chapter  10
26 Pages

Water in Central Asia

A cross-cutting management issue
WithMaksud Bekchanov, Nodir Djanibekov, J.P.A. Lamers

Cropland salinization, waterlogging, and land abandonment in the five former Soviet republics (“stans”) in Central Asia (see Squires and Lu, 2018) are reportedly triggered by water scarcity, flooding or low water quality for irrigation (Abdullaev et al., 2005). Although these drivers and consequences are common in this region, they still belong to the series of least understood challenges. The ongoing, different forms of land degradation reduce the area of productive irrigated land, decrease crop yields and threaten ecosystems sustainability, consequently causing enormous economic losses (Nkonya et al., 2015). For instance, in Uzbekistan, one of the five “stans”, more than 60% of the arable land reportedly is saline and about 885,000 ha are considered marginal, with low or even no profits during annual crop cultivation (Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of Uzbekistan, 2010). Concurrently, financial losses due to the forced retirement of highly saline croplands have been estimated at 12 million USD annually (World Bank, 2002). Similarly, in Tajikistan, more than 30% of the arable croplands are salt-affected whereas in Kyrgyzstan this amounts to 40% and even to 90% in Turkmenistan (Ahrorov et al., 2012). Reduced agricultural production and income impact human health and welfare, especially in the rural areas that heavily depend on irrigated agriculture (Nkonya et al., 2015). However, only a handful of studies have addressed the complex interactions among water quantity and quality, the degradation processes and their socio-economic impacts. With this overview it is intended to focus on the ongoing discussions on anthropogenic and natural causes of land degradation in Central Asia, which hitherto considered issues of water scarcity and low water quality. Because interventions to prevent land degradation 212can return 5 USD for each 1 USD of investment (Nkonya et al, 2015), it is often suggested that direct (land-related) and indirect (water-related) options are the priority. Reforms of institutional policies and governance are also important if land degradation is to be arrested and reversed (Lamers et al., 2014).