Central Asia and water: No time left for squabbles

A combination of rapid population growth and climate change, which some believe may lead to the vanishing of much of the region’s river-feeding glaciers within the next half century, is going to pose the greatest challenge Central Asia has ever confronted in its history.

This past August an argument about a water reservoir between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan got so bad that it culminated in what amounted to an international, state-sponsored kidnapping. At stake was a relatively unassuming body of water in western Kyrgyzstan, known variously as the Kasan-sai or Orto-Tokoi reservoir. Although it lies several kilometres inside Kyrgyzstan, it has for years been run by Uzbek technicians who managed the outflow of water in accordance with the needs of farmers downstream, across the border.

The arrangement was uneasy but proceeded relatively peaceably until late 2015, when Kyrgyzstan’s government decided by decree to formally claim the facility. The Uzbeks were livid. A few months later, Tashkent flexed its muscles, sending troops onto a road along a disputed section of the border, hindering traffic to and from Ala-Buka, a Kyrgyz town near the reservoir. In a panic, then-Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev travelled to Ala-Buka to plead with furious residents not to take affairs into their own hands.

October 31, 2017 - Peter Leonard