Staunton, June 14 – The drought in Central Asia means that the flow of the Amudarya River is currently 24.5 percent lower than in 2019 and 16.4 percent lower than it was last year when the region began suffering a drought. There is thus less water for Turkmenistan and other downstream countries, and more tensions among them over current and future supplies.
Indeed, Turkmenistan has stopped pumping water in the upper reaches of the Amudarya so that enough water will flow downstream to more populated areas, a strategy that may ease pressure on Ashgabat for a time but that will do little or nothing if the drought continues as many now predict (centrasia.org/news.php?st=1623793740).
To try to manage the situation, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan at the end of last month established a joint commission on water issues. But that is only one of the talks going on because all downstream countries and even traditionally water surplus Kyrgyzstan are short of water as well (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-06-13--solenaja-rana-centralnoj-azii-kak-uzbekistan-reshaet-problemu-priaralja-55088,stanradar.com/news/full/45167-budet-nechego-est-nehvatka-vody-v-kyrgyzstane-mozhet-povlijat-na-osennij-urozhaj.html and stanradar.com/news/full/45195-v-kazahstane-rasskazali-chto-poluchat-kyrgyzstan-uzbekistan-i-tadzhikistan-v-obmen-na-polivnuju-vodu.html).
The water shortages are already having an impact on the economies and standard of living in all five countries, and they are making negotiations on other subjects among them more not less difficult. No bilateral accord is sustainable if it ignores the interests of the other three countries.
As the summer continues, the drought appears likely to get worse, setting the stage for more conflicts within and among these countries, especially since there does not appear at present any possibility for a solution. One consequence likely by the fall will be a dramatic increase in the numbers of Central Asians who want to leave.
And that will transform a regional issue currently attracting little attention into a much larger one that will compel not only the five countries in the region to talk with each other but also force outside powers, including in the first instance Russia and China, to get involved, a development that in itself may make the problem even more intractable and explosive.