Cooperation in Shared Water Resources in Central Asia: Past Experience and Future Challenges
Water and environmental management problems in Central Asia first gained international notoriety in response to the ecological crisis brought on by the shrinking of the Aral Sea. Taken together, the catchments for the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers form the Aral Sea Basin, and both ultimately outlet to this sea. From 1960 to 1990, the Aral Sea’s area was halved, when inflows were diverted to support cotton and rice production in downstream deserts. An “ecological disaster” resulted, as a vibrant fishery was destroyed, surrounding ecosystems were devastated, and the health and livelihoods of a million people were irrevocably damaged.
The challenge of regional water management for these semi-arid lands is no less acute today. Attention now has turned primarily to the need for balance between upstream hydropower and downstream irrigation interests—even as steps continue to address economic and social hardships facing those still living around the Aral Sea.