Uzbekistan is one of the world's few double-landlocked countries. To reach the nearest sea from there requires crossing Turkmenistan and Iran. Almost 80% of it is covered by desert. Mountains in the eastern regions reach an altitude of more than 4 000 m. The Ferghana Valley in the east and the Khorezm region in the north-west are the main areas of irrigated agriculture.
Like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan is bisected by both the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. The Syr Darya crosses Uzbekistan in the east, feeding the fertile Ferghana Valley. The Amu Darya River Basin covers most of the country and includes the Surkha Darya, Sherabad, Kashka Darya and Zarafshan rivers. In addition, there are more than 17 000 small rivers and approximately 500 lakes in Uzbekistan, most smaller than one square kilometre. Only about 10% of its water is generated within the country, so Uzbekistan is highly dependent on inflows from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
In addition to the natural water bodies, 51 operating reservoirs are used for irrigation purposes, though some of the larger ones are also used for power generation. About 28 000 km of channels serve the irrigation system.
Though the country has rich gas deposits and only 10% of its land is arable, agriculture is an important economic sector, and irrigation consumes about 90% of total water usage. Cotton is the most important cash crop. In 1980, about 2 million tons of cotton were produced in Uzbekistan. After independence, the government made efforts to restructure the agricultural sector to grow food crops and reduce water consumption, which led to a decline in cotton production by about one-third. It has reduced the area of cotton production from 50% of the total irrigated area in the early 1990s to 30% today, substituting it with food crops like cereals and vegetables and forage. In 2010, cereal production in Uzbekistan reached 7 million tons compared to 1 million tons in 1991. Uzbekistan has also invested in new technologies that reduce water usage and international donors have supported this with about $1 billion over the last 10 years. Through these measures, the country was able to reduce water consumption and achieve food self-sufficiency. Uzbekistan is still among the six main cotton producing countries and the second-largest exporter of cotton in the world.
The share of agriculture in the GDP decreased from 37% in 1991 to 20% in 2009. But agricultural production still constitutes about 8% of the country's total export income. Almost two-thirds of Uzbekistan's population live in rural areas and are directly dependent on water for their livelihood. About 25% of the labour force works in the agricultural sector (2004).
Uzbekistan has voiced concern over the construction of new dams and hydropower plants on the upstream tributaries of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya. It has expressed fears that the filling of the reservoirs and then the operation of the dams in energy mode (water discharge in winter) would drastically reduce the amount of water it receives for irrigation during spring and summer. Uzbekistan is also vulnerable to natural disasters and worries that an earthquake could destroy a dam.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan also uses water for hydropower production on a small scale. Twenty-eight small and medium-sized hydropower stations produce 12.5% of its electricity. The Uzbek government plans to build more.[WDI, WRI, UNCTAD, UNECE 2010.]