NATURAL DROUGHT OR HUMAN MADE WATER SCARCITY IN UZBEKISTAN?

Kai WEGERICH


Kai Wegerich, Ph.D. student at the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University focusing on water management and institutions in Central Asia (Great Britain)


Introduction

In the years 2000 and 2001 Central Asia was hit by a drought. While the first drought has been called by Deputy Agriculture Minister Abdurakhim Dzhalakhov the worst in 95 years,1 the second drought was even more devastating at least for the areas in Uzbekistan close to the Aral Sea, Khorezm and Karakalpakstan. These provinces lie on the lower reaches of the river Amu Darya and are most vulnerable to low regional river flows. The water scarcity seems to continue. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Central Asia faces a third consecutive year of drought.2

Reports indicate that the water scarcity in Uzbekistan was worst in the downstream regions of the Amu Darya. To analyze the problems of the scarcity the Amu Darya has to be viewed in three parts: upstream in Tajikistan, midstream and downstream in Uzbekistan. Upstream, midstream and downstream water scarcity differed. The phenomenon of unequal water scarcity could be an indication that the causes are not only natural but also management and therefore institution related.

The analysis of the drought starts off with a short theoretical introduction to the problems of river basin management and equal resource utilization. An institutional approach of analyzing the water management is applied. After giving a brief background into the history of agricultural production in Uzbekistan before and after independence in 1991, the focus shifts to the consequences of the drought and the question whether the drought is only natural. The examination of upstream (Tajikistan) and downstream (Uzbekistan) water availability will be used as evidence. The main evidence will be based on data on water in the Nurek reservoir upstream in Tajikistan at the river Vakhsh and the Tuyamuyun reservoir downstream before Khorezm in Uzbekistan.

Finally the question who is responsible for the scarcity is addressed. The paper concludes that the current water scarcity downstream is neither a natural problem nor a problem of the institutions managing the water. The inefficiency of the institutions does not explain the current natural resource scarcity. The water scarcity downstream is based on the political agenda of Uzbekistan to produce cotton for export.

Social Theory Explanations to Natural Resource Systems and Scarcities

A river basin system is a common pool resource. Common pool resources are defined by Ostrom as resources, which share two attributes (1) the difficulty of excluding individuals from benefiting from a good and (2) the subtractability of the benefits consumed by one individual from those available to others.3 Because of their position in a basin system, downstream users are in a geographical weaker position than the upstream users. The downstream users are directly affected by the water use of the upstream users. They are vulnerable to misuse and are dependent on institutions, which represent their interest. Such institutions might ensure equal sharing amongst all users of the common resource can be reached. In this case institutions are organizations, which are responsible for equal and efficient use of water between the water users. If effective these institutions will bring order and stability and reduce transaction cost.

The water of the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya is centrally managed in Uzbekistan. Hence, one national authority allocates water to the different regional levels (oblast), which distribute water to the districts (rayon), and then to the former state and collective farms. Although, within the given resource distribution system each level tries to bargain for the maximum allocation, the decision for allocation is made in a top-down approach. Each distributional level faces the difficulties of exclusion and subtractability of benefits. Hence, each level faces institutional dilemmas of equal and efficient distribution, which are connected to high information, monitoring and enforcement costs.4 Because of the high institutional costs the system of centrally managed water allocation has a tendency to inefficiency as well as water theft and free riding.

The analyses of the water scarcity in Uzbekistan will enable insights to be gained on whether the resource scarcity of the 1999-2001 drought is due first to natural causes, secondly to weak institutions failing to manage water equally and efficiently or thirdly to other reasons, which cannot be explained by common pool resource analysis.

Background

In the era of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan specialized in cotton production. Craumer argues that in 1987 the irrigated area in Uzbekistan allocated to cotton reached 60 percent.5 In 1991 collective and state-owned farms covered 4.2 million ha of irrigated area. Lipovsky argues that by the 1980s the Central Asian republics had achieved the maximum level of cotton production possible given the existing water resources and the technological condition of the regions irrigation systems.6

After independence Uzbekistan continued with the Soviet command-administrative system of state orders and the collective ownership of agricultural land and machinery. FAO data shows that in 1992 the area allocated to cotton was 1.6 million hectares, less than 50 percent of the irrigated area. Cotton continued to be the main crop in Uzbekistan. Although, in February 1994 land was distributed to peasant farmers specializing in cattle breeding, the main area of agricultural production namely cotton, rice and grain continued to be under state control. Only because of the quest of the Uzbek authorities to reach food self-sufficiency, cotton area harvested declined from 1,666,700 ha in 1992 to 1,425,000 ha in 2000.7 The cash-crop cotton continued to be the main source of income.

