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) water indicator, which is the total freshwater withdrawal as a percentage of total renewable freshwater resources, reflects the overall anthropogenic pressure on freshwater resources. In many areas, water use is unsustainable: withdrawal exceeds recharge rates and the water bodies are overexploited. The depletion of water resources can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and, at the same time, undermine the basis for socio-economic development.

When relating primary and secondary freshwater withdrawal to the renewable water resources in Central Asia, three out of six countries in the region, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, stand out with values of lower than 35 percent indicating that freshwater withdrawn is less than the quantity annually renewed on a long-term basis (Table 10). Tajikistan has a water indicator of 51 percent, however, there can be huge differences within countries and certain areas may be faced with serious water scarcity issues. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have by far the highest water indicators, 111 percent and 101 percent respectively. The figure being higher than 100 percent indicates that a large part of freshwater withdrawal is comprised of secondary freshwater withdrawal (wastewater and agricultural drainage water returned to the system and used again) (Figure 11).

Evaporation losses from artificial reservoirs

Evaporation from artificial lakes (including evaporation ponds) and reservoirs is considered consumptive water use, since it would not occur if these had not been constructed to retain the water and thus create a surface water body from which water evaporates. This variable does not include evaporation from natural wetlands, natural lakes and rivers.

In theory this amount should be added to the data for water withdrawal, however, the information is still uncertain and a more in-depth study is needed to confirm and complete the information for the whole region.


Irrigation potential

Methods used by countries to estimate their irrigation potential vary, which significantly influences the results. In computing water available for irrigation, some countries only consider renewable water resources, while others, especially arid countries, include the availability of fossil or non-conventional sources of water as well as the availability of secondary freshwater. Again, other countries only consider the land suitable for irrigation without considering water availability. For this reason, comparison between countries should be made with caution. In the case of transboundary rivers calculation by individual countries of their irrigation potential in the same river basin may lead to double counting of part of the shared water resources. It is therefore impossible to systematically add country figures to obtain regional estimates of irrigation potential.

The irrigation potential for Central Asia is an estimated 18 million ha. Currently the total estimated area equipped for irrigation, about 13 million ha, represents about 73 percent of the region’s irrigation potential.

Irrigation areas

Irrigation plays an important role in the economies of Central Asia. In most areas crops must be irrigated because of the region’s arid climate. While some areas have been irrigated for centuries, Soviet central planning created many irrigation and drainage schemes during 1950–1980. Huge schemes were constructed to irrigate desert or steppe areas and hundreds of thousands of people moved to the areas to work in agriculture. From 1970 to 1989 (the end of the Soviet period) the irrigated area expanded by factors of 150 percent and 130 percent in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins respectively (World Bank, 2003).

The term ‘irrigation’ refers to areas equipped to supply water to crops. Table 11 presents the distribution by country of the areas equipped for irrigation and the areas actually irrigated.

The total area equipped for irrigation in the six Central Asian countries covers 13.2 million ha, accounting for 4.4 percent of the world’s irrigation (Table 25, Figure 11 and Figure 12). This is almost equal to the area equipped for irrigation in all 54 countries of Africa together (13.7 million ha). More than half of the area equipped for irrigation is concentrated in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, while Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan together account for less than 15 percent. Most of the area equipped for irrigation – almost 9.8 million ha or 75 percent of the total – is located in the Aral Sea basin. Not considering Afghanistan, this figure rises to 85 percent.

Full control irrigation covers 12.4 million ha and is by far the most widespread form of irrigation in Central Asia, accounting for 93 percent of the area equipped for irrigation. Only Kazakhstan reports spate irrigation, amounting to 866 300 ha. It should be noted that during the previous survey the figure reported for spate irrigation in Kazakhstan was 1 105 000 ha. It is not clear whether the previous figure was wrong or whether, maybe, much of the area that was previously reported under spate irrigation has, in the mean time, become full control irrigation.

Irrigation is practised on 33 percent of the total cultivated area in the region compared to 20 percent globally (Table 11, Table 25 and Figure 13). Turkmenistan has the highest level, with 102 percent of cultivated land under irrigation, the irrigated area is larger than the cultivated area, since the irrigation area includes irrigated permanent pasture, while permanent pasture is not included in the cultivated area, followed by Uzbekistan with 89 percent and Tajikistan with 85 percent. Kazakhstan has only 9 percent of the cultivated area under irrigation.

Irrigation in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, relies upon a system of dams, pumps and canals that is among the most complex in the world. The Tuaymuyun dam comprises nine structures and four reservoirs. Although mostly located in the territory of Turkmenistan, the ownership of the Tuaymuyun structures was recognized to Uzbekistan through the "Water Management Partnership Agreement" signed by both countries in 1996. Despite having signed an additional agreement on partnership for operation, management and repair of economic assets located in the border areas of the two countries in 2008, carrying out these activities remains cumbersome. The largest and most important waterway in Turkmenistan is the Kara Kum canal. Constructed in the 1950s this canal is 1 300 km, considered the longest in the world. The canal capacity is an estimated 630 m3/s. Its inlet at the Amu Darya is located just after the river enters Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan. The Kara Kum canal pools the Amu Darya, Murghab and Tedzhen rivers into an integrated water management system. The canal supplies water to the densely populated south and irrigates more than 1.2 million ha, bringing water to Ashgabat and to the oases in the south. Every year the canal takes 10–12 km3 from the Amu Darya (Orlovsky and Orlovsky, after 2002).

Full control irrigation techniques

Table 12 presents the irrigation techniques used on areas under full control irrigation. For Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, the earlier data was provided by technique rather than for the total full control irrigation area. The percentages for each of the techniques have been retained and applied to the areas currently under full control. Therefore, these values are in order of magnitude only and are not an exact reflection of the real situation. However, it seemed worth the attempt to complete the data based on the field knowledge of the AQUASTAT team so as to form a more precise picture of the irrigation techniques used in the Central Asia region. Surface irrigation, accounting for 98.4 percent of irrigation techniques, greatly exceeds pressurized irrigation techniques, which are sprinkler irrigation (1.5 percent) and localized irrigation (0.1 percent).

Origin of water in full control irrigation

Table 13 presents available data concerning the origin of irrigation water in areas under full control irrigation: primary and secondary surface water, primary and secondary groundwater, and a mix of primary and secondary surface water and groundwater. While certainly several countries will directly use agricultural drainage water by irrigating from one plot to the next lower lying plot (cascade) (see Table 10), no information on this was available.

For the purpose of the analysis in (Table 13), it was assumed that for those countries with data on the origin of water that refer to earlier years, rather than the total area equipped for full control irrigation, such as for Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the percentages for each of the sources have been retained and applied to the areas currently under full control irrigation. Therefore, these values are in order of magnitude only and are not an exact reflection of the real situation. However, it seemed worth the attempt to complete the data based on the AQUASTAT team field knowledge so as to form a more precise picture of the sources of water used for irrigation in the Central Asia region.

Surface water is the major source of irrigation water in Central Asia, 92.6 percent on average, varying from 82 percent to 99.8 percent.

Groundwater resources were not widely used for irrigated agriculture in the Central Asian Republics during the Soviet period because farmers had sufficient surface water, reliable water supply and irrigation infrastructure. Groundwater resources were used primarily for the livestock sector and for drinking water in both urban and rural areas. During the recent drought years (1998–2001) the Aral Sea basin nations started to use groundwater for vital agricultural production, because of its relatively good quality and quantity and as an alternative to the saline surface water.

