Central Asia desperate for a water peace
Uneasy water and energy relationship between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan is growing even more complicated. After years of serious consideration on economical and ecological appropriateness of the project, official Astana decided to build the Koksaray reservoir on the Syr Darya river basin, which is meant to protect southern parts of the country from winter floods. Construction of this kind of an irrigational facility in South-Kazakhstan oblast requires rather massive investments.
Kazakhstan could avoid the necessity of doing so, had they worked out mutually advantageous water and energy resource running scheme with Kyrgyzstan. But does it mean that there left no chance to settle the “water problem” with Bishkek, which counted upon price preferences for coal and mazut delivery from their northern neighbor, in exchange for irrigation regulation.
“We cannot live like this anymore”
Every winter, Syr Darya, one of the major waterways of Kazakhstan, overflows its banks and poses threat to populated areas. These are the consequences of operating the Toktogul hydroelectric power station in Kyrgyzstan, located on the higher reaches of the river Naryn (tributary of Syr Darya), in an active energy mode.
Generation of electricity in a power deficit period of autumn and winter requires massive outflow from the station reservoir. But the glacial coverings on the lower reaches of Syr Darya in the territory of Kazakhstan block the flow and prevent it from reaching the destination – the Aral Sea, causing land floods, with thousands of people of South-Kazakhstan and Kyzylordo oblasts forced to evacuate. Although the Shardarya reservoir, located in between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, is huge, it is incapable of holding in the flow. Not only does it cost Kazakhstan millions to prevent and deal with aftermath of force majeure, but it results in rise of social tension, as well.
So, how to protect the southern parts of Kazakhstan from the natural calamity coming from the Kyrgyz territory? This question, in fact, worries official Astana every winter. “Here we are sitting and wondering whether or not the water from the Toktogul reservoir will flood Kyzylordo and part of Shymkent again. We cannot live like this anymore,” President Nursultan Nazarbaev said, during an enlarged Government session in the middle of February.
Shortly after that, the ministers announced their decision to build a reservoir with the capacity of more than two billion cubic meters on the river of Syr Darya near Koksaray village. It is supposed to regulate the Shardarya reservoir reducing its load and to provide irrigation to cotton plantations in summer.
According to Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov, the construction of the irrigation and anti-flood facility is planned to start this year. The major problem is the cost. According to Bakhyt Sultanov, Minister of Economy and Budget Planning, the Ministry of Agriculture asks half a billion US dollars. A 44-km-long dam has to be built. It is obvious that it is not going to be easy to maintain the safety of a construction like this.
Benefits of learning
Is there any other nature-friendlier and less costly way of solving the problem of irrigation in summer and flood in winter? In Uzbekistan, they already have had a bitter experience of building and operating such facilities. Here, 150 km off Tashkent, flood water from Syr Darya is dumped into the Arnasay depression, which resulted in the loss of thousands of hectares of under-crop areas and meadowlands. Agricultural loss amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
But Kazakhstan still refuses to take into consideration what is happening in neighboring Uzbekistan. “We have two options. We either have to build the Koksaray regulator reservoir or negotiate with our neighbors and, during the irrigation period, switch the Toktogul reservoir to a 1990 mode, when in Soviet times there were economically grounded and carefully assessed agreements concerning water output volume, generation and distribution of electricity and fuel resources, operation of irrigation facilities,“ Chairman of the Water Resource Committee under the Ministry of Agriculture Anatolii Ryabtsev defined the dilemma at an enlarged session of the Government.
Left with not enough essential resources from the neighbors (electricity, gas, coal and mazut for the heat stations, boiler rooms and industrial productions), Kyrgyzstan made a desperate attempt to meet the needs of its economy by switching the Toktogul reservoir from the irrigation mode to the energy generation mode. Kyrgyzstan acquired electricity while Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan got acute shortage of water during irrigation and vegetation.
In April, 2006, fifteen years after they became independent, work groups from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had a meeting in Bishkek, where they presented a new intergovernmental project over use of the water and energy resources of the Naryn-Syr Darya cascade of reservoirs. At the end of the day, as Anatolii Ryabtsev said, “the sides have not moved a single jot on this matter and today the things grow even worse.”
The situation in Kyrgyzstan is even more worrying. Extremely cold winter led to extreme power consumption. Full-mode operation of Toktogul hydroelectric power station had negative affects on its water reserves and water levels dropped critically. In order to prevent the power station turbines from stopping, they had to limit electricity supply across the country and even lay responsibility for power generation for the northern Kyrgyzstan to the Bishkek heat station, which was already running out of gas, coal and mazut. The country had no finances to purchase these resources from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
The irrational policy of the energy sector management aggravated the situation. Back in autumn 2005, the experts forecast the water shortage period, but the Kyrgyz officials simply ignored this information. At the end of 2006, they signed intergovernmental agreements on electric power distribution to Uzbekistan (1.3 billion kW/h) and Kazakhstan (1.1 billion kW/h) at the prices of 1.1 cent and 1.52 cent per kW/h, respectively. The incomings were meant for purchasing fuel for the Bishkek heat station. But it was too late when they came to realize how bad the situation was.
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov is convinced Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan representatives should get together in a meeting and reach an agreement, at last. The negotiations are planned for April this year. “We want our neighbors to pay for the outflow regulation and water accumulation in the Toktogul reservoir,” he openly said. According to the Kyrgyz specialists, they spend $25.2 million for the maintenance and operation of the interstate irrigation facilities annually, while the neighbors only pay nothing more than $15 million of compensation, which makes 0.1 cent per cubic meter of water. “The situation is ambiguous and we are working on it,” Premier Igor Chudinov assures.
If you have a fountain, shut it off
Organization of an intergovernmental water and energy consortium would help improve the situation. The Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were planning to work out an agreement on creation of this kind of a consortium at their meeting in Dushanbe back in 2002. However, “there is still no such organization today, because the sides have interests counter to one another,” Ernest Karybekov, Deputy Chief of the energy and mineral resources department, said.
Officials at all levels are joining in to study and solve the problems in this strategic sector of economy. For instance, Javier Solana, the European High Representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, pointed out the danger of the climate change in Central Asia, caused by intensive thawing of glaciers and water shortage, in the speech he delivered at the summit in Brussels in March. He fears inevitable consequences of it could be even higher poverty level, shortage of drinking water, worse sanitary conditions and more migration.
President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev offered the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) “to take our environmental matter under advisement. We are talking about efficient use of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers that feed the shrinking Aral Sea.” Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov supported the President. At a government session over the construction of the Koksaray reservoir, he noted that despite tough negotiations, Kazakhstan will not abandon its plans to create a water and energy consortium.
“Until now, however, the sides haven’t even agreed on a concept plan of a consortium,” Vice Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Umirzak Shukeev said, speaking to the Kazakh senators. Moreover, further climate warming, water shortage and other natural cataclysms can toughen long-standing disagreements. It means that blowing half a million dollars on Koksaray reservoir is economically much better and promising than begging the neighbors for mercy.
Again, Kyrgyzstan appears to be an outsider here. The country is left with water shortage in the cascade of the Naryn hydroelectric power stations, left without a chance to export excess electric power at acceptable prices, without compensations for maintaining and operating the state irrigation facilities and without the much-desired fee from neighbors for the reservoir outflow for vegetation. And if the gas prices go up in 2009, which is inevitable, the country will simply be deprived of fuel resources for the heat stations, boiler rooms and other industrial and communal facilities.
The energy sector representatives and the governments of the four countries will discuss the scales of the growing crisis and ways of overcoming it at the imminent April meeting. What will the four “bosom friends” come up with? We’ll see.