Water, Energy and Food Security

Fostering a Nexus Dialogue in Central Asia 

CENTRAL ASIA NEXUS DIALOGUE: FOSTERING WATER, ENERGY AND FOOD SECURITY 

Central Asia, a vast region stretching from Siberian boreal forests to the Caspian Sea, and from the Central Asian steppes to the Tibetan plateau, consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. 

Water presents one of the greatest challenges for Central Asia. As its population grows (projected to be 90 million people in 2050, FAO) so does the need to create more jobs, produce more food, more energy - yet water resources are limited. Climate change impacts are expected to exacerbate this further. Increases in temperature causes glacier melt in Tajikistan with dire consequences on water availability for hydropower and food production in the region.

As part of a regional EU-funded programme, the Central Asia Nexus project is implemented by the Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia (CAREC) in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), supported by the Executive Committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (EC IFAS).

Water withdrawal and availability in the Aral Sea Basin. Tajikistan and Kyrgystan benefit from the large majority of available water resources in the region. (source: Water Management: A Critical Environmental Challenge in Central Asia ©World Bank 2006)

Water withdrawal and availability in the Aral Sea Basin. Tajikistan and Kyrgystan benefit from the large majority of available water resources in the region. (source: Water Management: A Critical Environmental Challenge in Central Asia ©World Bank 2006)

"Water, energy and food are inextricably linked. In order to achieve security in all three sectors integrated solutions are necessary. The Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus is an approach that offers such integrated solutions. The new Aral Sea Basin Programme will mainstream the Nexus approach in support of the sustainable management of the basin."
Marina Agalkhanova, Leading Specialist, Executive Committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea

The Republic of Uzbekistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia known for its mosques, mausoleums and other sites linked to the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. Most of Uzbekistan lies between the two largest rivers in Central Asia, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Less than 10% of its territory is cultivated irrigated land in river valleys and oases, the rest is vast desert and mountains ©Pixabay

The Republic of Uzbekistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia known for its mosques, mausoleums and other sites linked to the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean. Most of Uzbekistan lies between the two largest rivers in Central Asia, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Less than 10% of its territory is cultivated irrigated land in river valleys and oases, the rest is vast desert and mountains ©Pixabay

Understanding the Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus

The Nexus highlights the interdependence between water, energy and food security and the use of natural resources - water, soil and land - that underpin that security.

Population growth, socio-economic development, climate change as well as changing consumption patterns contribute to increased demand for water, energy and food. To achieve security in all three sectors, it is important to understand their interdependence and the trade-offs necessary to meet the needs of the diverse users.

Applying a 'Nexus' approach allows for mutually beneficial responses that are based on an understanding of synergies between water, energy and agricultural policies and practices. It also provides an informed and transparent framework for determining trade-offs and feedback loops that maintain the integrity and sustainability of vital ecosystems.

See story: Building partnerships for water, energy and food security in Central Asia

Video from the Central Asia Nexus Dialogue workshop which looked at natural resource issues in the Amu Darya river basin in Central Asia ©IUCN and East West Institute

In Central Asia, diversion of water for agriculture accounts for more than 90% of the total water intake. With population set to increase from 74.6 million in 2030 to 90 million in 2050 demand for water, energy, and food will drastically increase. Climate change will also affect the region’s water resources with 10 to 30% less water available in the major rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya by 2050. New climate change scenarios reveal an uncertain future for Central Asian glaciers (click here for full article).

In Soviet days, water management was unified under Moscow's control, which linked Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - which contain more than 90% of Central Asia's water- with the arid plains of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. With independence gained, there is now a strong need for agreements on how to share water more equitably.

Yurts in the Kazakhstan Mountains, Almaty ©Shutterstock/Aurelyi

Yurts in the Kazakhstan Mountains, Almaty ©Shutterstock/Aurelyi

The Central Asia Nexus Dialogue Project facilitates multi-sectoral dialogues and supports cooperation among different countries. By supporting innovation in planning, financing and preparing for the implementation of multi-sectoral projects, the project aims to increase social and environmental resilience as well as complement socio-economic development. Full story here.

