EDB Report Warns of Looming Water Crisis in Central Asia by 2028

ASTANA — A recent report by the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) released this November projects a potentially chronic shortage of water resources by 2028, estimating a deficit of 5-12 cubic kilometers, exacerbated by climate change and reduced flow from the Amu Darya River in Afghanistan, reported the EDB’s press service. 

Photo credit: asiatoday

Overview of the current water crisis and its impact

According to EDB experts, the region faces a critical challenge threatening its socio-economic development: water resource scarcity. Central Asia, highly vulnerable to climate change, is experiencing faster temperature increases than the global average, leading to a rise in droughts, reduced water levels, and a significant decline in glacier size. 

“The area of glaciers is rapidly decreasing – by 30% over the past 50 years. Climate change is causing a decrease in river flows, while the region’s water needs are growing rapidly,” reads the report. 

Agriculture, the primary water consumer, is particularly affected, utilizing 80% of the region’s water for irrigation.

“Irrigation has played a pivotal role in the agricultural and food security of the region throughout history. Central Asia currently boasts 10.1 million hectares of irrigated land, constituting approximately 2.9% of the world’s total irrigated land. Remarkably, these irrigated lands contribute nearly 66% to the region’s gross agricultural output in terms of value,” reads the report. 

According to EDB experts, water conservation is the only solution to preserving irrigated lands’ potential and ensuring food security in Central Asia. The need for the transition is caused not only by climate change and increased demand for water but also by the expected reduction in the Amu Darya river flow from Afghanistan. 

“By 2028, the combination of climate change, the onset of a low-water period, and the commissioning of the Kosh-Tepa canal in Afghanistan will lead the Central Asian region to an acute, chronic shortage of water resources, estimated by EDB analysts at 5-12 cubic kilometers,” reads the report. 

According to the experts, water use efficiency in the region is another concern. Indicators range from 84 cents per cubic meter in Kyrgyzstan to $7.2 in Kazakhstan. The average of $2.5 per cubic meter is significantly lower than the world average of $19.01, highlighting the need for improved water use efficiency.

Issues affecting water use efficiency, aging infrastructure, and the need for regional cooperation

The EDB experts identify two main reasons for low efficiency. First is underinvestment in the water and energy complex. Second is insufficient regional cooperation among Central Asian countries.

“The irrigation infrastructure, on average, is over 50 years old, and approximately half of the irrigated lands face susceptibility to salinity. The economic efficiency of water utilization in agriculture is suboptimal, with a significant loss of 40% occurring within the irrigation canal system,” reads the report. 

EDB report suggests that regional integration and effective joint management of water and energy resources can benefit all countries in the region.

The EDB analysts emphasize ongoing efforts since 1992 to establish effective regulation through multilateral and bilateral agreements. According to them, the current political course of Uzbekistan and the support from the heads of state present a potential window of opportunity for significant progress in cooperation. The experts highlighted that President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev emphasized the expediency of creating an International Water and Energy Consortium. 

At the bilateral level, interactions between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, have intensified, particularly in matters related to jointly financing the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power station and two hydroelectric power stations on the Zeravshan River. 

This includes efforts towards restoring the parallel operation of national energy systems, such as through the United Energy System of Central Asia. Additionally, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan have agreed to collaborate to construct the Kambar-Ata-1 hydroelectric power plant on the Naryn River in Kyrgyzstan, aiming to generate electricity for Central Asian countries.

Ongoing discussions between Kazakhstan and Tajikistan focus on closer cooperation in developing their respective energy systems. Against the backdrop of strengthened regional cooperation in Central Asia, there is an emerging opportunity to reshape the architecture of relationships in the water-energy complex of the region. This collaborative approach aims to address the challenges posed by the growing shortage of water and energy resources.

Proposed solutions and the role of technology in addressing region’s water crisis

The EDB’s report proposes several practical steps to address the impending water crisis, emphasizing the importance of a consolidated regional approach. One key recommendation is to establish the International Water and Energy Consortium of Central Asia, focusing on irrigation and energy projects. This consortium aims to foster collaboration between multilateral development banks (MDBs) and regional states.

Additionally, the report suggests the creation of consortia for large investment projects, with MDBs acting as financial operators to attract investments in irrigation. A regional production and service cluster for modern irrigation equipment is recommended to enhance water use efficiency, taking advantage of Central Asia’s significant market potential.

Cooperation with Afghanistan is identified in the report as a crucial aspect of strengthening the region’s position, proposing partnership schemes within existing mechanisms for water resource management.

Financial resources are essential for implementing these recommendations, and the report highlights the importance of public-private partnerships (PPPs). According to EDB experts, water user associations (WUAs) should play a pivotal role in water management, with strengthened organizational and legal status leading to responsible water use and potentially transitioning to a paid water supply service system for farms.

The report encourages the adoption of industrial agricultural technologies to counter salinization, emphasizing the importance of reclamation through the reconstruction of irrigation and drainage systems. Modern digital technologies are recommended for efficient water distribution, accurate accounting, and the potential for significant water savings.

Furthermore, the report suggests the universal introduction of digital technologies and the establishment of a permanent monitoring system for the reclamation state of irrigated lands and soil salinization through remote satellite diagnostics.

In conclusion, the comprehensive approach outlined in the report offers a roadmap to address Central Asia’s water crisis, emphasizing the urgency of coordinated regional efforts, financial investment, and the adoption of modern technologies to ensure water sustainability and food security in the face of climate change.

The EDB is an international financial organization promoting economic ties and development in its member countries: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. The EDB focuses on projects with integration effects in various sectors, guided by United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and environmental, social, and governance principles.

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