Rising from the USSR Ashes IWRM Across Central Asia

The collapse of the USSR and subsequent creation of five independent states helped turn transboundary rivers and water into a source of potential interstate disputes.

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The collapse of the USSR and subsequent creation of five independent states helped turn transboundary rivers and water into a source of potential interstate disputes. Dr Vadim Sokolov discusses experience of IWRM across central Asia, including the recent aim to reduce water withdrawal from rivers.

Water resources management is the art of delivering the required amount of water to a necessary place in needed moment of time. The history of this art in Central Asia accounts millenniums, but the most intensively water resources started to be used especially after 1960. That was caused by fast growth of the population, intensive industry development and, mainly, irrigated agriculture (see basic indicators dynamics in table 1 below).

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Unfortunately, until 1990 in Central Asia, priority for water development was driven by the basic needs of human beings and satisfaction of economic development, but not for ecosystems' needs.

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Another problem is salinization and waterlogging on the irrigated area (approximately 5,5 million hectares of 8,5 million in total - require artificial drainage). Irrigation creates a return flow, which is a source of environment threats. This polluted water constitutes more then 30% of totally available water resources in the region. Looking at figure 2 it is easy to understand the roots of the recent water related problems in Central Asia. Variability of the natural river flow has two knock-on effects on humanity. On one hand, there is a risk of floods in the years (or periods) of high water. On the other hand, dry periods can lead to a critical scarcity (deficit) of water for uses.

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Once these problems were understood, big dams were construction to regulate river flow in water reservoirs behind dams. Multi-year flow regulation permits to help minimise the risk of floods and optimise water availability for different uses, and in the first turn for irrigation. During the Soviet period, federal government in Central Asia constructed water infrastructure and allocated water resources in order to maximise water supply for irrigated agriculture. This policy brought some economic benefits and social stability to the region, but it also resulted in environmental challenges (as shown). The key water management institutions were the republican water ministries, which effectively managed water allocations and development projects. Today they remain the foundation for interstate water management (with some transformation by status and authority).

In 1986-87 two Basin Water Organizations (BWOs) were established for operative water management along the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers. The federal Soviet government conducted compensatory schemes to regulate trade-off between republics concerning agriculture, energy and other sectors. Thus, on the basis of multi-year regulation of river flow there was not any serious competition for water among the republics.

As the USSR collapsed, and with the creation of the five independent states, the big number of former domestic river basins were now transboundary and water had been turned into a source of potential interstate disputes that had not only environmental, but also political and economic implications.

During the Soviet period, the Aral Sea Basin was managed as an integrated economic unit. Economic priorities, defined by Moscow, dictated that water was allocated to optimise agricultural production. Provision of hydroelectricity was a second priority. With independence the integrated economic system broke down and each country began to redefine its own economic priorities. They became acutely aware of their resource inputs and outputs and it became evident that their respective goals conflicted regarding water usage (by volume and by schedule). Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan wanted to intensify agricultural production for which they were heavily dependent on water for irrigation. Yet, the majority of the water sources originated outside their borders. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, meanwhile, wanted to use water for electricity production and also expansion of agriculture. The scene was set for intense competition.

Recent Legal and Institutional Arrangements

In order to avoid collapse of the agricultural sector - the main water consumer in the basin - the countries extended the water management principles and quota systems inherited from the Soviet era. In February 1992, the five countries entered into agreement on Cooperation in the Joint Use and Protection of Water Resources of Interstate Significance, affirming the "existing structure and principles of allocation" of transboundary waters.

By signing this agreement, the Central Asian states pledged "strictly to observe the coordinated procedures and established rules on use and protection of water resources," while recognising the Aral Sea as of common interest to the five countries. The agreement also formed an Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC), which subsumed the two existing basin water organizations, and was authorised to determine annual water consumption limits in accordance with actual water availability.

The water-energy nexus

The management of water releases from the Toktogul reservoir on the Naryn river (within the Syrdarya basin) in Kyrgyzstan illustrates the water-energy nexus. Initially, after independence, the Central Asian states upheld the legacy interdependencies whereby Kyrgyzstan supplied Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan with water during the summer months in return for gas and coal and electricity during the winter months. This set-up was soon to be challenged. Whereas Toktugul was originally designed to meet multi-year regulation for irrigation demands downstream, Kyrgyzstan quickly saw the possibility of increased hydropower generation. Instead of storing the water for release during the spring and summer irrigation periods, the water could be released during the winter when the domestic need for electricity peaked.

As Central Asia opened to world commodity markets in the mid-1990s, disagreements over the use of Toktogul emerged. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan started to charge world market prices for gas, oil and coal exports to Kyrgyzstan. In response, as it faced energy shortages during the winter months and was unable to muster the hard currency for carbon imports, Kyrgyzstan began to operate the Toktogul power plant for electricity generation during a season where it traditionally had been storing water. The downstream countries experienced the negative effects of this: less water available for irrigation during the summer months and floods during the winter (as shown in Figure 2).

