Staunton, Apr. 5 – The World Bank is now seconding the conclusion of the Russian Academy of Sciences that water shortages in Central Asia brought on by climate change, burgeoning population growth, and excessive use of water by farmers in that region will lead millions of Central Asians to flee to Russia (worldbank.org/en/region/eca/brief/climate-change-in-europe-and-central-asia and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/04/millions-of-central-asians-will-soon-be.html).
But both of these studies focuses on the long-term, with the Bank saying that 5.1 million Central Asians will leave their countries by 2050 – less than 200,000 a year. But the problem now appears more likely to come sooner and in larger size that either of these institutions is projecting.
The five countries of Central Asia – and Uzbekistan in particular – have taken some radical steps to reduce water use from the two main rivers of the region, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya and agreed to harsh new quotas for water use this year (upl.uz/economy/30747-news.html).
Were everything else equal, that accord reached earlier this year, might have put the region on path to dealing with its water shortages and desertification. But as of now, everything isn’t equal – and Afghanistan which is not a party to those regional negotiations and agreements has taken a step that will upend everything the others have done.
Kabul has announced that it will near completion this year of a 285 km Kosh-Tepa canal that will draw waters from the Amu Darya and irrigate 550,000 hectares of land in northern Afghanistan. Tashkent has sought to negotiate with Kabul on limits – its own steps are clearly intended to add credibility to its demands – but so far without great success (russian.eurasianet.org/узбекистан-продолжает-обсуждать-с-афганистаном-непростой-проект-канала and russian.eurasianet.org/уровень-рек-в-центральной-азии-может-резко-упасть-что-потребует-срочных-мер).
If the two can’t agree on limits, it may turn out that the greatest threat from Afghanistan to stability in Central Asia will not be the Islamic fundamentalism so many have talked about but rather the use of water to develop agriculture in that country, water that will no longer be available to the countries of Central Asia.