chapter  11
20 Pages

Water and environmental sustainability


At the November 2008 Water Unites conference in Almaty, Pierre Morel, the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, stated once again that ‘water is at the core of the stability and security of the region’ (Morel 2008b). The implied potential for conflict is grounded in the fact that all major rivers in Central Asia are transboundary. Increasing water scarcity due to unsustainable use and uneven distribution has already led to tensions. Some examples include: conflict between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on the one side and Kyrgyzstan on the other side about the amount and timing of water discharge from the Toktogul reservoir in Kyrgyzstan; between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on the water discharge from the Tuyamuyun reservoir and the water diversion into the Karakum canal; and between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan about the construction of the Rogun dam. Therefore, and rather unsurprisingly, water is generally perceived by policy makers to be closely linked to regional stability and security and hence an issue of high politics (e.g. Horsman 2001; UNDP 2003a; UNEP et al. 2005). But water management is not only a security issue; the region’s most sincere environmental challenges are also linked to water. The most striking and well-known example is the shrinking Aral Sea: since the 1960s, it has lost 90 per cent of its water volume, leading to catastrophic consequences for the regional environment, economy and human health (Giese 1998; Micklin 2006; Sehring 2007). While oil and gas resources in Central Asia are certainly important for the economic development of the region, high quality land and water are key to the survival of a population which for the most part is living on subsistence agriculture. There is a need to take stock of what is being done to address these serious challenges. The first section of this chapter gives an overview of the state of water availability and use in Central Asia and presents approaches that are currently being undertaken at the regional and national level to meet the challenges. The second section is devoted to EU activities in this field, in particular the EU Water Initiative (EUWI) and the water dimension of the EU Central Asia (EU-CAS) Strategy.