Reconciling food security and energy security— mission impossible?
The reservoirs built along the major rivers in Central Asia are designed to manage water flow by releasing water exactly when it's needed. In the Soviet Union, these reservoirs were built mostly to manage irrigation water more effectively. After the break-up of the Soviet Union and its integrated water-energy exchange system, the upstream countries changed the working regime of these reservoirs gradually to meet their winter energy needs. Thus, less water is left to be released during spring and summer, when irrigation needs peak flow.
This has led to the perception that the needs of the two sectors-agriculture and energy production-are incompatible in their water demand and that energy security in the upstream countries is only achievable at the cost of food insecurity downstream.
But is this perception really necessary? Hydropower production is a non-consumptive use of water. This means that once it is discharged, it can be used for other purposes. Cascades of dams and reservoirs allow for multiple usage of water. Once it has been discharged and produced energy, water can be stored in another reservoir further downstream until needed for irrigation. Another option is to make the release of water in summer profitable enough so that the money earned can be spent on coal and gas imports in winter, meaning that little hydropower has to be produced.The produced summer energy could be bought by the downstream states (like in the Syr Darya Agreement of 1998, see page 52) or be exported to regions with high energy needs during this period. These might include the hot regions in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, which have high electricity demand for air-conditioning. This option is pursued by the Central Asia South Asia Regional Energy and Trade (CASA-1000) project. In 2006, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which is also supported by several international donors and private investors. It foresees the construction of high-voltage power lines linking the energy producers in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with the markets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This shows that energy and irrigation needs can both be met. Dams and power stations can be used in a way that is beneficial for all. Nevertheless, this requires investments in infrastructure, the will to cooperate and long-term reliable agreements to ensure energy and food security through mutual exchanges instead of through policies of self-sufficiency.