Monday, May 31, 2021

Growing Water Conflicts Could Threaten Independence of Central Asian Countries in Future, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 30 – The arrangements the five newly independent countries of Central Asia put in place in the early 1990s have continued to function but more by inertia than by any new agreement. For the time being, this path has avoided a crisis. But growing populations and economies, declining water levels, and new national goals threaten one in the future.

            Indeed, according to Zamir Karazhanov, a Rhythm of Eurasia journalist who has surveyed expert opinion about the situation, experts say that the growing problems in this sector may ultimately even threaten the independence of one or more countries in the region (

            Some of the governments there recognize the problem, but others are playing at brinksmanship either out of the conviction that they will get less than they do now from any new arrangement because they believe that threatening the others with one or another move is the best way to keep things as they are.

            The 1992 agreement which sought to ensure that the arrangements that Moscow had imposed earlier has worked more or less. But tensions have grown both as a result of the additional strains put on the system by efforts to save the Aral Sea, efforts that have collapsed despite outside help, and in 1998 led to the de facto collapse of the 1992 accord.

            Most of the decisions the governments have taken have been minor course corrections which keep things going, Karazhanov says; but they do not address the underlying problems. And “sooner or later,” all the countries are going to be forced to shift from this “inertial” approach and make fundamental decisions.

            The longer those decisions are put off, the analyst concludes, the more dangerous the conflicts that will arise are likely to be, given that “water in the two major rivers of the region is decreasing, while demand for it will only continue to increase.”

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