Unless well-funded and coordinated joint efforts are stepped up, ongoing over-withdrawals compounded by climate change will cause dangerous water shortages for some 70 million people living in Central Asia's Aral Sea Basin, according to a new book co-authored by 57 experts from 14 countries and the United Nations.
With six countries competing for resources - Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan - the Basin is one of the world's most complex watersheds.
Its two major rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, discharge now only about 10% of what flowed into the Aral Sea until the 1960s, shrinking the sea by more than 80 percent -- "one of the world's most severe and emblematic environmental disasters."
The new book:
- Offers a thorough overview of the Basin's surface and groundwater resources
- Underlines the Basin's hydropower potential and the environmental threats emerging due to minimal river flows
- Describes the vital role and misuse of freshwater in the Basin, and the underlying historical context, political upheavals, uncoordinated water management approaches, and conflicting public and private sector interests involved
- Highlights the paramount importance of ice and snow pack in surrounding mountains in sustaining freshwater supplies in the context of climate change
- Details the politics of transboundary water management, national and regional efforts by the Aral Sea Basin's neighbours, and international interventions to date
- Prescribes steps to improve freshwater management in the Basin and advance towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG6- water and sanitation.
Observations and recommendations:
Comments lead book editor Dr. Stefanos Xenarios of Nazarbaev University, Kazakhstan and co-editor-in-chief of the Central Asian Journal of Water Research (CAJWR): "This book assembles the views of nearly all major regional and international experts on the great challenges to be met in Aral Sea Basin. And almost half of the 57 authors are based in Central Asia, creating a unique blend of regional and international voices and expertise on the critical issues involved."
"The Aral Sea Basin's many water issues must be addressed by all states jointly or none will be fully resolved," adds Dr. Xenarios. "The region already has national strategies developed with support from international organizations. But they have not yet been fully implemented. Water management in the Aral Sea Basin should link with general development strategies, including trade, tourism and transportation, enhancing solutions and cooperation"
Adds contributing author and book co-editor Dr. Iskandar Abdullaev, Deputy Director, CAREC Institute, China: "The authors of this book sound powerful alarms about ongoing soil erosion, climate change, and other major environmental threats in the Basin. They also offer succinct policy recommendations to reverse the situation and protect the livelihoods of all those who strongly depend on a reliable regional freshwater system."
"The Aral Sea Basin has been greatly affected by major geo-political changes in the last 30 years that, on one hand, increased water challenges and, on the other, created new opportunities to resolve them."
"Reforming the water sector in the Basin goes beyond adopting new policies and initiatives, updating the legislative framework, and building new institutions," says another contributing author Dr. Vladimir Smakhtin, Director, UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Canada.
"Needed also is strong and continuous high-level political engagement in all Aral Sea Basin countries to better coordinate water management at national and transboundary levels, and technical and financial support of the relevant authorities and organizations".
Dr. Smakhtin also serves as series editor of the Routledge publishers' Earthscan Series on Major River Basins of the World, to which the Aral Sea Basin Book is the latest addition. Previously published volumes examined the Ganges, Zambezi, Nile and Volta river basins, with a volume on South America's Parana River Basin scheduled for 2020.
The Aral Sea Basin, a primer
Two major rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, flow through six Central Asian countries before draining into the Aral Sea. The total basin area is over 1.7 million square kilometers - about half the size of India.
The rivers' annual flow in the late 1950s was 115 cubic kilometers and the Aral Sea covered an area the size of Ireland, 68,000 square kilometers. With flows since diminished by 90 percent, the sea now covers just 17 percent of its original surface area.
The causes: Massive developments, primarily in the second half of the 20th Century, and the expansion of intensive and wasteful irrigated farming.
Until the conquest of Central Asia by Tsarist Russia, and the subsequent establishment of the Soviet Union, traditional farming practices were pursued in southern parts of the Basin, and nomadic pastoralism in the north. During the Soviet decades, land use in the Basin transformed fundamentally to commercial agriculture based on irrigated cotton monoculture.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent countries in Central Asia led to a change from centralized to inter-state transboundary water management and cross-border competition.
Today the region's water systems are in transition, a combination of modern and old infrastructure and facilities.
