Friday, June 14, 2013

Window on Eurasia: The Death of the Aral Sea is Dividing Central Asia, Uzbek Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – “Today, the Aral does not exist as a sea” because it has “lost is economic, ecological and natural significance,” an Uzbek commentator says, and that sets the stage for conflicts between the upstream countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan which have enough water and the downstream countries and especially Uzbekistan which do not.

            In an impassioned article on this development on the portal, Nurlan Abdiyev argues that the death of the Aral – and he suggests it is unlikely to be stopped before that body of water completely disappears – will have the most severe consequences for “the more than 50 million people of Central Asia” (

Abdiyev details the ways in which the development of agriculture and the growth of population in the region led countries through which the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers flow to withdraw ever more water from them, thereby “leaving the Aral Sea without an inflow and condemning it to drying up.”

As someone who “lives and works in the lower reaches of the Amudarya,” Abdiyev says, he sees every day the ecological and human consequences in that region that are the result. But he warns that those who live upstream in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan must not assume that they will escape the death of the Aral.

That the environment and economy of those who live in downstream countries will suffer first is beyond question, he continues. They are already suffering. Karakalpakia, he notes, is registering annual losses in agriculture as a result of water shortages amount to 150 million US dollars.  And the human costs are much higher still.

But upstream countries, who currently believe they can divert water for energy and irrigation projects, have to recognize that the problems of their downstream neighbors will ultimately affect them directly as their populations grow and indirectly as their downstream neighbors react to what the others are doing.

If the upstream countries do not understand that, then, water problems are going to become “the basis for tensions in the relations among the countries of Central Asia,” especially if each country continues to approach the issue from the narrow perspective of its immediate national interests rather than long-term regional ones.

And if the current trends continue, the Aral will “completely disappear,” agricultural production across the region will fall, and governments will be forced to take measures to try to defend the needs of their respective populations, thus further exacerbating what is already a tragic situation.

The Central Asian countries must reach a balanced agreement soon to save the situation and prevent its deterioration into a political crisis. But so far, Abdiyev says, they have been unable to agree to proceed according to the provisions of International Water Law, which require that upstream countries must consider the interests of downstream water users.

Instead, the upstream countries in Central Asia have striven “by any means” to promote their interests regardless of what happens to the others.  That development, he concludes, will spark ever moreintense “international water and energy conflicts” among countries in a region that should be committed to securing a common future.

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