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Experts cite lack of political will on water management

Whereas the issue of water management and water-related conflict remains at the top of the agenda in Central Asia, a region with rising water consumption coupled with increasing scarcity, experts cite a lack of real political will in the context of action towards resolving the issue.

The five former Soviet states use more water than is sustainable, thereby fuelling the probability of conflict at the local level.

"The main water issue in Central Asia today is the lack of political commitment on the interstate level. Governments simply don't try to find common solutions for cross-border water problems," Robert Templer, the Asia programme director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), an independent crisis prevention group based in Brussels, told IRIN.

"Central Asian countries are simply using more water than is sustainable for the long term," Templer stated. At present, irrigation and water management systems are antiquated remnants of the Soviet era, needing billions of dollars in renovation costs, he said.

Agreeing with that view, Mehmood Ul Hassan, a researcher at the Uzbekistan subregional office of the International Water Management Institute, told IRIN that interstate agreements were not being properly observed, resulting in potential tensions among the various countries with regard to water management, he told IRIN from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.

While there were numerous water issues that could be cited, Muhamedoo Ashir, the head of the middle section of the Amu Darya water authority in the eastern Turkmen city of Turkmenabad, told IRIN he was concerned that as Afghanistan developed, more water would be drawn from the Amu Darya river downstream, which could impact on the amount of water available for irrigation and industrial and domestic use in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"There will be an issue when Afghanistan starts using the river more extensively, but I hope it can be resolved through the mechanisms of the ISCWCCA [Inter-State Coordinating Water Commission of Central Asia]," he said.

Originating in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan before flowing through northern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and eventually into the Aral Sea, the river is a key water source for the region.

Compounding the problem is the fact that both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are already extensively exploiting the river for irrigation, primarily for their vast cotton plantations. This in turn has contributed to enormous environmental problems around the Aral Sea, which has shrunk by more than half its original size over three decades.

Meanwhile, Rim Giniyatullin, the head of the Tashkent-based International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, said the absence of a practical policy on the part of the regional governments for the proper management of water resources was ubiquitous in the region. "Current water resources in Central Asia are sufficient for about 150 million to 200 million people if they are managed properly," he told IRIN.

But according to Viktor Dukhovny, Director of the Scientific Information Centre at the Interstate Coordination Water Commission , based in Tashkent, the western media are grossly exaggerating the potential for water-related conflicts in Central Asia. In a recent report published by the electronic newspaper, he stated that there had been no serious conflicts over water for the past few years.

Agreeing with him, Templer said water was not often a source of serious interstate conflicts, and one had to be careful not to exaggerate the problem. However, at a local level, it was quite often a source of conflict, thereby making the issue an important one.

According to him, however, there were technical solutions to the problem, and many or the world's dry countries in the world have developed irrigation systems functioning on far less water than in Central Asia. "One can see enormous water wastage in the region. More than 50 percent of water going through the irrigation system is being lost, he added.

Templer concluded by saying that the current water management mechanisms in Central Asia did not work properly. "The systems that govern the relationships between the countries don't function when it comes to resolving water problems," he asserted.

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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