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Unformatted text preview: 151 Water in Central Asia: A Prospect of Conflict or Cooperation? 9 Beatrice Mosello is a Master in Political Science candidate at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. W ATER IN C ENTRAL A SIA : A P ROSPECT OF C ONFLICT OR C OOPERATION ? Beatrice Mosello Water is the central resource involved in one of the worlds greatest human-induced ecological disasters: the desiccation of the Aral Sea in Central Asia. Increasing demand and declining supplies of water have been compounded by rising nationalism and competition among the five Central Asian states, which, in turn, has hampered the possibility of finding a viable regional approach to replace the Soviet system of water management. This paper analyses the root causes of this issue and argues that tensions over water have spilled-over in Central Asia, creating an uneasy political climate that has slowed down cooperation. In particular, Central Asian states have tended to securitize water-related issues, motivated by national concerns over eco- nomic development, the need to control ethnic tensions and social uprisings, as well as the desire to manage environmental degradation and population growth. This work also explores the reasons why regional institutions and agreements, typically proposed as useful instruments for inducing cooperation, have not been successful in the Central Asian case. In conclusion, some recommendations for improving water management policy in the region are suggested, including the possibility of using the legacy of the Aral Sea problem to reverse classical upstream/ downstream dynamics. 152 Beatrice Mosello I NTRODUCTION Water takes on special importance in Central Asia. At over four million square kilometres, the post-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajiki- stan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan cover an area larger in size than India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh combined, and are home to roughly 60 million people. The majority of fresh water comes from run-off from the high mountain ranges of Pamir and Tien Shan in the Eastern part of Central Asia, which feed the two main rivers of the region, the Amur Darya and Syr Darya, flowing west and north towards the Aral Sea. As the region is within arid and semi-arid global vegetation zones, agri- culture is made possible only by irrigation, which demands sophisticated water distribution systems. More than 3500 years ago, the Mesopotamia of Central Asia was populated by developed hydraulic societies with refined irrigation systems that provided water for millions of hectares. At the end of the 19 th century, after the Russian conquest, new irrigation technologies were introduced in order to cultivate cotton on a larger scale. The once seemingly inexhaustible Central Asian water resources started diminishing in the 1960s, when a rapid increase in the demand for water resources caused the dramatic depletion of river flows and ground water reserves, as well as the degradation of water and soil quality. The desiccation of the Aral Sea, the degradation of water and soil quality....
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- Fall '11