In the era of the Soviet Union, Karakalpakstan specialized in rice production, and was one of the main rice producing regions in the Soviet Union. After independence specialization in Karakalpakstan did not change, it continued to be Uzbekistans largest rice producing region. Because of its specialization the water allocation to Karakalpakstan was high, 12 km3 annually. Since independence other regions of Uzbekistan started to produce rice as well. However, Karakalpakstan is still providing half of Uzbekistans total rice harvest.8 FAO data shows that the area of rice harvested in Uzbekistan was approximately 170,000 hectares in the period from 1992 to 1999.

Consequences of the Water Scarcity

The 1999-2001 drought had a devastating effect on Karakalpakstans rice production. Even though in the year 2000 115,000 hectares were planted, only 45,000 hectares were harvested.9 According to FAO data in the whole of Uzbekistan the rice area harvested in 1999 was 164,000 ha. The area shrank in 2000 to only 65,000 hectares, and the total rice production fell from 414,000 in 1999 to 175,000 tons in 2000.10

Rise Production in Uzbekistan (area harvested, yield and production given in percentage)

Rice production

 

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

Area Harv (Ha)

182,020

180,700

167,000

165,900

185,000

194,800

144,000

164,000

65,000

Yield (Hg/Ha)

29,607

30,138

29,838

19,747

24,324

20,226

24,028

25,244

26,923

Production (Mt)

538,900

544,600

498,300

327,600

450,000

394,000

346,000

414,000

175,000

in percent

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

Area Harv

100.00

99.27

91.75

91.14

101.64

107.02

79.11

90.10

35.71

Yield

100.00

101.79

100.78

66.70

82.16

68.31

81.16

85.26

90.93

Production

100.00

101.06

92.47

60.79

83.50

73.11

64.20

76.82

32.47

There is still no official data from the FAO for the year 2001 available. However, according to R. Koshekov (head of Water Use Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Water Economy of Karakalpakstan) in January 2001 it was planned to sow rice on 120,000 hectares in Karakalpakstan, but because of the expected water shortages, rice was only planted on approximately 5,000 hectares.11 Due to the continuing water shortages, it is not certain even for the reduced area whether there will be any production resulting from the sowing.

The effects of the drought for the farmers are devastating. In October 2001 a U.N. assessment mission to Uzbekistan determined that 45,000 people might experience food supply problems.12 OCHA gave a higher estimate, stating that the water shortage has rendered 100,000 farmers (79,000 people in Karakalpakstan, 21,000 in Khorezm) without a stable source of income.13 Northern Karakalpakstan is the most affected area, and also the furthest downstream in the Amu Darya Basin. According to Romanova, the regions nine northern districts have produced no rice in two years.14 As a result people have left the farms for better opportunities in other regions. OCHA states that the drought has led to limited population movements from the most affected areas to other parts of Uzbekistan, as well as across international borders to Kazakhstan and the Russian federation.15 Romanova claimed that, entire villages began leaving northern Karakalpakstan.16

Drought and Water Scarcity

According to the Deputy Agriculture Minister Abdurakhim Dzhalakhov the rainfall in Uzbekistan in the summer of 2000, the first year of drought, was less than 15 per cent of the usual amount.17 The drought reduced the available amount of water for the different water users in Central Asia. The Uzbek newspaper, Halq Suzi, reported, A quota of 25,289 m cubic meters of water was set for the irrigation period of 1999-2000. But only 16,734 m cubic meters of water were supplied due to water shortage.18 Dr. E. Kurbanov, Director of SANIIRI Karakalpak branch confirmed this figure. He argued the drought reduced the available water by 30 percent in the year 2000.19

However, if one takes the water storage of reservoirs in the Amu Darya Basin as an indicator of the reduced water availability, then it seems that the drought did not reduce the water by 30 percent. The Amu Darya has two water reservoirs, the Nurek reservoir upstream in Tajikistan and the Tuyamuyun reservoir downstream in Uzbekistan. The Nurek reservoir stored in the end of May, June and July 2000 6,611, 7,081 and 8,048 mcm, respectively. According to the available data, the average for the last five years was 6,817, 7,779 and 9,418 mcm for the same months. Comparing average and drought year shows that the effects of the drought on available water for irrigation were not severe. The drought reduced the stored water in the Nurek reservoir only by approximately 10 percent.

