The health and prosperity of the close to 75 million people living in Central Asia depend on their access to the water resources of the region. Most of these water resources are shared between two or more countries, such as the Amu Darya river involving six riparian States, while the Syr Darya river runs through four riparian States. These two major rivers form the backbone of the Aral Sea basin :


Water is a key driver for food, energy, environmental security, economic development and social stability in Central Asia :

  • the rivers account for approximately 75% of the irrigated agriculture in the region, while the agriculture sector contributes to about 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the region and occupies up to 50% of the labour force
  • water generates about 22% of the region’s electricity supply
  • access to drinking water and sanitation is the cornerstone of public health, as illustrated with the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time :

  • The Aral Sea has shrunk to 10% of its size over the past 60 years, due to excessive withdrawals and diversions of the two major contributing rivers ;
  • Renewable water availability per capita declined by 25 per cent between 2002 and 2014.

With the prospective economic and population growth of the Central Asian countries, and due to different adverse driving forces including fragmented or ill-informed water governance, environmental degradation and climate change, the pressures on water resources are multiplying in the region.


Infographic : The risks of “business-as-usual in Central Asia

The sustainable and equitable management of water of the region is therefore key for the long-term resilience and stability of Central Asia.

The COVID-19 crisis heavily affected the countries of Central Asia: Its impact will add another layer of complexity to the functioning and interaction of the region and is likely to become a major amplifier of inequalities and of structural weaknesses. At the same time, the COVID-crisis could potentially also act as a game changer and unfold opportunities. The crisis has once more unveiled that “business-as-usual” strategies won’t be able to answer to the future challenges, and real action should be undertaken.

This period of challenges can also be a time of new opportunities. The opportunity to rethink existing strategies and embrace innovative approaches to water resource management can be the key to creating a more sustainable and equitable future for all inhabitants of Central Asia. The current deficit in water resources underscores the need for adaptation and change, and effective water resource management must be part of this adaptation. Alongside efforts to combat climate change and its consequences, Central Asian countries must focus on developing and implementing strategies for sustainable water resource management that will ensure the health, well-being, and sustainable development of the region in the long term.

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