In a very different situation, Afghanistan has traditionally relied on surface water and groundwater springs and karezes (constructed underground channels) for irrigated agriculture. The share of groundwater irrigation for the cultivated area is around 18 percent, being the highest in the region (Table 13). In Uzbekistan and Tajikistan groundwater represents 6 and 4 percent respectively, while in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, it is less than 1 percent of the total irrigated area. On average, in Central Asia, groundwater represents 7.3 percent of total full control area equipped for irrigation.

Tajikistan is the only country that gives a figure for mixed surface water and groundwater, accounting for 13 075 ha or 1.8 percent of the country’s total irrigated area (Table 13). No information is available from the other countries for other sources of water.

Information on power-irrigated area is available for all countries except Afghanistan. The power-irrigated area represents 2 percent of the total area equipped for irrigation in Kazakhstan, 5 percent in Kyrgyzstan, 40 percent in Tajikistan, 16 percent in Turkmenistan and 27 percent in Uzbekistan.

Full control irrigation scheme sizes

The definition of large schemes varies from one country to another. While Tajikistan considers a large scheme to be 3 000 ha, other countries, such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan classify a large scheme to be a minimum of 10 000 and 20 000 ha respectively.

Table 14 shows the sizes of schemes in several countries and the criteria used. If no recent information on size of scheme is available, the information from the previous survey is used, as for Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. No information on scheme sizes is available for Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

Level of use of areas equipped for full control irrigation

Information on actually irrigated areas is provided for all Central Asia countries (Table 15). In Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan the total area equipped for full control irrigation is actually irrigated, which in Kazakhstan is 99 percent. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have a rate of 91 and 88 percent respectively. Afghanistan has a lower use rate accounting for 59 percent. Low rates in general are explained by deteriorating infrastructure because of a lack of maintenance (lack of experience or the use of unsuitable techniques) or for political and economic reasons. Other causes are inadequate management of technical means of production under irrigation, impoverished soils, salinization, local instability and insecurity and reduced public funds for irrigation.

Cropping intensity in full control irrigation schemes

Cropping intensity, another indicator of the use of equipped areas, is calculated based on the area of harvested irrigated crops over the part of the area equipped for full control irrigation and actually irrigated. The calculation only refers to irrigated crops. This means that in a country with one or two wet seasons only irrigated crops are considered. Crops grown on the full control equipped area during the wet season without irrigation (but using residual soil humidity) are not included in the irrigated crop area when calculating cropping intensity.

The calculation of cropping intensity therefore is straightforward for dry countries because irrigation is indispensable for the growing of crops in all seasons. However, the calculation is more problematic for countries with both a dry and wet season, during which the crops use the soil moisture provided by precipitation. On these areas the irrigated cropping intensity is 100 percent, while the harvested area is double.

National cropping intensity on actually irrigated areas in full control irrigation schemes ranges from 100 percent in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan to 115 percent in Afghanistan (Table 15). Tajikistan and Turkmenistan account for 108 percent and 101 percent respectively. On average, the region has a cropping intensity of harvested irrigated areas over actually irrigated areas in full control irrigation areas of 103 percent.

Irrigated crops in full control irrigation schemes

Cropping patterns have changed extensively since the Central Asian countries became independent. Cotton is still one of the most important crops, although between 1990 and 1998 its share of irrigated agriculture decreased from 45 to 25 percent. In the same period, the area under cereals (wheat, rice, maize and others) increased from 12 to more than 50 percent. Wheat became the dominant crop in the region. Fodder crops occupied less than 20 percent of the total irrigated area in 1998, compared to 28 percent in 1990 (CAWaterInfo, 2011).

Table 16A and Table 16B show the national distribution of harvested irrigated crop areas. Even though, in many countries, no distinction is made for statistics for irrigated and rainfed crops, an effort has been made in this survey to provide the most accurate data for irrigated crops.

Cereals represent 49 percent of all harvested irrigated crop areas in the region. Wheat alone represents about 39 percent, ranging from 18 percent in Kazakhstan to 60 percent in Afghanistan. Cotton is the second most widespread harvested irrigated crop, accounting for 23 percent on average. Mainly cultivated in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, cotton represents 38, 33 and 32 percent of total harvested irrigated cropped area respectively. Fodder accounts for 11 percent of the irrigated crops in the region, of which temporary fodder occupies 4 percent, permanent grass and fodder 2 percent and permanent meadows and pastures 5 percent. Vegetables represent 3 percent, with special importance in Kazakhstan (15 percent). Potatoes account for 2 percent of the total irrigated cropped area, with special importance in Kyrgyzstan (7 percent), Kazakhstan (5 percent) and Tajikistan (4 percent).


In 2001 the population of the Central Asia region was 79 million, or 1.3 percent of the world's population. Ten years later, in 2011, it was 94 million, still 1.3 percent of the world's population. Population density rose from 17 to 20 inhabitants/km2. The population growth rate over the last ten years has been 1.7 percent/year, a decrease from the 2.1 percent/year for 1991–2001.

Trend in water withdrawal by sector

By sector the proportions of water withdrawal have changed only slightly: agricultural water withdrawal has decreased from 93 to 89 percent, while municipal withdrawal has increased from 3 to 5 percent and industrial withdrawal from 5 percent to 7 percent. The total volume of water withdrawal has decreased by 11 percent over the last ten years (Table 17). Agriculture withdraws the most water, around 90 percent of the total, and the decrease is entirely the result of reduced agricultural water withdrawal (–15 percent), while both municipal water withdrawal and industrial water withdrawal increased by 52 percent and 23 percent respectively.

Between the two survey dates, annual withdrawal per inhabitant fell by 307 m3. This is because of an increase in total population and a decrease in total water withdrawal in the region from 164 km3 to 145 km3. Turkmenistan is the only country in the region where annual water withdrawal per inhabitant has increased, from 5 723 m3 to 5 952 m3.

Looking at the municipal sector, water withdrawal per capita has increased from 58 m3/year, or 159 litres/day, to 75 m3/year, or 205 litres/day. This situation varies between countries: in Kazakhstan municipal water withdrawal has increased from 36 to 55 m3/year, in Tajikistan from 72 to 99 m3/ha, in Turkmenistan from 85 m3/year to 161 m3/year and in Uzbekistan from 115 to 158 m3/year while in Afghanistan it has decreased from 21 to 9 m3/year and in Kyrgyzstan from 66 to 44 m3/year.

In agriculture, the annual water withdrawal per hectare of area equipped for irrigation seems to have decreased from 12 000 to 10 000 m3. These data should be used with caution, since the reason for this is not clear. It may be the result of computation methods, data quality, changed cropping pattern or improved irrigation techniques.

Trend in water withdrawal by source

For Central Asia as a whole, annual freshwater withdrawal has decreased from 141 to 136 km3, which represents a decrease of 4 percent, but with great variation between countries (Table 18). Direct use of treated wastewater has increased from 0.274 to 0.530 km3, representing an increase of 93 percent. Direct use of agricultural drainage water has decreased from 28 to 8 km3, which represents an annual rate of decrease of 71 percent. However, the figures on direct use of agricultural drainage water should be looked at with caution, especially for Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. It is not clear whether there is a real decrease or whether the part considered as direct use in the previous survey was, in fact, secondary fresh water since it was returned to the system. Only Kazakhstan reports the use of desalinated water for domestic purposes: 1.328 km3 in 1993 and 0.853 km3 in 2010, a decrease of 36 percent.