In the second year of the drought the water shortfall was less as the previous year. Dr. E. Kurbanov stated that in the year 2001 the drought reduced the available water by approximately 25 percent.20 However, the Nurek reservoir in Tajikistan stored in May, June and July 2001 6,309, 7,854 and 9,678 mcm of water, respectively. The available water stored in Nurek in 2001 was more than the average stored in the last five years. The high amount of water in the reservoir can be explained by an increased snowmelt, due to the relatively high temperatures in the spring period in Tajikistan.

In July 2000 the drought reduced the available water for irrigation upstream only by 10 percent. The impacts of the drought should have been moderate. However, the drought was called severe21 and its consequences devastating.22 The water shortages were especially severe in the lower Amu Darya region in Khorezm and Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan.

The estimates of actual water supply to Karakalpakstan vary. Dr. E. Kurbanov from SANIIRI argues that in 2000 less than 50 percent of the allocated water reached Karakalpakstan.23 However, ORYZA states that in the year 2000 Karakalpakstan received only 10 percent of its normal water supply.24 For the year 2001, Dr. E. Kurbanov argues that only 30 percent reached the downstream regions.25 On the other hand, the estimates from Ecosun are lower. Romanova, quoting Ecosun, stated: the regions water source, the Amu Darya, has brought just a fifth its usual amount of water to Karakalpakstan.26

The water storage of the Tuyamuyun reservoir might help to clarify the water availability downstream. The water table in Tuyamuyun was at a level of 2,570, 1,921 and 1,914 mcm in May, June and July 2000, and in the same months in the year 2001 at a level of 1,803, 1,912 and 1,779 mcm, respectively. Again, the figures can be compared with the average storage in the recent five years. In the three months the water table was at 3,865, 3,688 and 3,854 mcm. However, the reservoir supplies water to Khorezm and Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan and Dashkhovuz in Turkmenistan. Hence, Karakalpakstan did not receive all of the stored water in Tuyamuyun. According to the figures of Tuyamuyun the water level was in the year 2000 approximately down to 50 percent of the average level, and in the year 2001 down to 40 percent of the average level.

Volume of Reservoirs at the End of Each Month (mcm)

Reservoir/River

Total

Dead

2000

 

Capacity

Storage

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

Nurek/Vakhsh

10,500

5,960

7,139

5,990

5,762

6,012

6,611

7,081

Tuyamuyun/Amu Darya

7,270

2,000

6,002

5,275

3,611

2,779

2,570

1,921

Reservoir/River

Total

Dead

2000

 

Capacity

Storage

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

Nurek/Vakhsh

10,500

5,960

8,048

9,552

10,110

9,830

9,309

8,491

Tuyamuyun/ Amu Darya

7,270

2,000

1,914

1,858

1,820

1,833

2,245

3,042

Reservoir/River

Total

Dead

2001

 

Capacity

Storage

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

Nurek/Vakhsh

10,500

5,960

7,450

6,416

5,957

5,946

6,309

7,854

Tuyamuyun/ Amu Darya

7,270

2,000

3,847

3,971

2,119

1,872

1,803

1,912

Reservoir/River

Total

Dead

2001

 

Capacity

Storage

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

Nurek/Vakhsh

10,500

5,960

9,678

 

 

 

 

 

Tuyamuyun/ Amu Darya

7,270

2,000

1,779

 

 

 

 

 

Reservoir/River

Total

Dead

Average for Recent Five Years

 

Capacity

Storage

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

Nurek/Vakhsh

10,500

5,960

7,342

6,309

5,808

6,336

6,817

7,779

Tuyamuyun/ Amu Darya

7,270

2,000

6,055

5,649

4,412

4,227

3,865

3,688

Reservoir/River

Total

Dead

Average for Recent Five Years

 

Capacity

Storage

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

Nurek/Vakhsh

10,500

5,960

9,418

10,316

10,458

10,128

9,417

8,458

Tuyamuyun/ Amu Darya

7,270

2,000

3,854

3,435

3,469

3,797

4,345

4,982

If Karakalpakstan received in 2000 and 2001 less than 50 and 40 percent, respectively, then the difference would have to be explained by unequal water use from Khorezm and Dashkhovuz, the two upstream regions after Tuyamuyun.

A comparison between the water tables of the Nurek and the Tuyamuyun reservoir shows that the available water decreased from the upstream to the downstream reservoir. In the year 2000 it decreased from minus 10 percent upstream to minus 50 percent downstream, and in 2001 from a small plus to a minus of up to 60 percent. This shows that the extreme water shortages downstream have been caused not by nature alone but mainly by diversion of the water in the midstream part of the Amu Darya system.

Is Somebody to Blame for the Water Scarcity?

