Georgi Petrov, Ph.D. (Technology), Head of the Hydropower Laboratory at the Institute for Water Problems, Tajikistan Academy of Sciences (Dushanbe, Tajikistan)


All the main rivers in Central Asia (CA) are transborder and are used by the regions countries in several spheres of the economy at the same time, mainly in irrigation and hydropower engineering. The first is traditional and has existed for several millennia, while the second is at the development stage; the first hydropower plants in CA were not built until the middle of last century.

The structure of the water industry existing in CA (both in irrigation and in hydropower engineering) was created during the Soviet era, in conditions of an extensively developing economy. As we know, this economic development path led to serious environmental problems, the most devastating of which was the Aral Sea disaster.

After five independent sovereign states formed in CA in 1991, the situation in the water industry became even more aggravated. The conflict of interests between irrigation, which was well-developed mainly in the countries on the lower reaches of the rivers (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), and hydropower engineering, which primarily concerned the countries located at the heads of the rivers (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), acquired interstate significance. Both of these spheres require different water regulation regimes. Hydropower engineering is interested in accumulating water in the summer and using it in the winter (at the peak of the energy shortage), while irrigation, vice versa, requires water to be accumulated in the winter and used in the summer, during the vegetation period.

History of the Conflict Development

The conflict of interests between hydropower engineering and irrigation developed gradually and was slow to appear against the background of the fundamental political reforms that were carried out in the regions countries after 1991. Part of the problem was the slow flux of change in management of the hydropower industry. In addition, the CA Unified Energy System, managed from a single dispatch center, and the Interstate Coordinating Water Industry Commission with its Scientific Information Center, set up early in the 1990s, were still functioning under the conditions established in Soviet times.

At the beginning of the 1990s, all the countries of the region signed the Alma-Ata Agreement and the Nukus Declaration, which enforced the existing situation.

The Alma-Ata Agreement of 1992 declared equal rights of all the CA countries to the use of water resources:

Recognizing the communality and unity of the regions water resources, the Parties shall have equal rights to their use and bear equal responsibility for ensuring their rational consumption and protection.

This provision was enforced more specifically in the Nukus Declaration of 1995:

We agree that the Central Asian countries shall recognize previously signed and current agreements, treaties, and..

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