Staunton, August 15 – All discussions of water in Central Asia divide the countries there between the two countries which have water surpluses in that the rivers of the region rise there and flow outward and are classified as water surplus countries – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – and the other three – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – described as water short countries.
But it is a measure of continuingly growing demand for water, global warming’s impact on the environment, and the drought the region is currently suffering from, that even Kyrgyzstan is suffering from a serious water crisis (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-08-15--na-kyrgyzstan-obrushilsja-vodnyj-krizis.-vody-net-i-ne-budet-55979).
Not only has the unprecedented shortage of water in Kyrgyzstan depressed agricultural production and hence the incomes of the rural residents of that country, but it has sparked protests and demands by rural residents in that Bishkek shut off the flow of water into neighboring countries in order to take care of Kyrgyzstan first.
These protests have spread to all the oblasts of the country, including the especially hard-pressed north and the capital region, and the government is under pressure to take some steps in that direction. But if it did, all three downstream countries would suffer, with Uzbekistan hit hardest and regional cooperation on borders and energy put at risk.
Water shortages in Kyrgyzstan are also having a negative impact on fishing, public health and energy, the last because hydro-power is a key element. Bishkek now buys electricity from Uzbekistan but Tashkent would likely cut that off if the Kyrgyz cut off the water, triggering a serious crisis.
At present Tashkent is pressing Bishkek to rejoin the International Foundation for Saving the Aral Sea, a group the Kyrgyz government left five years ago, arguing that participation was no longer in its national interest.
Some Kyrgyz have come up with a novel “solution” to the water problem. They are creating “artificial glaciers” by freezing water in the wintertime and then allowing it to thaw in the summer. But the amount of water involved is microscopically small compared to how much is needed (https://kbcity.kg/в-панфиловском-районе-делают-искусст/).
But it is a measure of just how serious the water shortage is in supposedly “water surplus” Kyrgyzstan that its residents are prepared to try even that in the hopes that they can address at least the immediate problems of some communities even though they have serious doubts that anything short of shutting off the water to downstream countries will solve their problems.