Syrdarya floods due to lack of regional coordination

[Kazakhstan] The Syrdarya river outside the provincial capital of Kzyl-Orda.
The Syrdarya river outside the provincial capital of Kzyl-Orda (David Swanson/IRIN)

The Syrdarya river - one of Central Asia's key resources - has flooded some parts of Kazakhstan's southern Kzyl-Orda province after regional governments failed to adhere to a recent agreement to reduce inflows to the river. On Friday, Khazakh state media announced the evacuation of two hundred families living in the Aray and Yagodka agricultural communities in Kzyl-Orda was now under way.

"Due to an increase in the water flow, the situation in the Kazalinski district [of Kzyl-Orda province] is characterised by a substantial overflow in low lying areas," Kairzhan Turezhanov, the Kazakh emergency situations agency spokesman told IRIN from the Kazakh commercial capital, Almaty, adding that some parts of a local highway passing near the river had been flooded as well.

Partial freezing of the river had also contributed to the flooding. Turezhanov said that in the Aral and Kazalinski districts the ice cover was reaching 25-35 cm in depth, while in other parts it was 15-20 cm. "It has a negative effect and is causing flooding," he explained, adding that it was necessary to use explosives to break up the ice cover to speed up water flow and avoid further flooding.

According to the emergency agency, in the Aray region of Kzyl-Orda province, some 35 houses were now under threat of flooding and around 35 people were evacuated temporarily on Wednesday. In another village on the banks of the mighty river, rising water has led to the evacuation of people living in 17 houses.

This weeks flooding is due to too much water flowing into the adjacent Chardara reservoir that acts as a regulator for water levels on the river. Early in January, government representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan gathered in the southern Kazakh city of Chimkent to tackle the issue and forge an agreement to prevent regional flooding. The three nations agreed that Kyrgyzstan would cut water discharge into the Chardara from its hydroelectric power station reservoirs to 500 cu m per second. To make up the power shortfall, Kazakhstan pledged to provide fuel oil to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek's thermal heating station.

Within the framework of the agreement, Uzbekistan was to allow the inflow of excess water into the Arnasay reservoir, bordering the Chardara and separated by a dam.

But neither Kyrgyzstan nor Uzbekistan have made good on their promises. "They fulfill the requirements by half," Amirkhan Kenchimov, the deputy head of the water resources agency at the Kazakh agriculture ministry, told IRIN from the capital, Astana.

Kyrgyzstan had failed to cut the water discharge to 500 cu m per second and it was now even greater, currently flowing at 560, Kenchimov maintained. "The Uzbeks, they don't fully meet the requirement either and only allow 200-220 cu m per second of water instead of 350," he said.

Illustrating how closely related water supply and power are in Central Asia, the water resources agency official said that Tajikistan was also contributing to the problem. "The Tajiks from time to time are playing up with their Kayrakkum reservoir. They discharged 1,200 cu m per second during three days and 1,300 for a day, which is already coming to us," he explained, adding that more than 1,400 cu m per second had reached Chardara on Thursday and some 1,500 cu m would come on Friday. Kenchimov said that they would be working under such water regime for two to three days until the level of 970 cu m, which the Tajiks had set, reached them.

"Water is coming as it used to do," he said, adding that the governments of the three Central Asian countries should rapidly persue another agreement to solve the problem.

[Kazakhstan] The Syrdarya river outside the provincial capital of Kzyl-Orda.

The Syrdarya river outside the provincial capital of Kzyl-Orda
David Swanson/IRIN
[Kazakhstan] The Syrdarya river outside the provincial capital of Kzyl-Orda. ...
Friday, February 6, 2004
Flood victims return home in south as river level falls
[Kazakhstan] The Syrdarya river outside the provincial capital of Kzyl-Orda. ...
The Syrdarya river is a key water resource in the region

The result is that water levels are getting dangerously high in the Chardara reservoir, with no emergency spare capacity left to face spring floods. As a result, water authorities have no choice but to discharge water from the reservoir at double the normal level. "So it turns out that [some parts of] Kzyl-Orda province is flooded. However, if we don't discharge water now then we will reach full capacity and then the situation would get worse. If the Chardara were to overflow, then not only Kzyl-Orda province, but everything downstream of the Chardara would be swept away completely," Kenchimov warned.

In an effort to mitigate the threat, Kazakh officials are due to meet their Uzbek counterparts on Saturday in order to persuade them to open the dam between Chardara and Arnasay reservoirs to reduce water levels. As for talks with Kyrgyzstan, Kenchimov said: "It is useless, they burn oil [that Kazakhstan has supplied] but don't lower water discharge [to the agreed level]," he said.

The Chardara reservoir started operating in 1964 and was built for irrigation purposes. It was designed to control the flow of the mighty Syrdarya, preventing flooding during high water times and acting as a water source during dry periods.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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