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Central Asia’s ’Water Wars” Are Heating Up

Central Asia’s ’Water Wars” Are Heating Up

  • Access to water has been a point of conflict in Central Asia for years.
  • Environmental changes have raised temperatures in Central Asia faster than the global average.
  • While the upstream Kyrgyzstanis and Tajikistanis have plenty of water, Uzbekistan wholly relies on a steady supply of water for its food security.

On November 3, Uzbekistani Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov and his Kyrgyzstani counterpart Jeenbek Kulubaev signed a bilateral deal in Bishkek, under which Kyrgyzstan agreed to cede to Tashkent the territory surrounding the Kempir-Abad Reservoir, covering 4,485 hectares, in exchange for over 19,000 hectares elsewhere (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 3). The deal effectively grants Uzbekistan control over the reservoir, a burning issue that has contributed to rising tensions between the two Central Asian neighbors (Eurasianet.org, November 17). On November 17, the Kyrgyzstani parliament approved a contentious border deal, and on November 29, Kyrgyzstani President Sadyr Japarov ratified the agreement, allowing for joint management of the reservoir (Asia Plus, November 29).

Central Asia has been historically plagued by tension over access to water resources. Even the administrative divisions under the Soviet Union constantly fought over the allocation of water and pastures (Tnu.tj, May 6, 2021). In this, with the introduction of private land ownership in Kyrgyzstan, some rented Tajikistani pastures have declared the property of Kyrgyzstani citizens. Although multiple factors (e.g., strategic, political and ethnic) contribute to the escalation of border tensions among the Central Asian neighbors, the management of water resources has been a perennial issue, frequently sparking conflict. Over the past decade, more than 150 conflicts have occurred on the shared Kyrgyzstani-Tajikistani borders, with victims on both sides (Cabar.asia, February 15, 2021). In September 2022, 24 Kyrgyzstanis died as a result of the escalation of armed conflict on the border (Novosti.kg, September 17)…

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