ESIG ALERT: Water, Climate,
And Development Issues In The Amudarya Basin
Climate, And Development Issues In The Amudarya Basin
Discussion centered on climate, water, political, and development issues. Although the meeting was based on the Amudarya basin, discussions included the roles of other countries in the region - China, Pakistan, Iran, and especially Afghanistan - in addition to the five Central Asian Republics.
receding shoreline of the Aral Sea. The former fishing port of Muynak
is now more than 150 km from the Aral Sea's shoreline. (photo by M.H.
Glantz) Before 1960, the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest inland body of
water on Earth. Today, it is on the edge of extinction. The Sea is fed
by Central Asia's two major rivers, the Amudarya and the Syrdarya, with
a flow, respectively, of about 70 and 35 cu km per year on average. The
Amudarya is formed by the Pyanj River (Afghanistan) and the Vaksh River
(Tajikistan). The Syrdarya is formed in the Tien Shan mountains and flows
through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, making its way toward the
Aral Sea. By the 1970s, the Syrdarya failed to reach the Sea, and in the
late 1980s the mighty Amudarya also failed to reach the Sea. In the early
1990s some river water reached the Sea, but by then the Sea had split
into two parts, the Small Aral (fed by the Syrdarya) and the Big Aral
(fed by the Amudarya). In 1954, construction began on the Karakum Canal
in order to bring Amudarya water to oases in the desert of the Karakum.
The Central Asian region, with a dark blue line showing the Amudarya's watercourse from its headwaters to the Aral Sea.
the Aral story is quite well known to environmental groups within and
outside the region, and it was brought to worldwide attention as the result
of a February 1990 National Geographic Magazine article. The rivers' waters
still flow out of the Pamir Mountains and the Hindu Kush toward the Aral
Seas (Big and Small). Its watercourse serves as an international border
between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
The Amudarya crisscrosses Turkmenistan and, for the most part, traverses
the length of Uzbekistan and its subregion known as Karakalpakstan. Although
an upstream riparian country, Afghanistan, 17% of which lies within the
Amudarya basin, has been at war for a couple of decades and in-country
conflict remains. As a result, it has had little opportunity to lay claim
to its legitimate share of Amudarya water. With an end to the Russo-Afghan
war and the Taliban regime, and with international involvement to bring
a semblance of peace and stability to the country in the conflict-laden
post-Taliban period, the new Afghan government will surely lay claim to
a significant share of Amudarya water as it reconstructs the nation's
Equity concerns were voiced about the continually deteriorating plight of the Karakalpak people who inhabit the lower reaches near the Aral Sea. They are the end users of very polluted water, land, and air in the disaster zone near the Sea. The multi-year regional meteorological drought, food shortages, and news about the declining extent of glaciers in the Pamirs (an indicator of long-term climate change in the region) has led to an attitude change in Central Asian governments concerning climate issues. They are increasingly aware of their growing vulnerability to climate variability, extremes, and change. As a result, there appears to be a resurgent interest in Uzbekistan (and from some Russian political figures) for water transfer from Siberian rivers to arid Central Asia.
Several activities proposed relate directly to water resources, climate considerations, capacity building, equity issues, and regional cooperation and development:
This Informal Planning
Meeting was hosted by The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania),
and was supported by NOAA's Office of Global Programs and by ESIG at the
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.
A full report for the meeting was prepared by ESIG with input from all
of the 23 participants. It is available on line and in hard copy upon
request. See the website at www.esig.ucar.edu/centralasia
or write to:
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