Trend in areas under irrigation

Table 19 presents the trends in the area under irrigation. For Central Asia, the decrease in the equipped area is 9 percent, which is equal to an annual rate of decrease of 0.81 percent using a weighted year index. This is calculated by allocating a weighting coefficient to the year for each country that is proportional to its area equipped for irrigation, therefore giving more importance to countries with the largest areas under irrigation. The area under full control irrigation has an annual rate of decrease of 0.63 percent, which is lower than the annual rate of decrease for total irrigation. This is explained by the fact that area under spate irrigation and equipped lowlands has decreased more than for areas under full control irrigation. Since the previous survey, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have increased their equipped area, accounting for an annual rate of increase of 0.03, 0.21 and 1.11 percent respectively, while Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan show a decrease of 3.14, 0.48 and 0.18 respectively, amongst others due to salinization.

Trend in full control irrigation techniques

Table 20 presents the trends in irrigation techniques. There is no information on irrigation techniques in this survey for Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Thus to facilitate the regional comparison between 1999 and 2009, the same percentage has been applied to the most recent figure for full control irrigation as that of the previous survey.

The area under surface irrigation, the most important technique, has decreased by 427 194 ha or 3 percent. Proportionally, in all countries for which new data are available, the percentage of surface irrigation has increased, particularly in Kazakhstan where it has changed from 76 percent to 97 percent, even though the physical area under surface irrigation in this country has decreased from 1.8 million ha to 1.2 million ha. Sprinkler irrigation has decreased by 555 798 ha or 75 percent.

The area under surface irrigation has decreased especially in Kazakhstan, followed by Kyrgyzstan. Localized irrigation, which requires less water, has increased by 10 313 ha. Most development has been achieved in Kazakhstan, which reports 10 800 ha, while no figure was provided in the previous survey. Central Asia has not yet adapted a large area for sprinkler and localized irrigation; this has even decreased over the last ten years.

Trend in origin of water for full control irrigation

Table 21 presents the trends in the origin of water used for full control irrigation. There is no data in this present survey for Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan concerning the origin of irrigation water. To facilitate the regional comparison between 1999 and 2009, the same proportion of surface water and groundwater has been estimated as for the previous survey, even though this might not be completely correct.

There are no important changes since the last survey on proportions for the origin of water. These are similar to proportions reported in the previous survey. The physical area irrigated using surface water for the whole region has decreased from 12.2 million ha to 11.4 million ha, though its proportion over the entire area under full control irrigation has increased from 91.5 to 92.6 percent. The explanation is that other sources of water have decreased proportionately. The area irrigated by groundwater has decreased from 1.1 million ha to 0.9 million ha, representing a change from 8.0 percent to 7.3 percent of the total full control equipped area.

Trend in irrigated crops in full control irrigation schemes

As shown in the above Irrigated crops in full control schemes, significant changes have occurred in cropping patterns in the countries of Central Asia since their independence from the Former Soviet Union. Cotton is still one of the most important crops, although between 1990 and 1998 its share of irrigated agriculture decreased from 45 to 25 percent. In the same period, the area under cereals (wheat, rice, maize and others) increased from 12 to over 50 percent. Wheat became the dominant crop in the region (CAWaterInfo, 2011).

Over the last ten years the main change has been an increase in the wheat area from 2.8 to 4.3 million ha, covering 23 percent and 39 percent of the total irrigated harvested area respectively (Table 22). Together rice, barley and maize represent 10 percent in both the present and previous survey, though the total area for the three crops together has decreased from 1.3 to 1.1 million ha. In the previous survey, 2.2 percent of the total harvested irrigated crop area was under other cereals, while in the present survey this is only 0.1 percent.

Cotton has decreased from 2.7 to 2.5 million ha, but its proportion has increased from 22 to 23 percent. The proportion of vegetables remains at 3 percent of the total. In the previous survey, the area under fodder accounted for 2.9 million ha or 23 percent of the total irrigated harvested area. Temporary fodder, permanent grass and fodder and permanent meadows and pastures in this survey together account for just 1.2 million ha or 11 percent of the total area. The area under permanent crops (excluding fodder) has decreased from 1.1 to 0.6 million ha, indicating that a lower percentage of irrigated area is dedicated to these crops.

Use rate of areas equipped for irrigation

In four out of the six Central Asia countries, the use rate of equipped areas has fallen over the last ten years. The area actually irrigated in Afghanistan has decreased from 83 percent of the equipped area in 1993 to 59 percent in 2002. In Tajikistan, the area actually irrigated has declined from 100 percent in 1994 to 91 percent of the equipped area in 2009. In Uzbekistan, the area actually irrigated has decreased from 98 percent of the equipped area in 1994 to 88 percent in 2005. In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan the area actually irrigated represented 100 percent in both the previous and present surveys.


In all the countries of Central Asia water management is based on a water code or on a specific water law or act. Afghanistan introduced a Water Law in 1981 to improve water rights. The Law, however, needs to be updated and revised before it is ready to be enforced. For the other five Central Asian countries, during the Soviet period, the 1970 Law 'Basics of water legislation of the USSR and Union Republics' served as the legal framework for water relations, but this changed after their independence. Kazakhstan adopted a Water Code in 1993, which was amended and supplemented in 2003 and 2009. Kyrgyzstan accepted a Water Code in 2005 based on IWRM. Tajikistan adopted a Water Code in 2000 that amended a previous Water Code signed in 1993. Turkmenistan issued a Water Code in 1972 that describes in detail the responsibilities of the Cabinet of Ministers; the specialized state authority for water use and protection; local executive power; civil societies and individuals. Uzbekistan approved a Water Law in 1993, which introduced water rights, the legal framework is constantly being improved. In 2009, a new law was approved on 'Introducing amendments to some legislative acts of the Republic of Uzbekistan in connection with the deepening of economic reforms in agriculture and water management'.

At regional level different organizations take part in water resources management. At the top is the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), led by the five presidents (Afghanistan not included). Under that are the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC) and the Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD) of Central Asia, and below that are the river basin water organizations, such as the Amu Darya and Syr Darya River Basin Water Organizations.

In Afghanistan the Ministry of Water and Energy is responsible for mapping, monitoring and managing surface water and groundwater resources. The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock is in charge of natural resources management; the Ministry of Public Works for urban water supply; the Ministry of Mines for groundwater investigation and the Ministry of Rural Development designs deep wells and networks for parts of Kabul City outside the Master Plan.

In Kazakhstan the Water Resources Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for the management and protection of water resources at the national level; the Ministry of Environment for the environment; the Republican State Enterprise 'Kazgidromet' of the Ministry of Environment monitors the quantity and quality of surface water resources, while the Committee of State Sanitary and Epidemiological Surveillance oversees the quality of drinking water.

In Kyrgyzstan the State Committee on Water and Land Reclamation is entrusted with water resources management, state irrigation and land reclamation. The Emergency Ministry is responsible for water protection, legislation of environmental protection and control of sewerage disposal in water bodies. The Agency on Geology and Mineral Resources deals with groundwater resources management.

In Tajikistan the Ministry of Land Reclamation and Water Resources is responsible for the planning and management of water resources for agriculture, water distribution and delivery to the farm inlet and water quality. The Ministry of Agriculture is in charge of the operation and maintenance of the irrigation network. The State Unitary Enterprise 'Khojagii Manziliu Kommunali' is responsible for domestic water supply and wastewater treatment and the Committee on Nature Protection protects water resources.

In Turkmenistan the responsibility for water resources and maintenance of a reliable water supply for agricultural, municipal and the industrial sectors lies with the Cabinet of Ministers. The Ministry of Water Resources constructs and operates irrigation and drainage systems; the Ministry of Nature Protection is responsible for the control of water pollution and depletion. The State Corporation (SC) 'Turkmengeologiya' assesses the use of groundwater aquifers and prevents their pollution and depletion.