The opinions are divided when it comes to the causes of the water scarcity. V. Antonov of the ministry of agriculture and water resources puts the blame on population growth. He argues that the population has increased four fold to 25 million over the last hundred years.27 However, the recent water scarcity is a new phenomenon, therefore it cannot be explained with a rise in population in the last hundred years.

In its report on the causes and consequences of the drought, OCHA states: the protracted drought conditions are caused by a combination of natural causes and structural factors.28 OCHA argues that the most obvious causes are natural: Water levels are reduced in part as a result of global warming, lack of rain and snowfall in upstream areas of the rivers, e.g. in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.29 However, as seen before the statement can be contradicted simply by utilizing the data available from the reservoir in the upstream region. The actual obvious reason is not the real reason for the severe water scarcity in the downstream regions.

The second reason given by OCHA is structural. OCHA identifies three structural reasons for the water shortages: Water management practices at both national and regional levels, irrigation techniques and technology, and agricultural and crop production policies and practices.30 The water management practices and the technology used have not changed since independence, a decade ago. The practices and technology can explain inefficient use of the natural resource in Uzbekistan, however they cannot explain the recent scarcity in the downstream regions. Hence, the water scarcity in the last two years would have to be explained by changes in water allocation and use in the midstream region.

Kohn argues: What makes the drought unusual is that it is man-made.31 Even though Kohn presented such a statement, he did not provide explanations. He did say that most experts do not think that it is a conspiracy against the Karakalpak people, but that the water shortage is because Karakalpakstan is downstream. Kohn quotes D. McKinney: I think its more a function of simple geography: the Karakalpaks are downstream.32 However, this explanation is not sufficient, because Karakalpakstan was always downstream and the phenomenon of water scarcity is new.

Political Decisions on Agriculture

D. McKinney quoted by Kohn states: The Karakalpaks are really at the end of the line. I dont think it is some kind of political decision to cheat them out of water.33 However, as stated by Kohn, despite the shortage, many Uzbek agricultural areas had relatively normal yields.34 Instead of looking for a conspiracy against Karakalpakstan, Kohn missed that even in the year 2001 the areas in Karakalpakstan planting cotton received water. The regions nine northern districts have produced no rice in two years and cotton farming is down by more than a third.35 Water was allocated to farms specialized in cotton production.

R. Koshekov stated that water gets distributed to the districts, which specialize in cotton production.36 Within the districts, the head of water distribution in the district allocated water to the cotton producing farms.37 The politics of water distribution was not against Karakalpakstan but against rice production.

FAO data confirmed that the Uzbek government favored cotton production against rice production. While rice production decreased from 414,000 to 175,000 tons in the period from 1999-2000, cotton production increased from 3,680,000 to 3,900,000 tons in the same period. Furthermore, the cotton production rose even though the area harvested declined. The increased output was due to rising yields. Even in the second year of drought, the cotton harvest decreased only marginally. According to officials in the Agricultural Ministry of Uzbekistan the target for the cotton harvest was down from 3.9 million to 3.79 million tons for the year 2001.38

Cotton Production in Uzbekistan (area harvested, yield and production given in percentage)

Cotton Production

 

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

Area Harv (Ha)

1,666,700

1,695,100

1,539,400

1,492,800

1,487,300

1,500,000

1,530,000

1,505,000

1,425,000

Yield (Hg/Ha)

24,772

24,983

25,569

26,355

22,525

24,280

21,046

24,452

27,368

Production (Mt)

4,128,700

4,234,900

3,936,100

3,934,200

3,350,100

3,642,000

3,220,000

3,680,000

3,900,000

in percent

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

Area Harv

100.00

101.70

92.36

89.57

89.24

90.00

91.80

90.30

85.50

Yield

100.00

100.85

103.22

106.39

90.93

98.01

84.96

98.71

110.48

Production

100.00

102.57

95.34

95.29

81.14

88.21

77.99

89.13

94.46

The central influence on the regional and local departments on water distribution in 2000 and 2001 made sure that farms specializing in cotton received enough water. The upstream regions specializing in cotton production were also not affected by the drought. T. Lennaerts, a specialist from the Central Asian Natural Resource Management Project (NRMP), interpreting the data from the reservoirs argued that the water shortages caused by the drought have been moved downstream.39

Cotton remains the main cash earner for Uzbekistan. According to UzbekWorld.com Uzbekistans cotton fiber exports were worth $897.1 million last year.40 In its report UNESCO states that cotton exports accounts for 40 percent of the total exports.41 The policy during the drought to allocate water to cotton crops instead of all crops indicates that cotton is more valuable for the Uzbek state and its command-administrative system than food crops.