The Basin contains some of the largest, most complex water management infrastructure on Earth, including the world's longest canal, the Kara Kum in Turkmenistan, and the Rogun dam, under construction in Tajikistan and soon to be the world's highest reservoir.
Over 80 reservoirs in the Basin each have individual capacity of over 10 million cubic meters. In the Basin, hydro facilities collectively generate 36,097 MWh of power; at full capacity, the dams hold almost 58 cubic km of water - about half of the total flow of both rivers in late 1950s.
These developments reflect the needs of some of the world's biggest water users, with regional mean annual withdrawals of 2,200 cubic meters per capita, nearly 90 percent of it used for irrigation.
About 70 million people rely on the Basin's water resources, a population greater than that of Thailand, France, or South Africa.
Agriculture contributes from 10 to 45 percent of GDP in the six countries and employs 20 to 50 percent of the rural population.
The Aral Sea Basin has a naturally dry climate and is especially vulnerable to climate change. Summer runoff depends mostly on vast glaciers in surrounding mountain ranges.
And the rising needs of users, especially urban and agricultural, has driven a recent increase in groundwater withdrawals.
Aral Sea Basin: Water for Sustainable Development in Central Asia
57 authors from 14 countries: Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Switzerland, Tajikistan, UK, USA, Uzbekistan
Iskandar Abdullaev, Deputy Director, CAREC Institute, Urumchi, China
Mohamed Ahmed, Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA
Aigul Akylbekova, Academic Secretary, Ahmedsafin Institute of Hydrogeology and Environmental Geoscience, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Iroda Amirova, doctoral researcher, Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO), Halle (Saale), Germany
Jamal Annagylyjova, Program Officer, Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
Oyture Anarbekov, water resources management specialist and researcher, IWMI Central Asia Office, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Dagmar Balla, Senior Scientist, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF e.V.), Müncheberg, Germany
Martina Barandun, glaciologist and Senior Researcher, Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Aziza Baubekova, Teaching Fellow in Biology, Center for Preparatory Studies, Nazarbayev University, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
Jelle Beekma, water resources specialist and consultant with more than 30 years of experience
Maksud Bekchanov, Senior Researcher in Agricultural Economy, Centre for Development Research (ZEF), Bonn University, Germany
Tobias Bolch, lecturer and leader of the Mountain Cryosphere research group, School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
Manon Cassara, water resources management consultant,
Dietrich Darr, Professor of Agribusiness, Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, Kleve, Germany
Kakhramon Djumaboev, Researcher, International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
Andrei Dörre, Visiting Professor, Department of Development Studies, University of Vienna, Austria, and affiliated with the Centre for Development Studies of the Freie Universitaet Berlin (Germany)
Joel Fiddes, geoscientist working across academic institutions, international organisations, multilateral donors and UN bodies, Switzerland
Abror Gafurov, hydrologist with a focus on water cycles in Central Asia
Zafar Gafurov, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Central Asia office, Tashkent
Sara Giska, Fulbright Student Researcher at the UNESCO Chair for Water Management in Central Asia, Kazakh-German University (DKU), Almaty, Kazakhstan
Barbara Janusz-Pawletta, UNESCO Chairholder for water management in Central Asia, Vice-Rector on International Cooperation, Kazakh-German University
Ali Torabi Haghighi, Water, Energy and Environmental Research unit, University of Oulu, Finland
Ahmad Hamidov, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), Müncheberg, Germany
Bunyod Holmatov, Ph.D. candidate, University of Twente, Netherlands
Martin Hoelzle, Professor of Physical Geography, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Saghit Ibatullin, Professor, Kazakh Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and Director, International Teaching Center for Dam Safety in Taraz, Kazakhstan
Anvar Kamolidinov, consultant and Deputy Project Manager, EU Zarafshan River Basin Project
Ulan Kasymov, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Resource Economics Group, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
Jusipbek Kazbekov, Water Management Specialist, CAREC, Uzbekistan
Bjørn Kløve, Professor, University of Oulu, Finland
Marton Krasznai, Associate Professor and Scientific Director, Center for Central Asia Research, Corvinus University, Budapest
Anastasia Kvasha, Project Manager and Research Assistant, Environmental Systems Laboratory, Central European University (CEU), Hungary
Murodbek Laldjebaev, Assistant Professor in Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Central Asia's (UCA) School of Arts and Sciences, and a Research Fellow at the UCA's Mountain Societies Research Institute
Shreedhar Maskey, Associate Professor of Hydrology and Water Resources, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Netherlands