In Uzbekistan water management falls under the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources (MAWR) General Authority of Water Resources. During the Soviet era water resources were administered at the regional and district level. After Uzbekistan gained independence the system of water resources management changed in 2003 with the creation of the Basin Authorities of Irrigation Systems (BAIS), to one that is based on hydrological basins and principles. The MAWR, Central Asia Scientific Research Institute of Irrigation, which was once responsible for all of Central Asia, now researches the water resources development sector. The Goskompriroda (State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Nature Protection) monitors water quality and controls industrial and municipal pollutants.

During the Soviet period, water management was the responsibility of state institutions. After the demise of the USSR, the newly emerging states began to change their agricultural policies.

In Kazakhstan, sovkhoz (state farms) and kolkhoz (collective farms) still predominated in 1993; land reform was extended after 1994. Most land was transferred to farmers or companies through private ownership or long-term leases.

In Tajikistan, during the land reform period (1996–2000) sovkhoz and kolkhoz were privatized and divided into a number of small private (dehkan) farms. Water user associations (WUAs) were established on the irrigated areas of the former sovkhoz and kolkhoz. WUAs are currently responsible for almost 35 percent of the irrigated area of Tajikistan, but they remain weak.

In Turkmenistan, all inter-farm canals are managed by authorized state agencies. Farm unions manage all on-farm canals, even when the irrigated land is rented or privately owned by individual farmers. Water resources management at on-farm level is the responsibility of the local authorities (hakimliks, archyns) and includes distribution of water between final water users (farmers, tenants and brigades); repair; restoration and construction works; clearing of channels; drains and collectors. The mirap (irrigator) position was introduced for decision-making on these matters at the level of the municipal authorities.

In Uzbekistan, initially the government considered individual farms to be experimental therefore allocated land was of low fertility with a poor water supply. In 1996, collective farm land was leased to farmers and WUAs were introduced. At the beginning of 2003, the government began to transform the collective farms into individual farms. Under this policy, priority was given to the development of individual farms as the major producers of agricultural commodities. Between 2004 and 2006, 55 percent of collective farms were transformed into individual farms. By 2004, individual farms occupied 17 percent of agricultural land. Land privatization accompanied the transfer of irrigation management and the introduction of farm organizations and WUAs. In 2003, Uzbekistan reformed the water management system by transferring water management from that of an administrative-territorial system to a basin approach. The main goal of this reform was to consolidate water management through the establishment of WUAs and Canal Management Organizations (CMOs), operating within single hydraulic units to ensure equal access to water for different users and to improve the efficiency of water use. On 29 December 2009, the “Water and water use” law was revised and the previously used WUA concept related to irrigation was renamed into the Water Consumers Association (WCA). The distinction between them was clarified as follows: "water user" refers to not affecting the actual amount of available water (such as fisheries and hydropower) and "water consumer" refers to reducing the actual amount of available water (such as irrigation).

In Afghanistan, a senior representative called wakil (herat), mirab (water master) or chak bashi (kunduz and balkh) leads system management. This person is usually a well-respected community member and landowner with experience and knowledge of the system as well as influence with the local government. In addition to system management, the representative has the broader responsibility of liaising with adjacent irrigation communities, particularly for customary rights on the location and operation of the sarband. This representative, or village committee, is usually responsible for the management, operation and maintenance of the community’s canals and structures downstream of the secondary canals to farm turnouts.

Most countries in the Central Asia region have reported the importance of WUAs in the management of water and irrigation.

In Afghanistan the use of water is free of charge.

Kazakhstan was the first country in Central Asia to implement water fees in 1994. The price of water is different in each province, and is defined by volume, based on the added value irrigation could bring to agricultural production. Water user fees fund maintenance of hydraulic structures and water facilities. Facilities that are of importance at the national and oblast level are partly funded by the national budget.

In Tajikistan, fees have been charged since 1996 for irrigation water services. The water fee is rated 2–6 times less than required to ensure adequate operation and maintenance of the irrigation and drainage systems, especially for pump irrigation. Some of these lift irrigation systems are not economically viable under current energy costs and economic conditions. These systems, built in the Soviet period with very different economic considerations, pump in what is called a cascade system consisting of several stages of pumping, which are often used for low value crops.

In Kyrgyzstan, the Water Resources Department, and the basin water resources departments (BWRDs), are financed out of the state budget. The rayon water resources departments (RWRDs) are financed out of the state budget and water users’ funds for water delivery. Agreements were concluded between the RWRDs and each water user in the rayon for water delivery services. Bills for payment are delivered monthly. Payment rates for water delivery are established by Parliament. Approximately 50 percent of the actual expenditure for operation and maintenance is covered by the state budget and 50 percent by payment for water delivery. Fees for water use is collected from all water users irrespective of the department they belong to, their citizenship, kinds and patterns of ownership, except for cases established by special legislation of Kyrgyzstan (public health services, recreation, sports, rest, etc.). However, these amounts are still largely inadequate to cover actual operation and maintenance needs.

In Turkmenistan, the state is responsible for all expenses related to capital investment for irrigated agriculture, such as the development of land, construction of main structures and water infrastructure. Except for the on-farm irrigation system, the costs of operating water infrastructure are met by the state budget. Water for irrigation is supplied without charge. The 'private charge' for operation and maintenance of irrigation systems is accepted practice. This comprises a deduction of 3 percent from the total of crops produced by the tenants. Water for drinking and household purposes is provided to the population free of charge. Water for industry is supplied against payment based on set tariffs. Enterprises are fined if they exceed the limits set for intake or for discharge of unprocessed industrial waste.

In Uzbekistan, in 1995 a land tax was introduced. The amount payable depends on irrigation and land quality, which is calculated by province based on a soil fertility parameter. A WCA is in charge of operating and maintaining the on-farm water infrastructure through irrigation service fee (ISF) collection. However, most WCAs are still not able to take full responsibility and generate sufficient investment for the infrastructure maintenance. Within the general objective of water savings, Article 30 of the Water Law emphasizes the need for water pricing, although it still leaves room for subsidies to the water sector.

In all the countries in the region financial assistance (grants and loans) has been obtained from international donors, lenders and foreign governments, such as the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and FAO, for major construction projects in the agricultural and energy sectors. Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States of America also provide assistance and support to water issues in the region.


Water quality

In the Central Asia region, surface water and groundwater quality is commonly affected by agricultural, industrial and municipal wastewater.

In Afghanistan surface water quality is excellent in the upper basins of all rivers throughout the year and good in the lower basins in spite of the large irrigated areas. Groundwater quality is generally good, but varies from place-to-place. In the lower reaches of river valleys, groundwater is frequently saline or brackish and cannot be used for drinking or irrigation (Favre and Kamal, 2004). The country faces many environmental problems, mainly the lowering of water tables, degradation of wetlands and deforestation (some 40 percent of forests have been cut down). Excessive use of groundwater for a variety of purposes has significantly depleted aquifers throughout Afghanistan and, if the trend is not reversed, the country will face a severe shortage of drinking water. The recurrent droughts, low precipitation and poor water management have exacerbated the country’s water crisis. Over the past several years, groundwater sources have reduced by about 50 percent. Limited access to surface water has prompted many farmers, mostly in the drought-stricken south and north, to increasingly use groundwater to irrigate agricultural land or dig deep wells. Most of the population uses groundwater as the prime, and often only, source of drinking water (IRIN, 2008).

