Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Siltification of Northern Caspian Leading to Re-Routing of East-West and North-South Trade in Central Asia

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 14 – The shallowing of the portions of the Caspian Sea off Kazakhstan’s shores as a result of falling water levels and siltification is reducing the capacity of that country’s ports and prompting the redirection of trade both east-west between China and Europe and north-south between Russia and the Indian Ocean.

            Seldom has what may appear to be a relatively minor environmental change had such immediate and dramatic consequences. (On the shallowing of the northern Caspian, see; on these consequences,

            The shallowing of the northern Caspian has significantly reduced the capacity of Kazakhstan’s ports. Tankers which used to be able to carry 12,000 tons of oil now can load only 9,000, because the water off the ports is too shallow to permit heavier loads. Similar reductions are required for ships carrying containerized products.

            Astana has already invested several billion US dollars to dredge the ports, but restoring their capacity to what it was will require multiples of that and take some time as well. As a result, shippers who viewed Kazakhstan as the best route for their cargo are now looking southward instead, a shift with profound geo-economic and geo-political consequences. 

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