Central Asian International Environmental Forum (CAIEF2018) gathered over 300 participants in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, June 2018

Central Asian International Environmental Forum (CAIEF2018) gathered over 300 participants in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, June 2018

The Project’s ultimate goal is to increase water, energy and food security in Central Asia through supporting regional multi-sectoral investments.

See story: Enhancing water, energy, food security in Central Asia

"The Central Asia Nexus Project works on the premise that one investment opportunity may allow for benefits in multiple sectors through joint investments. This in turn, leads to increased effectiveness and efficiency in terms of financial spending as well as in the management of resources, where this is done jointly."
Kristin Meyer, IUCN Central Asia Nexus Coordinator

A global study by the World Bank estimates the difference between good and bad water governance to add up to more than 20% of GDP for Central Asia by 2050, the biggest such gap for any region in the world. This gap underlines the poor state of, but also the massive potential that could be realized through improved water governance

Women in Khiva, Uzbekistan @MehmetO/Shutterstock

Women in Khiva, Uzbekistan @MehmetO/Shutterstock

Water, Energy, Food Security in Central Asia

Major rivers of Central Asia include the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. In addition, the Aral Sea, Lake Balkhash and the Caspian Sea are major sources of endorheic (no outflow) water bodies.

In all of these sources, water levels have shrunk significantly in recent decades due to water diversions for irrigation and industrial purposes.

Map of Central Asia ©2018 southerncoloradoonline.com

Map of Central Asia ©2018 southerncoloradoonline.com

As in many international nations, the core of the water management challenge in Central Asia is competition over resource use between upstream and downstream countries. Upstream Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have abundant water resources stored in reservoirs. They prefer to release this stored water during winter to generate electricity through hydropower to fulfil their energy needs.

Downstream Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, by contrast, have far less internal renewable water resources and prefer the water from transboundary rivers to be released primarily in summer in order to meet their irrigation needs and avoid uncontrolled winter flooding.

To respond to dilemmas in the Amu Darya Basin, IWA, IUCN and EWI initiated a three-day workshop in July 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey. The workshop built on the accomplishments and lessons learnt from several international and local water initiatives addressing water challenges in the Amu Darya Basin. (click link for further information and report)

To respond to dilemmas in the Amu Darya Basin, IWA, IUCN and EWI initiated a three-day workshop in July 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey. The workshop built on the accomplishments and lessons learnt from several international and local water initiatives addressing water challenges in the Amu Darya Basin. (click link for further information and report)

What differentiates the transboundary basins in Central Asia from most other contested international basins is the presence of extensive transboundary water infrastructure, a legacy of the region's Soviet history.

Water flow, intake and discharge of major rivers, tributaries and canals in the Aral Sea Basin ©Zoi Environment Network

Water flow, intake and discharge of major rivers, tributaries and canals in the Aral Sea Basin ©Zoi Environment Network

"Environment, development and human needs are interlinked. We cannot go ahead with business as usual, inter-sectoral Nexus approaches are key for long-term, sustainable decisions. CAREC, with the support of the European Union and in partnership with IUCN promotes the cooperation of all sectors for integrated solutions, embracing water, energy and food security of the region”
Dr Iskandar Abdullaev, Executive Director of The Regional Environmental Centre for Central Asia

Since 1991 energy prices across the region have started to increase towards global levels. Former energy sharing arrangements were terminated causing a collapse of the Central Asian electricity grid. As a consequence, upstream states wish to increase hydropower production to meet the increasing energy demands and respond to energy-trade opportunities.

The Soviet Union constructed major dams and reservoirs in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Water was stored in these reservoirs primarily for summer releases for irrigation in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Photo: Landscape in Kyrgyzstan ©Pixabay

The Soviet Union constructed major dams and reservoirs in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Water was stored in these reservoirs primarily for summer releases for irrigation in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Photo: Landscape in Kyrgyzstan ©Pixabay

Opportunities for collaboration

Currently a window of opportunity exists as countries witness some success in establishing constructive dialogues on these issues. In January 2018, Heads of States decided to start cooperation on the 4th Aral Sea Basin Programme and adopted the concept for its development, specifically referring to the multi-functional uses of water to ensure water, energy and food security.

