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Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia

Central Asia: background information

Central Asia covers territory of five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It is situated in the heart of the Eurasian continent with the total area of 3,882,000 square kilometres and the population over 53 million (2004) of which more then 82 % is living in the Aral Sea basin. It borders with Afghanistan and Iran in the south, with China in the east and with Russia in the west and in the north.

The climate in the region is sharply continental, mostly arid and semi-arid. Average precipitation (concentrated in the spring and winter) is about 270 mm, varying between 600-800 mm in mountains zones and 80-150 mm in desert regions.

Social-economic development of the region has depended on water and land resources since immemorial time. Irrigated farming and livestock production formed the biggest part of welfare, but in the same time created vulnerable conditions and water limitations for ecosystems. The region started actively using irrigation in the 6-7th century B.C and still it is one of the biggest irrigation region in the world (with about 9.1 million hectares of irrigated crops). Population growth and irrigation development have significantly increased the demand for water in the region especially during the past 40 years. Actual consumptive water withdrawal in Central Asian countries varies from 20% of available water resources (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) to 80-90% (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan).

The Basic Statistics (included only territory of the Aral Sea basin)

Indicator Unit 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2004
Population million 14,6 20,3 26,8 33,6 41,8 43,8
Irrigated area, netto 1000 ha 4510 5150 6920 7600 7896 8120
Irrigated area per capita ha 0,31 0,27 0,26 0,23 0,19 0,18
Total water diversion km3/year 60,61 94,56 120,69 116,27 105,0 102,0
including irrigation km3/year 56,15 86,84 106,79 106,4 94,66 93,0
Specific diversion per ha m3/ha 12450 16860 15430 14000 11850 11450
Specific diversion per capita m3/capita 4270 4730 4500 3460 2530 2120
GNP bln. USD 16,1 32,4 48,1 74,0 27,5 34,4
including agricultural production bln. USD 5,8 8,9 18,3 22,0 9,0 10,2

A specific feature of the region from a hydrological point of view is the division of its territory into three main zones: (a) the zone of surface flow formation (upper watersheds in the mountain areas to the south-east), (b) the zone of flow transit and its dissipation (central part), and (c) the delta zones (to the north-west).

Available water resources (surface and underground) have always principal impact to the economic activities in Central Asia as limiting factor for development which is competing with ecological requirements. The largest rivers over the region are mostly transboundary and they are the following: the Syrdarya and Amudarya (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), Chu and Talas (Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan), Tarim (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China), Ili (China, Kazakhstan), Irtysh (China, Kazakhstan, Russia), Ural, Ishim, Tobol (Kazakhstan, Russia).

During the last three decades of the Soviet era (1960-90), irrigated agriculture and the sectors of economy related to water management (processing of agricultural products, hydropower, construction and some others), contributed more than 50 percent to the GNP. Obtaining of independence by Central Asian countries and respective loosening of economic ties were accompanied by economic decline. This became the main cause of decline in gross national product and, particularly, agricultural production that represented large share of about 30% in GNP.