Eurasian Bank urges action to avert Central Asian water shortage disaster
Central Asia is facing a looming water crisis triggered by climate change, inefficient water management and a new water canal under construction in Afghanistan, the experts say.
According to research commissioned by the Eurasian Development Bank, from 2028-2029 Central Asia will face a shortage of 5-12 cu.km. of water a year, irrespective of yearly rainfall.
“We have five years to solve the problem,” Nikolay Podguzov, the chairman of the EDB board of directors, said at a recent meeting on the region’s water issues.
Central Asia is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to the impact of climate change, he said. The yearly temperature is rising here faster than on average on the planet. The glaciers feeding the region’s rivers are rapidly melting — their area has shrunk by 30 percent in the past 50 years, he added.
“Our common reserves are dwindling, which is creating huge risks for our agricultural production and food security,” Podguzov said.
The Bank’s chief economist Yevgeniy Vinokurov said the expected launch of the Kosh Tepa canal in Afghanistan in 2028 would “critically” reduce the amount of water available to Central Asian countries in the middle and lower Amu Darya river.
“The impact of the Afghan factor on the region’s water balance will be comparable to that from climate change or the demographic boom,” Vinokurov said.
Vinokurov said that in 2021 Central Asia was 90 percent self-sufficient in food. Water shortages will threaten the sustainability and profitability of the region’s farming industry, and will worsen its effect on the environment, causing soil salinisation, desertification, and loss of fertility.
A water crisis will lead to agricultural and energy crises, which might trigger mass migration from the rural areas to the towns and outside the region. By 2050 the number of people displaced by water shortages might reach 5m, the experts say.
Irrigated farming provides almost 66 percent of gross agricultural production in Central Asia. The region’s irrigation infrastructure is over 50 years old.
The Bank’s experts believe that the first immediate step that can and should be taken to prevent a regional water disaster is to address institutional issues and make agriculture and water usage more efficient.
“We must cut down water waste by 2.5 percent in the next five years. On the whole, water losses should be reduced by 30 percent by 2035.” Podguzov said.
He said this could be done by introducing digital technologies to monitor water usage and improved planning. The Bank is planning to invest at least 400m dollars towards such projects by 2026, he added.
The EDB is also prepared to allocate 10m dollars for pilot projects aimed at improving regional coordination in the water economy sector.
The experts are also calling for the establishment of a Central Asian water consortium for implementing joint irrigation projects.
The countries also need to set up a regional cluster to produce modern irrigation equipment, designed specifically for each country’s needs — almost all such equipment is currently exported, the experts say.
By Anna Yampolskaya