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Reducing cross-border water conflict

[Kyrgyzstan] Clean water means life.
Contaminated water is the root cause of typhoid (IRIN)

Spring comes early in the Tuya-Moyun valley in southern Kyrgyzstan. Crops are already being sown by late February. With just a couple of weeks now until sowing starts, Ilyas Davlaev, a 38-year-old farmer from the Aravan district of the southern Osh province, is already concerned about this year's harvest.

"What is going to happen to irrigation water [this year]?" he asks.

The Karymberdi canal is a major water source in the valley and takes water across the border to Uzbek territory sometimes leaving the Kyrgyz residents of the valley without precious irrigation. The Tuya-Moyun valley sits right on the border.

"Our land plots are located downstream [of] the canal and we are frequently short of water," Ilyas explained to IRIN. He complained that his livelihood depends on the water and that shortages often lead to rising tension, quarrels and even physical conflict between communities on either side of the frontier.

Several years ago, the heads of the water management bodies of the two countries agreed to share the water source equally, but farmers on either side try to take in as much water as they can with little concern for sharing it. They then blame each other for stealing water and the loser risks being left with no crops.

Adyljan Abidov, deputy head of the Civil Initiatives Support Centre, a local NGO based in Osh, told IRIN that communities in border areas had a mutual distrust of one another with regard to shared water resources.

The situation is similar in the neighbouring province of Batken. Here, cross-border conflicts over water supplies between rival communities in Batken and the northern Tajik Sogd province are common according to Robert Abazbekov from 'For International Tolerance', another civic group.

At issue is the sharing of water from the Khoja-Bakyrgan Tajik canal. Kyrgyz farmers complain that canal is entirely used by Tajik farmers from May onwards to irrigate cotton, the main cash crop in northern Tajikistan. This is when the Kyrgyz farms also need to water their grain crops.

Tensions have risen in Batken over the past few years and in 2003, inhabitants of the Shurab mining town in northeastern Tajikistan blamed Kyrgyz border villages for a shortage of water. Kyrgyz border communities had been illegally using water from the Vorukh-Shurab canal in Tajikistan, the largest part of which passes through Kyrgyz territory, Shurab residents complained. Conflict was only prevented after concerted efforts by local authorities and international organisations on the ground.

A special team inspected the canal and sealed off all illegal drawing of water from it. "But where is the guarantee that our neighbours will not resort to improper usage again?" Akbarsho Mavlyanshonov, a resident of Shurab whose family often suffers a lack of water, asked IRIN.

[Kyrgyzstan] Rehabilitation of the Aravan-say river in southern Aravan district (Kyrgyz-Uzbek border).

[Kyrgyzstan] Rehabilitation of the Aravan-say river in southern Aravan district (Kyrgyz-Uzbek border).
Wednesday, February 9, 2005
[Kyrgyzstan] Rehabilitation of the Aravan-say river in southern Aravan district (Kyrgyz-Uzbek border).
Rehabilitation of the Aravan-say river along the Uzbek and Kyrgyz border

During Soviet times, borders in Central Asia were simply administrative and many infrastructure facilities, including roads, canals and reservoirs, were built in one Soviet republic and would pass through the neighbouring republic. Relations among the republics and entities on the ground were monitored by Moscow as everything was part of a centralised economy.

But following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 new structures had to be developed to regulate what were now cross-border conflicts. In an effort to tackle disagreements over water supplies, the Preventive Development Programme (PDP) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kyrgyzstan recently organised a meeting between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek authorities in the southeastern Uzbek town of Kuvasai.

"Tensions due to a lack of water [generally] arise during summer and autumn. That's why it is important to discuss this difficult problem during off-season before the beginning of work in the field, when urgent issues do not press on both sides," Usen Shainazarov, from PDP, told IRIN.

"Finally a compromise solution has been found," Zainabeddin Abdullaev, deputy head of the Tuya-Moyun village administration, told IRIN. The parties decided to establish a joint public commission, which would control the usage of irrigation water and technicians in charge of controlling the canal would be able to cross the border easily for monitoring purposes.

Pulatjan Khamidov, a local water expert, suggested an alternative solution, emphasising the need to train local farmers on how to use water rationally given that traditional irrigation techniques result in high water losses.

Alisher Satybaldiev, another water analyst, said it was necessary to establish effective inter-governmental bodies aimed at finding solutions to the sharing of water resources and maintaining stability in the region.

Meanwhile, Ilyas has a more practical approach. "All these, perhaps, will be done in due course. But it is better not to involve big politics - it only complicates a common farmer's life," he said. "The issues should be solved jointly and locally. The more measures of trust, the more hope there is, the more crops and in the long run, the more bread we will have," he added hopefully as he contemplated sowing this year’s crop.

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: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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