Water Cooperation Needed in Central Asia

Policy Report | May 06, 2011

On May 6, the EastWest Institute released a report aimed at increasing cooperation on managing water resources in Afghanistan and Central Asia – a vital security concern.  43 million people in the Aral Sea Basin depend on the Amu Darya, a river whose flow is becoming increasingly unreliable due to the impact of climate change and inefficient water management.

“The future economic security of Central Asia depends in large part on cooperative trans-boundary water management,” says EWI Program Coordinator Joelle Rizk. “But there are few forums for even discussing, let alone accomplishing, that goal. This report is meant to help fill the void.”

The report, Enhancing Security in Afghanistan and Central Asia through Regional Cooperation on Water: Amu Darya Consultation Report, is the product of an international consultation held on December 7, 2010, at the European Parliament, organized by EWI, the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention, Wageningen University and the Amu Darya Basin Network.

The report’s recommendations call for the five countries that depend on the Amu Darya – Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan – to pursue an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) approach to the river at the local and basin level.

“An IWRM approach would help basin countries balance competing demands for water use between agricultural, industrial and hydropower sectors, and between upstream and downstream users,” the report points out.

The report also calls for development efforts to begin on a local level, such as training experts from different countries in joint forums to build trust and encouraging European countries to share best practices.

The report cautions that pursuing multilateral legal and economic agreements should not be the focus of regional policies, as existing mechanisms are generally “too broadly defined” to be effective. Another challenge is that Afghanistan, one of the Amu Darya’s major upstream countries, is not party to any international or regional treaties on water.

“With Afghanistan’s economic development, there will be more of a strain on existing water resources in the basin” says Rizk. “Forging international cooperation is therefore all the more crucial.”

The report’s recommendations will be pursued through the Amu Darya Basin Network, created by EWI in partnership with the Development Policy Review Network. EWI now coordinates the Network with the support of the Gerda Henkel Stiftung Foundation. To learn more about the Amu Darya Basin Network, please visit www.amudaryabasin.net