In Kazakhstan, 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 were considered clean water sources; six rivers and one reservoir were listed as dirty or very dirty. In addition to industrial, mineral 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). 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 inventoried are considered 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. Recently it has been estimated that about 8 000 small lakes have dried up because of the overexploitation of water resources.

In Kyrgyzstan, water quality in rivers is good. Rivers are fed by glacial melt, which has a low salt concentration and low pollution level. Observations carried out in all basins show a low concentration of nitrates, organic matter and nutrients. There are cases of water pollution related to incorrect storage and use of fertilizers and chemicals, industrial waste, non-observance of the sanitary code, improper conditions for sewerage systems, cattle breeding and industrial effluent. About 90 percent of all drinking water supplied by centralized systems is groundwater, which mostly meets the 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 Tajikistan, water is drinkable, except for some lakes and groundwater sources. General salinity level of water in sources is 0.05–0.40 g/litre.

In Turkmenistan, water in the rivers and the drainage networks is of very poor quality, containing high concentrations of salts and pesticides both from the country itself and from upstream countries. This affects the Aral Sea area, where some of the main collector-drainage canals discharge. During the past decades water quality in the Amu Darya has deteriorated considerably as a result of discharge of drainage and industrial water from neighbouring countries. Average annual salinity level was 0.3 g/litre before 1962, which increased to 0.8 g/litre in 1967. In the 1990s, this stabilized within the range of 1.5–1.6 g/litre reaching 2.0 g/litre during certain periods (Berdiyev, 2006). Human pressure on surface water is high; although pollution caused by biogenic elements or organic substances has not yet reached dangerous levels, special attention must be paid to monitoring concentration (especially phenols and nitrates). About 4 km3 of drainage water with salinity level of 6.5–8.5 g/litre is discharged annually into the Amu Darya from neighbouring Uzbekistan.

In Uzbekistan, salinity of irrigation water in the middle reaches of rivers is 1–1.1 g/litre with a low content of organic substances, and in the lower reaches at certain periods it is, on average, 2 g/litre and more (compared to the original 0.2–0.3 g/litre), and organic substances 29.6 mg/litre. In some rivers, discharged sewage and municipal wastewater leads to increased pollution all along the course of the river from its origin downstream to the sea. Pollution from petroleum products is 0.4 to 8.2 MAC, which is the maximum allowable concentration (MAC), by phenols up to 6 MAC, by nitrates up to 3.7 MAC, by heavy metals up to 11 MAC. The contamination rate of groundwater has also increased.

Irrigation-induced salinization and waterlogging

Salinization normally occurs in arid areas because there is little rainwater to dissolve the salts that have accumulated in the soil. Evaporation and evapotranspiration extract water from the soil and salt concentrations tend to increase. Direct evaporation from the soil surface causes a rapid accumulation of salt in the top layers. When significant water is provided by irrigation, with no adequate provision for leaching of salts, the soils rapidly become salty and unproductive. Consecutive accumulation of salts year-after-year degrades the soils and renders them unproductive.

Assessment of salinization at the national level is difficult, and very little information on the subject could be found during the survey. Furthermore, there are no commonly agreed methods to assess the degree of irrigation-induced salinization. Figures on area salinized, as a result of irrigation, are available for five of the six countries (Table 23).

In the Aral Sea basin climatic and hydro-geological conditions make soil particularly vulnerable to salinization. Some land, especially in inter-mountain valleys, is initially salt affected because of the arid climate. The process of salt accumulation is intensified under the influence of pressure from deep saline artesian water and the following two factors: (a) additional infiltration of irrigation water into the drainage network, (b) deterioration of downstream water quality. This is the result of natural evaporation processes and the use of overly saline irrigation water as well as of naturally poor land drainage conditions.

The intensity of irrigation in Central Asia requires artificial drainage to control waterlogging and salinization. Currently there are about 5.35 million ha with drainage, of which about 59.6 percent is surface, 26.2 percent subsurface and 14.2 percent vertical drainage (tube-wells). Uzbekistan has most of the artificially drained land, approximately 1 million ha. There have been several innovations in the region for drainage design to address seepage from irrigation canals and upstream irrigated land, percolation from excess irrigation water, groundwater fluxes to the root zone and the accompanying salts moving into the crop-root zone.

Deeper subsurface drainage depths are considered essential to control waterlogging and salinity. Until the 1990s, significant investment was available for drainage, however, with the demise of the USSR, and the deterioration of economic conditions in Central Asia, drainage investment declined. Drainage systems are no longer properly maintained and the areas suffering from salinization and waterlogging have increased (Dukhovny et al., 2007).

In Afghanistan, as far as is known the presence of saline soil on irrigated areas is not caused by poor water quality but rather by over-irrigation (causing waterlogging) or lack of irrigation water (Qureshi, 2002).

In Kazakhstan, about 242 000 ha (11 percent) of the irrigated area was classed as saline by Central Asian standards (toxic ions exceed 0.5 percent of total soil weight), in 1993. This area is mainly concentrated in the south. In 2010, irrigated areas subject to salinity amounted to 404 300 ha.

In Kyrgyzstan, the area salinized by irrigation was an estimated 49 503 ha in 2005. In 2006, according to the Land Reclamation Cadastre 85 percent of the total irrigated area was in good condition, 6 percent satisfactory and 9 percent unsatisfactory, which is caused by high groundwater level (37 percent), soil salinity (52 percent) and a combination of the two (11 percent). Irrigation has caused waterlogging on 35 399 ha in 2005.

In Tajikistan, the two major land quality problems are the interrelated issues of salinity and waterlogging, caused by high groundwater levels. Salinization of irrigated land in lowland areas has increased because of inadequate drainage systems and inefficient irrigation systems resulting in high water losses. Irrigation has caused salinization on 23 235 ha. The waterlogged area in irrigated areas is 25 742 ha.

In Turkmenistan, around 90–95 percent of the irrigation land has become saline (Berdiyev, 2006). In 2001, the total area salinized by irrigation was an estimated 1 353 744 ha, including land with medium and high salinity. In 2001, direct economic loss on land with different degrees of salinization was an estimated US$142 million. Waterlogging also appears in desert pastures because of drainage water discharge. In 2002, irrigation caused waterlogging on about 756 500 ha.

In Uzbekistan, intensive development of new irrigated areas in 1960–1980s caused land salinization, waterlogging, land degradation and increased the discharge of highly saline drainage water into the Amu Darya through a system of collector drains. Waterlogging and salinization already affect 50 percent of irrigated areas. The total area salinized by irrigation in 1994 was 2 141 000 ha.

Drainage in irrigation areas

Drainage facilities need to be installed as a measure to prevent irrigation-induced waterlogging and salinization in arid and semi-arid areas. Drainage, in combination with adequate irrigation scheduling, enables the leaching of excess salts from the plant-root zone. Figures on drained areas are available for five of the six countries, of which two are from the previous survey, since no new information could be obtained (Table 24). Figures are unavailable for Afghanistan. The area equipped for irrigation with drainage facilities varied from 17 and 14 percent in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan respectively to 66 percent in Uzbekistan. In Central Asia, almost the entire drained area is located in the area equipped for irrigation. However, the drained area is low compared to actual needs in the region.

In Central Asia, drainage takes mostly place through open drains. In 2000, subsurface drainage was practised on only 26 percent of the drained area. In general, newly reclaimed areas are equipped with subsurface drainage rather than surface drains.