Improving Water Security in the Central Asia

An analysis of the water management situation in Central Asia has revealed the following destabilising factors:

• Demographic growth and stability of rural population (the poorest part)

• Applying the water-sharing principles developed by former centralised water management agencies of the USSR that were included into the Basin Master Plans of Complex Water Resource Use and Conservation – they neglected the needs of ecosystems

• Disputes among the countries regarding water and energy resources and lack of mechanisms to tackle this issue

• Uncertainties related to the possible impact of global climate change on water resources in the basin. Over the last thirty-five years, the average temperature has increased by 1 oC and the size of glaciers in the Pamiro-Alay system has been reduced by 30%

• Different scenarios predict a greater water deficit by the year 2030 as result of evaporation increase and a decrease of water resources of between 6 and 20 km3 annually (5–15% of total renewable water resources)

• Lack of conflict resolution mechanisms and procedures to recover losses due to breaching the existing agreements on water sharing.

Consideration of the above challenges is very important within the understanding of Water Security, which existing among water specialists in the region. Water policy within the context of water security should provide system of measures (legal, institutional, engineering and others) aiming to keep balance between hydrosphere and anthropogenic interventions, and other external factors impacted to water cycle in the basin.

Integrated water resources management (IWRM) should be seen not only as a good theory, but as a real practical instrument. Proper implementation depends on clear understanding of the concept.

First of all, there should be available water resources (surface, underground, etc.) and engineering infrastructure for water abstraction, storage and delivery to water consumers and users.

The next component of water management process (water requirements) is aimed at assessing the needs of all stakeholders in water resources. Major indicators of this component are a record-keeping of all points for water delivery, required amount and time of delivery (some water users may be interested in maintaining necessary water level or water quality in their systems).

water allocation

After specifying available water resources and water requirements, the next component – water allocation – has to be implemented. In other words, this is the process of drawing up a balance taking into consideration available water resources and water demands. The next component of the water management process is water delivery from a source to water users (water supply). Proposed indicators for evaluating a quality of these services are uniformity and sustainability of water supply under minimum non-productive water losses.

Finally, the last key component is water use, including irrevocable water consumption. Here, the major objective is to produce maximum output by using water or its optimal utilization. The proposed indicator is specific water productivity i.e. an amount of water consumed per unit output – product. Producing output and using water, we should be guided by the principles of sustainable development (providing opportunities for future generations to use water in the same extent as today) and the proposed indicator can be a sustainable use index, exceeding of which is inadmissible.

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Within the IWRM system, all of the above mentioned components of water management process should be managed by proper governance framework. This is not static in time – it should be permanently adapted to changes: natural, political, social, economic, technological. Finally, it is important to gain a general understanding of the importance of the co-ordination at all levels of water management hierarchy, and of the input of each participant into integrating water resources management. The governance system covering the all hierarchical levels of water management (see Figure 4) should facilitate to achieve those indicators shown in Table 2.

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stakeholder input

Approaches to improve water productivity are based on the engineering measures and IWRM tools in combination with organisational, legal, and financial measures. To implement these measures in the first place it is necessary to combine efforts of all stakeholders of water provision process starting from water management organisations, WUAs/Communities and ending by farmers/households themselves.

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Such joint efforts need agreed procedures and methods for stabilising water provision, providing equitable water distribution and establishing a proper public control by water users themselves. At the same time, the technical and financial assistance of the State and local governments is necessary. The principal goal of governance and management processes for recent water development in Central Asia is to achieve a significant reduction of water withdrawal from rivers, and in the same time to improve indicators of water use efficiency and water productivity.

Concluding Remarks for Future

To be implemented for the case of Central Asia, there is a need for a Regional Framework Agreement, which should mandate the following conditions for cooperation:

- Upper stream countries should recognise rivers (Pyandj, Vakhsh, Naryn, Zeravshan, etc.) as transboundary (International) water courses, and to anchor agreement with neighbors about new constructions (developments) along those rivers and river flow regimes

- Orientation should be addressed to multi-year flow regulation to compensate flow fluctuations under climate change impact

- Countries situated on river banks should establish Basin Councils for transboundary rivers, which will promote agreement of the flow regimes twice a year and to control compliance with the Framework Agreement.

To achieve sustainable development in Central Asia and improve the livelihoods of the rural population, while protecting the environment in the long-term, a more efficient allocation and management of water resources is needed.

References: Dukhovny, V. A., Sokolov, V.I., and Manthrithilake, H. eds. 2009. IWRM – From Theory to Real Practice: The Experience of Central Asia, Tashkent, Uzbekistan: SIC ICWC/IWMI and SDC

GWP TEC. 2004. Catalyzing change: a Handbook for developing integrated water resources management (IWRM) and water efficiency strategies. Global Water Partnership. Sweden.

Lessons on Cooperation Building to Manage Water Conflicts in the Aral Sea Basin, Victor Dukhovny and Vadim Sokolov. PCCP Publication. UNESCO-IHP, Paris, 2003, 50 p. (www.unesco.org/water/wwap/pccp )

Regional water portal CAREWIB: www.cawater-info.net

Author's note:Dr. Vadim Sokolov is the regional coordinator of the Global Water Partnership for Central Asia and Caucasus (GWP CACENA), is currently acting as deputy director of the Scientific-Information Center of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination in Central Asia and is a civil engineer in Hydro Construction. e-mail: vadim@icwc-aral.uz

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