Central Asian Water Cooperation Still Elusive

Central Asian Water Cooperation Still Elusive

Wednesday, 6 September, 2006


Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Plans to create a unified water and energy consortium for Central Asia could be scuttled by the conflicting interests of the participating states, not to mention their poor track-record on making regional arrangements work.

When the presidents of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan meet at an informal summit in the Kazak capital on Astana on September 2, they will conduct in-depth discussions on the feasibility of a regional consortium to increase the efficiency of water and energy usage. The idea of such a body was voiced most recently by Russia, at the recent summit of the Eurasian Economic Union in Sochi, but it has been vaguely in the works for the past 10 years.

Experts suggest that the consortium could help put in place a system whereby Kazakstan and Uzbekistan, located downstream on the major rivers of Central Asia, would supply fuel to power stations in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. These latter countries would then have no need to use massive amounts of water over the winter to generate hydroelectric power, so their reservoirs would be kept full and the water released for irrigation in the summer months. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would reap the benefits of controlling the flow of water, rather than selling it – an option opposed by Uzbekistan and Kazakstan.

In spite of possible Russian sponsorship and financial support for the project, experts point out the difficulties of establishing an effective regional agreement for the use of cross-border water resources. These difficulties stem from major differences in the geography, economic development and political interests of the four countries participating in the Astana summit, as well as the constantly changing energy market, which even now necessitates an annual review of all bilateral arrangements on water and energy, not to mention multilateral agreements.

Some experts believe the consortium is a good idea in principle but will prove impossible to implement in practice, since each country will put its national interests first. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, in particular, will be reluctant to work within such a structure, since that would deprive them of their last remaining leverage against their more powerful neighbours downstream.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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