In Kazakhstan, the area equipped for irrigation with a drainage system was 433 100 ha in 1993 and was 343 000 ha in 2010. Horizontal surface drains were installed on 264 600 ha or 61 percent of the total drainage area. The area equipped with subsurface drains amounted to 15 600 ha (4 percent), with vertical drainage being carried out on about 152 900 ha (35 percent). There has been little maintenance of the drainage network since 1990. Moreover, part of the agricultural drainage system does not work properly because of poor 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.

In Kyrgyzstan, in 2000 only 144 910 ha were equipped for drainage and 3 000 ha were cultivated drained area without irrigation. In 1994 surface and subsurface drainage accounted for 56 and 44 percent respectively. Subsurface drainage was mainly developed on newly reclaimed areas in the north and southwest. With the government’s limited budget, it will be difficult to effectively maintain and operate or improve or extend the existing drainage system. For this reason, problems related to salinity and drainage will likely worsen.

In Tajikistan, the total area equipped for irrigation with a drainage system, amounts to 345 200 ha, including 69 200 ha of subsurface drainage (20 percent). Because there is inadequate operation and maintenance, a substantial portion of the subsurface drainage is not being used.

In Turkmenistan, the construction of mostly open drainage systems started at the beginning of the 1950s. About 90 percent of the total length of drainage was constructed during the period 1965–1985. The intensive development of virgin land for agriculture, with little attention paid to the installation of water regulators on the irrigation canals, resulted in the irrational use of water. Further, construction of drainage structures continued to lag behind the development of virgin land and the construction of unlined irrigation canals. All these factors resulted in catastrophic soil salinity. The economic crisis at the beginning of the 1990s resulted in the shutting down of the construction of any new drainage structures. In 1998, drainage infrastructure was constructed on about 1 011 897 ha of the irrigated area. In 1995, subsurface drainage accounted for approximately 32 percent of the total drainage area, mainly on newly reclaimed areas, horizontal surface drainage for 60 percent, and vertical drainage for 8 percent.

In 2000, the trans-Turkmen collector for drainage water was initiated with the construction of a huge artificial lake in the middle of the Kara Kum desert, the Turkmen Golden Age Lake, on the site of a natural dry lake in the Karashor lowlands. The lake is to be filled with drainage water through two collectors, the Great Turkmen Collector from the south and the Dashoguz Collector from the north, with a combined length of over 1 000 km. The lake’s capacity will be 150 km3, with a surface area of 3 500 km2 and a depth of 130 m. Starting in 2009, the collectors divert up to 10 km3 of saline drainage water into the lake annually, which once discharged into the Amu Darya. However, as an additional consequence, it also further reduces return flows into the Amu Darya. Construction of the trans-Turkmen collector aims to improve water quality in the Amu Darya (Stanchin and Lerman, 2006).

In Uzbekistan, only 2.8 million ha were equipped with drainage infrastructure in 1994. Most of the drainage systems are open drains. Horizontal surface drainage is carried out on 1.7 million ha (61 percent), subsurface drainage on 0.7 million ha (25 percent) and vertical pumping drainage on 0.4 million ha (14 percent), mainly on clay soils. During the transition period, the development of drainage almost stopped and the infrastructure continued to deteriorate. However, since 2007, after the creation of a special fund to improve irrigated land, more than US$110 million annually is spent on infrastructure improvement, with the result that main and inter-farm collectors are in satisfactory condition. The intra-farm open collector-drainage network is satisfactorily maintained in Bukhara, Kashkadarya, Ferghana and Namangan regions. In other areas it is in disrepair. In addition, the "Drainage, Irrigation and Wetland Improvement Project" in South Karakalpakstan recently improved the drainage in that region.

Floods and droughts

As reported by the following countries a significant area of the Central Asia region is subject to flooding.

In Afghanistan, floods are generally violent and can cause serious damage to agricultural land or inhabited areas. About 50 gabion river protection works and 50 flood protection masonry walls were constructed before the war, mostly in the Nangarhar and Parwan provinces, in the east. There have been several seasons of drought in Afghanistan in recent decades. Localized droughts have a periodicity of 3-5 years and droughts covering large areas recur every 9-11 years. Afghanistan began experiencing unusual droughts beginning in 1995. It remained this way until heavy snow began falling in the 2002-2003 winter season. However, since then the country began to see again more droughts.

In Kazakhstan, over 300 floods have been recorded over the last 10 years. Most damage is caused by floodwaters from the Ural, Tobol, Ishim, Nura, Emba, Torgai, Sarysu, Bukhtarma rivers and their numerous tributaries (UNDP, 2004). Since Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation are a major grain exporting countries, droughts cause an overall quantity of cereals available for export to decline due to a decrease in production and in some cases the introduction of exports bans. In 2008 and 2010, both factors increased world grain prices and negatively affected poor grain importing countries. During the 2012 drought Kazakhstan wheat production was less than half of the production in 2011.

In Tajikistan, mud torrents occur mostly in the Zeravshan river basin, on average 150 times/year and in the Vakhsh and Panj river basins, on an average of 70 times/year, mostly in April (35 percent) and in May (28 percent). There are 102 mud torrents, hazardous rivers, annual mud torrents and floods that result in great damage. Flood damage in 2005 alone amounted to US$50 million (MLRWR and UNDP, 2006). The government manages floods and mudflows, but lacks the equipment, materials and capacity to efficiently implement hazard mitigation measures. Droughts are common and recurrent natural phenomenon for Tajikistan. Since only half of its wheat is irrigated, the impact of dryness is high on the production of the rainfed crop.

The problems in Kyrgyzstan are similar to the ones in Tajikistan and each year the damages for flooding, landslides and mudflows into irrigation canals amount to millions of US$.

Both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan consists largely of arid desert, so agriculture is depends more or less entirely on irrigation. Cereals and cotton are by far the largest irrigated crop areas and water shortage for irrigation is causing friction especially between cereal farmers and cotton growers, as was for example the case in 2011.

Health and water-related diseases

Only three out of the six countries in the Central Asia region reported on water-related diseases for this survey, although these diseases are certainly present in other countries in the region. The major factors favouring the development and dispersion of these diseases are as follows:

  • use of untreated wastewater to meet water shortage;
  • lack of infrastructure, especially related to wastewater treatment and disposal;
  • lack of health awareness and proper handling of polluted water;
  • lack of regulations related to the protection of the environment and public health.

In Kyrgyzstan, 122 800 inhabitants were reported to be affected by water-related diseases in 2005.

In Turkmenistan in 2004, people affected by water-related diseases amounted to 12 295, of which 7 955 by intestinal infections, 22 by typhoid and 4 318 by virus hepatitis in 2004. In 1998, there was an outbreak of malaria with 137 cases. Since then, cases of malaria have fallen and Turkmenistan has made significant progress with malaria control; the disease is reported as having been eliminated.

In Uzbekistan, as the Aral Sea level falls by 1 m/year, more land is exposed, and chemical pesticides used for cotton production are concentrated in a crust on the newly exposed land. Winds disperse the crust as a cloud of lethal dust, causing the population to suffer health problems and agricultural productivity to be reduced as a result of land and water salinization. In these regions people suffer from high levels of anaemia, together with rising levels of tuberculosis, while children suffer from liver, kidney and respiratory diseases, micronutrient deficiencies, cancer, immunological problems and birth defects. In Karakalpakstan 40 percent of the rural population depend on small subsistence plots for their livelihoods. These plots are adversely affected by water shortages or pollution and, consequently, the rural population faces increasing hardship, malnutrition and illness. In 2001 and 2002, the situation in Karakalpakstan and Khorezm further deteriorated as a result of two consecutive years of drought that resulted in water shortages that negatively impacted domestic and personal hygiene. The population was exposed to the higher risk of water-related diseases such as typhoid, diarrhoea and worm infections. Although the government has made progress, only 54 percent of the urban and 3 percent of the rural population have access to adequate sewage systems, those without rely on basic and unhygienic pit latrines (UNICEF, 2003).