If countries succeed in focusing on pragmatic mutual benefits that reach beyond water allocation, this can form the basis for finding new and sustainable solutions.

"The Central Asian region remains dramatically under-represented on a global environmental scale. IUCN's engagement in platforms, such as the Central Asian International Environmental Forum (CAIEF), not only provides opportunities for knowledge sharing, but also helps increase Central Asia's representation. Throughout CAIEF we encourage greater involvement of professionals from the region in IUCN Commissions"
Aleksey Zavarzin, Regional Vice-Chair IUCN Commission on Education and Communications

Formerly the fourth-largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea has been shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects. By 1997, the Aral Sea had declined to 10% of its original size.

Aral Sea, Uzbekistan ©Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

Aral Sea, Uzbekistan ©Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

Solutions and Way Forward

The immense importance of water resources and the reliance on agriculture for food and hydropower for energy in Central Asia call for long-term approaches that ensure future water, energy and food security for the region. Through the EU Nexus Central Asia Dialogue Project, IUCN and CAREC are supporting investment planning that allows all sectors to profit.

Despite water-rich, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have a low GDP and rely on hydropower for energy production. The other Central Asian countries are rich in oil and other fossil fuels, ranking much higher on the GDP scale. As their energy needs are mostly covered by the availability of fossil fuels, most of the water they need is for the agricultural sector. (Source: IMF, 2017: Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia)

Despite water-rich, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have a low GDP and rely on hydropower for energy production. The other Central Asian countries are rich in oil and other fossil fuels, ranking much higher on the GDP scale. As their energy needs are mostly covered by the availability of fossil fuels, most of the water they need is for the agricultural sector. (Source: IMF, 2017: Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia)

Like in many other regions, the Water-Energy-Food Nexus remains largely in the water domain. Going forward, it will be key to bring all three sectors into the conversation, especially energy.

Investment planning that applies Nexus thinking and produces positive benefits for water, energy, food and environment sectors is only possible where all stakeholders have a clear understanding and the necessary capacity and skills.

"Economic benefits can be much greater where strategic cooperation is part of water infrastructure development.Yet this is only possible with careful negotiation between riparian countries."
James Dalton, Director IUCN Global Water Programme

By identifying the factors that enable or hinder dialogue and cooperation, stakeholders are empowered to apply the Nexus approach in order to overcome challenges and to negotiate mutual benefits.

Infographic 'Interactions between water, energy, and food' ©IUCN Water

Infographic 'Interactions between water, energy, and food' ©IUCN Water

Supporting the selection of Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus investment projects

Infrastructure development is, among others, one of the most important strategic goals of Central Asian countries. Given that both domestic and external financial sources for infrastructure are limited, it is important to focus available funding on strategically significant investment projects, i.e. those projects which will make the largest contributions towards the achievement of national policy objectives on greening the economy and/or environmentally friendly socio-economic development.

"As water and energy resources in Central Asia are highly imbalanced, the water, energy and food security is at the heart of the region's socio-economic development. Our Nexus Project is aimed at rendering support to the countries of Central Asia through cross-border and multi-sectoral planning with an ultimate goal of facilitating sustainable and climate-resilient investments for increased security in Central Asia."
Ambassador Sven-Olov Carlsson, Head of the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan

Rethinking water in Central Asia: The costs of inaction and benefits of water cooperation

Triggering cooperation across the food-water-energy nexus in Central Asia

The Water-Energy-Food Security Resource Platform

E-mail: ecaro@iucn.org

Web: www.water-energy-food.org/regions/central-asia/

Twitter: NEXUSPlatform #NexusCentralAsia

Edited by Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Global Water Programme. This story was launched at the 6th European Union–Central Asia High-Level Conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 24-25 January 2019.