Water in Central Asia: A Prospect of Conflict or Cooperation?

This paper analyses the root causes of water driven conflicts in Central Asia. It outlines a number of factors such as the desiccation of the Aral Sea, the increasing demand and declining supplies of water, rising nationalism and competition between the Central Asian states that together affect the possibility of finding collective regional approach on water management. Furthermore, it 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.

The paper while admits that water may not cause armed conflicts in the near future, 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 economic development, the need to control ethnic tensions and social uprisings, as well as the desire to manage environmental degradation and population growth.

The paper recommends urgent recognition of the necessity of cooperation by Central Asian states, improving water management policy in the region, including the possibility of using the legacy of the Aral Sea problem to reverse classical upstream/ downstream dynamics. It adds that the first steps towards a cooperative framework must start at the national level and through the establishment of domestic water regimes. The paper calls the role of civil society important in taking into account plans for regional cooperation.

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