Climate change

Global climate change poses serious threats to the region's environment, ecological and socioeconomic systems. In this region, agricultural production has already decreased in some commodity groups and quantities and qualities of water resources are at risk of being severely affected by climate change. On the other hand, Central Asia significantly contributes to global warming by generating large volumes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Kazakhstan is the thirtieth largest emitter of carbon dioxide worldwide, and Uzbekistan is the most carbon intensive economy globally, followed by Kazakhstan on the second place and Turkmenistan on the fourths place (EBRD, 2011). There is increasing concern about climate change, especially because climate change affects the Central Asia region’s water and energy security. This may lead to political tension between the countries unless they collaborate in carful management of their resources.

Most of the flow of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya comes from rainfall and snow melt in the mountains. It is estimated, that reduced contribution of glacier melt could reduce flows in the Amu Darya basin by 5-15 percent by 2085 and in the driest years this could be as much as 35 percent of current discharge. Although there is a high degree of statistical uncertainty this is clearly a very real threat that cannot be ignored in any future plans for the basin’s water resources. Thus, in the worst case in 80 years time, it is possible that in extreme years it may only be possible to meet half the current demand for water. Experts in the subregion suggest that such risks need to be integrated into a comprehensive adaptation/risk management strategy for the basin as a whole (FAO, 2010).

As a response to climate change, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have already established an environmental legal and regulatory framework (specifically air protection laws) to meet commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As non-Annex countries, the five countries have committed to periodically carry out an inventory of GHG emissions and to conduct vulnerability and mitigation studies.

Any reduced GHGs in Central Asia would contribute to easing global warming, especially relating to the collaborative international mitigation of climate change. Moreover, the Kyoto Protocol has opened up new opportunities to engage Central Asia countries in GHG mitigation projects.

To alleviate the situation in the years to come, Central Asia countries, with the assistance of the international community, will undertake two types of activities. First, national legislation will be amended to take into account climate change in their socio-economic and environmental policies. Secondly, this legislation creates possibilities for designing and implementing national climate change policies and practical actions in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. The region will carry out GHG emission inventories and participate in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) efforts (Perelet, 2007).

It is foreseen that climate change will alter the hydrological cycle, and is unlikely to relieve water scarcity. In this arid region, water is an important limiting factor for ecosystems, food and fibre production, human settlements and human health. Climate change and human activities may further influence the levels of the Caspian and Aral Seas, which will affect associated ecosystems, agriculture, and human health in the surrounding areas. Win-win opportunities exist that offer the potential for reducing pressure on resources and improving human welfare in the region, and may reduce vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change (Perelet, 2007).

It is not the purpose of this survey to deal in detail with climate change issues. Much other research is being done specifically on this issue, which has resulted in many reports, such as FAO's Water Report on "Climate change, water and food security" (FAO, 2011).

The Aral Sea crisis

The environmental crisis of the Aral Sea basin is a major disaster that has affected all six Central Asia countries located in the Aral Sea basin. The intensive extraction of water for irrigation from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya 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 almost 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 have become polluted and human health problems have increased sharply. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the fishing, agricultural and service sectors (World Bank 2008). In 2002, the heads of the Central Asian states developed a 'Programme for concrete action to improve the environmental and economic environment of the Aral Sea basin for 2003–2010' (UNDP, 2004). For more information, see the Aral Sea basin.


Countries in the Central Asia region consider water and irrigation management to be a key factor in the use and conservation of their water resources. Future agricultural water management in this region, where information is available, will consider: Rehabilitation and modernization of the irrigation and drainage infrastructure; increase of water use efficiency and productivity; introduction of crops requiring less water and change of cropping patterns; recovery of the expenses for water supply services; rehabilitation of dams and construction of new dams only in selected strategic locations and properly negotiated among the riparian countries; reuse of water; desalination; integrated water resources management; strengthening of river basin organizations and of water user organizations; strengthening of extension services; flood and drought contingency plans; sustainable environmental management; water saving measures in all sectors and appropriate measures for developing new additional land and water resources.

Most countries recognize the importance of developing or strengthening WUAs, to be coupled with the improvement of the service provided by the irrigation scheme managers. This is linked to the need expressed in several countries to improve the overall performance and water use efficiency of irrigation schemes.

Water scarcity and the interdependency between water use sectors are pushing countries to develop integrated water resources management programmes. Water quality is also a concern in several countries, especially where industrial development is important. In Afghanistan, a sustainable environmental management plan is foreseen.

Changes in rainfall pattern resulting from climate change will significantly disrupt the farmers’ cropping system particularly in rainfed areas. It will become more difficult and risky for farmers to rely on rainfall for their planting calendar. Extreme climate events will likely impinge the hydrological system in most river basins meaning that water will become either 'too much' or 'too little'.

Changes in recharge and discharge patterns may alter the distribution of surface water and groundwater resources. First an increase in flows is expected due to more intensive snow melting. Then stream flow will be significantly reduced and groundwater levels decline. Attention should be placed on the demand and supply of water management in order to address water scarcity. This could be achieved by rehabilitating water sources, water conservation, augmenting water supply, including utilization of non-conventional sources.

Flooding and excessive runoff could be mitigated by improved drainage facilities. The design of irrigation systems could include a review of design methods to address the effects of climate change and properly designed drainage facilities to protect standing crops. The construction of rainwater harvesting structures (e.g. small water impounding project) to collect and store rainwater in the uplands could contribute to flood mitigations downstream and water availability during the dry season.

The efficiency and productivity of water use could be improved by securing land tenure which will provide an incentive for private investment for adopting efficient irrigation techniques and use modern methods for irrigation scheduling. Increasing the net benefit per unit of land and water will be possible if crops cultivated require less water.

In Afghanistan, there is great potential for developing both shallow and deep groundwater systems for irrigation and other uses. Precaution must be taken to avoid adversely affecting users of existing systems. Afghanistan does not use the water from the Amu Darya as it should. Proper use of water from the Amu Darya would bring thousands of hectares under irrigation in northern Afghanistan. It is estimated that with rehabilitation of systems and improved management, water use could increase to 35 km3 per year (ICARDA, 2002; Rout, 2008). The country is considering improving system efficiency and productivity by improving infrastructure, increasing the equity of water allocations, developing water storage systems and protecting against water losses.

In Kazakhstan, structural reforms on irrigated land are needed to maintain food security, 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 comprises 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 solving of various ecological problems will be determined by a water policy that focuses on the development and control of water management (UNDP, 2004).

In Kyrgyzstan, extending irrigation to about 1 200 000 ha could be accomplished on dry lands, pasture and hayfields. Assuming a 1 percent annual growth rate, the population will be 5.6 million in 2015 and 6.2 million in 2025. Feeding a larger population can be achieved by increasing the arable land area, by intensifying crop production and increasing crop yields, by importing additional food needed, or by a combination of all. Basic measures required to increase food production are to increase land and crop productivity; train farmers; introduce advanced agricultural techniques (soil tillage, crop selection, crop rotation and fertilizers) and land reclamation techniques (irrigation, drainage, leaching), and promote appropriate measures for the development of additional land and water resources.

