Abdurasul KAYUMOV

Abdurasul Kayumov, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Sciences, Otto von Guericke University of Magdeburg (Magdeburg, Germany)


The Syr Darya river (together with the Naryn river) has the length of 3,019 km and its basin is a part of the Aral Sea basin, which makes it one of the most important transboundary rivers in Central Asia. The river is formed in Kyrgyzstan and flows through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. The flow of the Syr Darya river and its tributaries are regulated by a series of reservoirs built during the Soviet and post-Soviet period. The most important among them is the Toktogul reservoir with 19.5 cu km water storage capacity. Toktogul was constructed in the 1970s, and is currently located in the territory of Kyrgyzstan. The reservoir area is approximately 280 sq km and is capable of regulating the flow of the Syr Darya river.

The riparian countries of the Syr Darya basin have been experiencing intense conflicts over water distribution since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. While the upstream countries constantly face a shortage of energy resources in winter seasons, the downstream countries have to struggle with water shortages in the summer. The states in the upper reach intend to use water from Toktogul for electricity generation, whereas countries in the lower reach want to operate the reservoir for irrigation. The final consensus over reservoir operation mode has not been achieved so far. On the contrary, it generates frequent tensions between the upstream and downstream countries. Moreover, environmental degradation, climate change and population growth can lead to additional tensions over regional water sharing, which may increase the likelihood of violent conflict in Central Asia.

There have been several attempts to regulate water sharing through regional water management institutions and agreements. Although these institutions and agreements were described with the high degree of compliance, their performance left much to be desired. Why this happens and what factors affect this outcome? Why were negotiations successful, but mutual agreements remained implausible? In this article, I will argue that during the low water periods of the Toktogul reservoir, one can observe elements of cooperation over water sharing in the Naryn/Syr Darya river basin, whereas during the higher water periods, on the contrary, water cooperation tends to slow down and multilateral agreements remain unfulfilled by the riparian countries. Instead of cooperation, the upstream and downstream countries favor unilateral solutions for their domestic water problems. To illustrate this tendency, I will analyze three water low periods in Toktogul, which include the periods of 1984-1988, 1997-1998 and 2007-2008 (see Fig. 2).

The structure of the article is organized as follows: In the first section I will provide the theoretical and methodological explanation. In subsequent sections I will outline water low periods, where the riparian countries experienced particular conflict and..

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