With Aral’s Death Irreversible, Central Asian Leaders Shift Focus to Setting a Market Price for Water
September 3 – For most of the past 25 years, the issue of saving the Aral Sea
has dominated all discussions of water sharing and use in Central Asia. But now
that the death of that sea has become irreversible, the leaders of that region
are increasingly focusing on putting a market price on water so as to be able
to share this resource without the conflicts of the past.
both ideological reasons – Marxism-Leninism was opposed on the basis of the labor
theory of value to putting a price on unprocessed natural resources – and practical
ones – Moscow’s ability to play off the water surplus and water short republics
in Central Asia was a foundation of Soviet power in that region.
with the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of five new countries in the
region, conflicts over water intensified with the water surplus countries of
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan at odds with the water-short countries of Kazakhstan,
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the absence of the arbitrating role that Moscow
had played in the past.
conflicts have intensified over this period as a result of growing shortages of
water even in the water-surplus countries, growing water requirements for economic
activity and population needs in the water-short countries, and the interest of
outside third parties, first and foremost China, in gaining access to this
these tensions were often subsumed under discussions about how to “save the
Aral Sea,” a body of water that has lost more than 90 percent of its surface
area and more than 97 percent of its volume in recent decades. Indeed, talk
about water in Central Asia still takes place under this rubric.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev renewed his 2003 proposal for the creation of an
international water-energy consortium in Central Asia, an idea that attracted
lots of interest 15 years ago but little action. And Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon called
for setting a market price on water so it could be divided up on the basis of
supply and demand.
water-energy consortium could become the place where prices would be set, but
it is far from clear, Karazhanov says, whether the upstream countries, Kyrgyzstan
and Tajikistan, would be willing to cede their sovereign power to the downstream
ones which are overwhelmingly dependent on water from the two.
currently gets more than 90 percent of its water from flows that originate beyond
its borders; Uzbekistan, 77 percent; and Kazakhstan, more than 40 percent, the
Central Asian commentator says. They will have an interest in low prices while
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will want them as high as possible.
specific decisions were taken at Turkmenbashi, Karazhanov says; but “the main
thing is that the meeting took place.” There hadn’t been on at the presidential
level on water issues since 2009; and there had never been one since 1991 where
the main issue wasn’t “saving the Aral” but figuring out ways to share water,
almost certainly by setting some price on it.