Uzbek and Turkmen Unite on Energy, Water

Uzbek and Turkmen Unite on Energy, Water

Wednesday, 11 March, 2009
NBCentral Asia observers are concerned at a proposal by Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to demand a rigorous study of the impact of planned hydroelectric schemes in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

On March 3, the Press-Uz.Info news agency reported on the reaction of international media and experts to the joint Uzbek-Turkmen initiative, which would require a technical assessment to be conducted under the aegis of the United Nations before new power plants could be built on rivers that traverse more than one Central Asian state.

The proposal was announced when Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov visited Tashkent in late February.

Both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have concerns over plans by the Tajiks and Kyrgyz to complete work on new hydroelectric dams on the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, respectively.

The Kambarata scheme in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s giant Rogun dam would allow these states to substantially increase their energy production. Both construction projects are now being boosted by Russian investment.

Uzbekistan, which depends on both the Syr Darya and Amu Darya for irrigation, and Turkmenistan, which uses water from the latter, fear that damming up these rivers upstream will inevitably reduce the flow, harming agriculture and cotton production in particular in the lower-lying countries.

Experts in Uzbekistan differ on whether their government is right to insist on international studies as a precondition for dam construction to go ahead.

Some argue that President Islam Karimov has acted wisely by seeking to apply international law and focus attention on this important transnational issue.

A hydroelectricity specialist in Tashkent says the Uzbek position is both “sound and logical”, because the region is facing a shortage of water, with average flows in both the Amu Darya and Syr Darya currently standing at supply only 70 per cent of normal levels.

“Under UN conventions, all decisions concerning the use of water from cross-border rivers, including the construction of hydroelectric schemes, must not have negative effects on the environment or on the interests of populations of adjacent countries,” he said.

Some political analysts warn that the new Turkmen-Uzbek axis on this issue could place them in opposition to other Central Asian states, leading to tensions.

Annadurdy Khajiev, a Turkmen economic analyst based in Bulgaria, doubts that states in the region can arrive at a mutally acceptable solution on their own, and says it is “imperative” for an impartial third party to facilitate this process. Tashkent has recommended that the UN fulfill this role.

“Everybody realises that the scarcity of water resources needed to irrigate Central Asian farmlands are increasingly being used as a tool to exert pressure on neighbouring states,” he said. “If conflict is to be avoided, international institutions need to step in.”

Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek political scientist based abroad, points out that the Kyrgyz and Tajik hydroelectric schemes now under discussion were originally developed during the Soviet period, so safety and other conditions have effectively been studied already.


“These [projects] have already been through all the requisite assessment procedures,” he said. “Uzbekistan is insisting on special requirements because it wants to exert political pressure on its neighbours”.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)
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