In Tajikistan, the government, in participation with international organizations and experts, aims to reform the system of water resources management and transfer agricultural production to a real market economy. This will change cropping patterns in irrigated areas, especially on pump-irrigated land. As a result, farmers will be motivated to adopt water-saving irrigation technologies for economic reasons and, therefore, contribute to environmental preservation. District-level state water management units will be included in BWMO, which will transfer all water management responsibilities in stages to WUAs for secondary and tertiary canals. In establishment of the new tandem management structure BWMO+WUA will be fundamental to the introduction of IWRM.

Turkmenistan mostly uses surface water resources. The government states the irrigated area can be doubled and water supply ensured by increasing irrigation efficiency from 0.51 to 0.75. This can be done by canal lining and modernization and rehabilitation of irrigation systems; improving land levelling; optimizing furrow length and introducing crops that require less water; introducing IWRM principles and automated irrigation management systems; introducing modern irrigation technologies including localized and sprinkler irrigation on 260 000 ha; using about 1 km3 of drainage water with salinity level up to 3 g/litres for irrigation; constructing the trans-Turkmen collector for drainage water to improve removal of salts from irrigated land; improving the quality of groundwater to meet irrigation requirements; and increasing treated wastewater use for cultivation of agricultural crops (cotton).

In Uzbekistan the population is growing by 0.5 million people/year, meaning there is need for more products and expansion of irrigated land, requiring even more water. In 10–15 years the population may reach 32–35 million, water requirements will far exceed those available in the country (Akhmadov, 2008). Increasing the efficiency of irrigation water use is essential for supporting rural livelihoods, producing sufficient food for the growing population, and producing commodity crops, that are important to the national economy and continuing social and economic development (USAID, 2003). Even if policy changes reduce cotton exports, it is far more likely that any water ‘saved’ from reduced cotton production will instead be used to produce other crops, as has been the pattern to date (Abdullaev et al., 2009).

According to available information, the current use of non-conventional sources of water (desalinated water and/or direct use of treated wastewater and agricultural drainage water) concerns four out of the six countries in the region, representing only 6 percent of the region's total withdrawals. In general non-conventional sources of water are not included as a high priority in water management plans and policies. These sources are, however, mentioned by some countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.

Countries sharing transboundary river basins need to prepare joint water management plans for each basin. This will ensure clear communication and avoid approaches that may cause conflicts of interest, unilateral development, and inefficient water management practices that could result in international crisis in these countries. Since the change from a centrally managed system in 1991 and the emergence of independent states, countries across the region have viewed water from a national perspective rather than from a river basin point of view (FAO, 2010). Having created regional institutions to improve coordination, such as IFAS and ICWC, Central Asian countries should grasp the opportunity and use them in their quest for mutually beneficial agreements for all countries in the basin.


Documents cited in this section were useful in the writing of the summary and are not specific to a country or river basin. Literature relative to the individual countries is listed in the section Main sources of information at the end of each country and river basin profile.

Abdullaev, I., de Fraiture, C., Giordano, M., Yakubov, M. & Rasulov, A. 2009. Agricultural water use and trade in Uzbekistan: Situation and potential impacts of market liberalization. Water Resources Development, Vol. 25, No 1, 47-63, March 2009.12-16 November 1997, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas. Aleppo, Syria.

Akhmadov, E. 2008. Uzbekistan experiences serious water shortages. 05/28/2008 issue of the Central Asia Caucus Institute Analyst.

Berdiyev, A. 2006. Progress in domestic water supply in a view of the achievement of UN Millennium Development Goals, Issues of the implementation of integrated water resource management in a view of the achievement of UN Millennium Development Goals (national seminar materials). (Turkmen)

CIA. 2011. Factbook, country profiles. USA, Central Intelligence Agency.

CAWaterInfo. 2011. The Aral Sea Basin.

Dowling, M. & Wignaraja, G. 2006. Central Asia’s economy: mapping future prospects to 2015. Asia-Pacific Development Journal Vol. 13, No. 2, December 2006.

Dukhovny, V., Umarov, P., Yakubov, H. & Madramootoo, C.A. 2007. Drainage in the Aral Sea Basin. UK, John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

EBRD. 2011. The low carbon transition. Special report on climate change. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Favre, R. & Kamal, G.M. 2004. Watershed atlas of Afghanistan. FIRST edition – working document for planners Kabul.

FAO. 1997a. Irrigation in the Near East Region in figures. FAO Water Report No. 9. Rome.

FAO. 1997b. Irrigation in the countries of the former Soviet Union in figures. FAO Water Report No. 15. Rome.

FAO. 1999. Irrigation in Asia in figures. FAO Water Report No. 18. Rome.

FAO. 2003. Review of world water resources by country. FAO Water Report No. 23. Rome.

FAO. 2009. Irrigation in the Middle East region in figures - AQUASTAT survey 2008. FAO Water Report No. 34. Rome.

FAO. 2010. Challenges of water scarcity in the Europe and Central Asia region and recommendations for adaptation. European Commission on Agriculture, 36th session, Yeravan, Armenia, 11-12 May 2010, Agenda Item 5.

FAO. 2011. Climate change, water and food security. FAO Water Report No. 36. Rome.

FAO. 2012a. FAOSTAT - database. (http://faostat.fao.org/).

FAO. 2012b. Irrigation in Southern and Eastern Asia in figures – AQUASTAT Survey 2011. FAO Water Report No. 37. Rome.

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The tables available in the text can also be downloaded from here as PDF:

  • Tables 1-25: All tables together in one file
  • Table 1: Land use
  • Table 2: Population characteristics (2011)
  • Table 3: Access to improved water sources
  • Table 4: Long-term average annual renewable water resources
  • Table 5: Countries with annual IRWR of less than 1 700 m3/inhabitant
  • Table 6: Produced, treated and directly used municipal wastewater
  • Table 7: Dams In Central Asia
  • Table 8: Dams with a reservoir capacity larger than 1 km3
  • Table 9: Water withdrawal by sector
  • Table 10: Water withdrawal by source of water and MDG water indicator
  • Table 11: Areas under irrigation
  • Table 12: Irrigation techniques in areas equipped for full control
  • Table 13: Origin of water used in full control irrigation
  • Table 14: Scheme sizes in areas equipped for full control irrigation
  • Table 15: Cropping intensity on actually irrigated areas
  • Table 16a: Harvested irrigated crops on areas (in hectares)
  • Table 16b: Harvested irrigated crops on areas (in percentages)
  • Table 17: Trend in water withdrawal by sector
  • Table 18: Trend in primary and secondary water withdrawal
  • Table 19: Trend in areas under irrigation
  • Table 20: Trend in full control irrigation techniques
  • Table 21: Trend in the origin of water used in full control irrigation
  • Table 22: Trend in harvested irrigated crop areas by crops
  • Table 23: Salinization in irrigation areas
  • Table 24: Drainage in irrigation areas
  • Table 25: Central Asia compared to the world


The regional figures available in the text can also be downloaded from here as PDF:

  • Figure 1: Regional division of the world adopted by AQUASTAT,
  • Figure 2: Distribution of areas and population,
  • Figure 3: Average annual precipitation,
  • Figure 4: Population density,
  • Figure 5: Distibution of areas and water resources,
  • Figure 6: Internal renewable water resources,
  • Figure 7: Total renewable water resources per inhabitant,
  • Figure 8: Transboundary river basins,
  • Figure 9: Annual water withdrawal per inhabitant,
  • Figure 10: Annual freshwater withdrawal as a percentage of total actual renewable water resources. Millennium Development Goal Water Indicator,
  • Figure 11: Area equipped for irrigation,
  • Figure 12: Area equipped for irrigation as percentage of country area,
  • Figure 13: Area equipped for irrigation as percentage of cultivated area.

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