Hamid Mehmood, Senior Researcher, United Nations University Institute for Water Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Roman Mendelevitch, Research Associate, Öko-Institut eV
Alisher Mirzabaev, Senior Researcher, Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany
Veruska Muccione, senior researcher, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland
Makhliyo Murzaeva, researcher, EU-GIZ
Asel Murzakulova, Senior Research Fellow, Mountain Societies Research Institute, University of Central Asia (UCA), Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Serik Orazgaliyev, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Public Policy, Nazarbayev University, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
Manzoor Qadir, Assistant Director, United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Jay Sagin, Assistant Professor, Nazarbayev University, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
Tomas Saks, Researcher, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Jenniver Sehring, Senior Lecturer, IHE Delft
Maria Shahgedanova, Professor, University of Reading, UK
Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt, Honorary Professor, Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, Freiburg University, Germany
Frank Schrader, Swiss Development Corporation (SDC), Tajikistan
Vladimir Smakhtin, Director, United Nations University Institute for Water Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thijs Stoffelen, Ph.D. candidate, Wageningen University, Netherlands
Lucia de Strasser, Consultant, Water Convention of the UN Economic Commission for Europe
Janez Susnik, Senior Lecturer, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Netherlands
Stella Tsani, visiting faculty, Athens University of Economics and Business
Kai Wegerich, interdisciplinary water resources researcher
Stefanos Xenarios, Environmental Economist, Co-Editor-in-Chief, Central Asian Journal of Water Research (CAJWR) and committee member, International Water Association's Specialist Group on Statistics and Economics
Dinara R. Ziganshina, Deputy Director, Scientific Information Centre, Interstate Commission for Water Coordination in Central Asia, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Previous books in the Earthscan Series on Major River Basins of the World
Each book in the series brings together various national and international stakeholders to examine major river basin issues in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals
The Zambezi River Basin: Water and sustainable development
The Zambezi is Africa's fourth longest river, crossing or bordering Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The river basin is widely recognised as one of the most important basins in southern Africa and is the focus of contested development, including water for hydropower and for agriculture and the environment. This book provides a thorough review of water and sustainable development in the Zambezi, in order to identify critical issues and propose constructive ways forward.
The Ganges River Basin: Status and Challenges in Water, Environment and Livelihoods
The Ganges is one of the most complex yet fascinating river systems in the world. The basin is characterized by a high degree of heterogeneity from climatic, hydrological, geomorphological, cultural, environmental and socio-economic perspectives. More than 500 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the Ganges River Basin, which spans China, Nepal, India and Bangladesh. While there are many books covering one aspect of the Ganges, ranging from hydrology to cultural significance, this book is unique in presenting a comprehensive inter-disciplinary overview of the key issues and challenges facing the region.
The Volta River Basin: Water for Food, Economic Growth and Environment
The Volta is an important transboundary basin in West Africa that covers approximately 410,000 square kilometres across six countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Togo. Its natural resources sustain the livelihoods of its population and contribute to economic development. This book provides a comprehensive, interdisciplinary review and assessment of the issues and challenges faced.
The Nile River Basin: Water, Agriculture, Governance and Livelihoods
The Nile provides freshwater not only for domestic and industrial use, but also for irrigated agriculture, hydropower dams and the vast fisheries resource of the lakes of Central Africa. The Nile River Basin covers the whole Nile Basin and is based on the results of three major research projects supported by the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF). It provides unique and up-to-date insights on agriculture, water resources, governance, poverty, productivity, upstream-downstream linkages, innovations, future plans and their implications.
The UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health is a member of the United Nations University family of organizations. It is the UN Think Tank on Water created by the UNU Governing Council in 1996. Its mission is to help resolve pressing water challenges of concern to the UN, its Member States and their people, through knowledge- based synthesis of existing bodies of scientific discovery; cutting edge targeted research that identifies emerging policy issues; application of on-the-ground scalable solutions based on credible research; and relevant and targeted public outreach.
UNU-INWEH is supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada and hosted by McMaster University.