Conclusion

The analysis shows that the framework of common pool resource management is inadequate to explain the current water scarcity in the downstream regions of Uzbekistan. The framework uses only institutional factors but does not incorporate political factors for unequal resource depletion.

The evidence of the available data demonstrates that the water scarcity and the devastating consequences of the water scarcity in the downstream regions are the result of political decisions. Natural as well as institutional and technical problems of water management might have contributed to the scarcity, however the main reason for the water scarcity downstream is political. It is the greed for cash crop revenue. The available water is not shared equally amongst the users, but according to economic reasoning at the center, which preferred the production of cash crops to food crops. The downstream water users growing food crops bear the consequences of the political decision.

International research attention focused on the technical and institutional causes for the scarcity, however the main explanation for water shortages downstream was political. Consequently, the downstream regions will continue to suffer. The first negative impact was environmental. The second was on the farming communities of the region who were deprived of the original term flow and then during the 1999-2001 drought. First because of the re-allocation of water in the midstream reaches, and second due to the emphasis placed on cash crop production.


1 Uzbeks Ask for Drought Aid, See 1 million at Risk, CNN.com, 21 September, 2000.

2 In Asia, A Third Year of Drought, CBS News, 28 September, 2001.

3 E. Ostrom, R. Gardner, J. Walker, Rules, Games, and Common-Pool Resources, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1994, p. 6.

4 See: E. Ostrom, Governing the Commons: the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York, 1990.

5 See: P.R. Craumer, Agricultural Change, Labour Supply, and Rural Out-Migration in Soviet Central Asia, in: Geographical Perspectives on Soviet Central Asia, ed. by Robert A. Lewis, Routledge, London and New York, 1992, p. 144.

6 I. Lipovsky, The Central Asian Cotton Epic, Central Asian Survey, Vol. 14, No. 4, 1995, p. 534.

7 See: S. Babu, A. Tashmatov, Attaining Food Security in Central AsiaEmerging Issues and Challenges for Policy Research, Food Policy, 1999.

8 O. Romanova, Uzbek Drought, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, No. 66, 22 August, 2001.

9 Uzbekistan, ORYZA Market Report, 29 November, 2000; see also: Sh. Alimov, Uzbekistan Faces Drought Crisis, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, No. 7, 16 June, 2000.

10 FAO: http://apps.fao.org/page/collections?subset=agriculture (data collected from FAO web-page on 18.12.2000)

11 Informal interview, July 2001.

12 U.N. FAO Experts Comment on Central Asian Regional Drought, The Times of CA, 1 July, 2001.

13 UzbekistanDrought, OCHA Situation Report No. 2, 18 July, 2001.

14 O. Romanova, op. cit.

15 UzbekistanDrought, OCHA Situation Report No. 2, 18 July, 2001.

16 O. Romanova, op. cit.

17 Uzbeks Ask for Drought Aid, See 1 million at Risk, CNN.com, 21 September, 2000.

18 Up to 40% of Irrigation Water Wasted in Some Uzbek Regions, Halq Suzi, 2 July, 2001.

19 Informal interview, Nukus, July 2001.

20 Informal interview, Nukus, July 2001.

21 Uzbekistan, ORYZA Market Report, 29 November, 2000.

22 O. Romanova, op. cit.

23 Informal interview, Nukus, July 2001.

24 Uzbekistan, ORYZA Market Report, 4 September, 2000.

25 Informal interview, Nukus, July 2001.

26 O. Romanova, op. cit.

27 See: G. Bukharbaeva, New Uzbek Water Crisis, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, No. 48, 19 April, 2001.

28 UzbekistanDrought, OCHA Situation Report No. 2, 18 July, 2001.

29 Ibidem.

30 Ibidem.

31 D. Kohn, Man-Made Drought Wreaks Havoc in Karakalpakstan, Eurasianet, 26 February, 2001.

32 Quoted from: D. Kohn, op. cit., p. 2.

33 Ibidem.

34 Ibid., p. 1.

35 O. Romanova, op. cit.

36 Informal interview, Nukus, July 2001.

37 Informal interview with J. Sulaimenov, deputy head of the Department of Agriculture and Water Economy Kungrad District, July 2001.

38 Uzbek Cotton Target Down, Due to the Drought, UzbekWorld.com, 12 September, 2001.

39 Informal interview, Tashkent, August 2001.

40 Uzbek Cotton Target Down, Due to the Drought, UzbekWorld.com, 12 September, 2001.

41 Water Related Vision for the Aral Sea Basin, UNESCO Report, 2000, p. 64.


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