The Syr Darya River Basin Upstream Downstream Disputes

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Case Description
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Geolocation: 40° 40' 30.6128", 70° 37' 55.6805"
Total Population 18 million
Total Area 444,000444,000 km²
171,428.4 mi²
Climate Descriptors Dry-winter
Predominent Land Use Descriptors agricultural- cropland and pasture, industrial use
Important Uses of Water Agriculture or Irrigation, Domestic/Urban Supply, Hydropower Generation
Water Features: Aral Sea, Syr Darya (River)

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The Syr Darya River (SDR) basin flows through four riparian countries: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the four republics have been facing challenges due to various economic and political reasons. The main challenges are related to the need for water in agriculture for the countries downstream, and for hydro-electric power production for the countries upstream. The four riparians have two choices to address these challenges. One option is to fight with each other. The second and recommended option is to engage in a collaborative approach and search for a solution that can satisfy all four countries and effectively bring mutual benefits. Forming a mutual gains management scheme is the utmost challenge to these countries.

Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework

Geographic Outline

The Aral Sea was once the world's fourth largest lake in the world. The SDR is one of the two main rivers flowing into the Aral Sea. The other major river in the basin is the Amu Darya River (ADR). The SDR basin covers 444,000 km² and is home to about 18 million people.[1] The river begins from the Tien Shan mountain in Kyrgyzstan and passes through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, the southern part of Kazakhstan, and enters the Aral Sea. [2]

The river flows approximately 2,500 km.[1] For the basin as a whole, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the upstream countries, while Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the downstream countries. Kyrgyzstan contributes approximately 74% of the flow into the river basin, followed by Kazakhstan (12%), Uzbekistan (11%), and Tajikistan (3%).[3] The SDR converges from two tributaries, the Naryn and the Karadarya, which originate upstream from Kyrgyzstan.[2] The Naryn tributary is of upmost importance as it passes through five reservoirs: Togtogul, Kurpsai, Tashkumur, Shamaldysai, and Uch-Kurgan. The Togtogul reservoir is a multi-purpose reservoir which was built in 1970 and is used for regulating and controlling flows and irrigation.[2] The reservoir also produces hydro-electric power.

Table 1. Water flow and water used in the Aral Sea Basin (watershed/km3), 2002[2]
Country Amu Darya Syr Darya Total Water Use - Agriculture Water Use - Industry
Afghanistan 6.18 - 6.18 - -
Kazakhstan - 4.5 4.5 27.41 6.26
Kyrgyzstan 1.9 27.4 29.3 9.5 0.59
Tajikistan 62.9 1.1 64 10.96 0.91
Turkmenistan 2.78 - 2.78 23.29 0.49
Uzbekistan 4.7 4.14 8.84 54.37 3.68
Total 78.46 37.14 115.6 125.53 11.93

Environmental Problems

One of the most visible environmental problems is the volume of water flow and the amount of flow reaching the Aral Sea. When the water demand for irrigation is at its highest during the summer months, little water reaches the sea. The diversion of water for agriculture from the SDR almost equals its annual inflow. [1] Similarly during winter months, when the demand for water for producing hydroelectric power is its highest, little water flows downstream. [1] Diminished water flow is not only detrimental to the ecosystem but also causes the desiccation of the Aral Sea. Due to the reduced water flow into the downstream regions, the concentrations of salts and minerals increased from around 0.5-0.8 g/l to about 2g/l in the deltas of both the SDR and the ADR. As a result, data from the year 2000 revealed that approximately 28% of the irrigated lands suffer from high salinity levels. [1] Moreover the pollutants that arise from the agricultural practices flow back into the water through the drainage infrastructure, aggravating the water quality downstream.[4] Reduced water flow and the water volume flowing into the Aral Sea has caused additional secondary problems. These problems include reduced fisheries, negatively affecting the commercial fishing industry, and changes in climate, shortening the crop growing season which inevitably forces farmers to switch to different crops. [1] The issue of climate change brings uncertainty to the impacts to the water resources in the future.[4]

What are the key disputes?

Water Allocation - concerning the water need for agriculture downstream

As indicated in the table above, the allocation and the water usages are not equal for the riparians. After independence, every country began developing their own national strategies to increase productivity for food and promote sustainable economies.[2] As a result, downstream countries continued Soviet era practices and used the water for crop cultivation. The upstream countries also expanded their own ways to produce their own food. For instance, Kyrgyzstan's increased water demand for agriculture meant that there would be less water available for the countries downstream. Although not as dominant as in the downstream countries, agriculture accounts for 36% of Kyrgyzstan's GDP.[2]

Other provisions - concerning the agreement on energy supply

Despite Kyrgyzstan's obvious increase in agriculture, the main and perhaps more central dispute was on other uses of water, primarily the use of water in winter for the Kyrgyzstanis to produce hydroelectric power. This is because if Kyrgyzstan releases water from Togtogul reservoir for hydropower in the winter, there will be less water for the countries downstream in the dry summer season, as well as reducing the level water being discharged into the Aral Sea. [2]

To improve the situation, Kyrgyzstan and the two downstream countries Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, signed an agreement “On the use of water and energy resources of the Syrdarya basin.”[2] This agreement created an understanding that the downstream countries will buy electricity from Kyrgyzstan and sell other energy sources, such as oil, gas, and coal, to Kyrgyzstan in the winter when they are most needed. The agreement did not effectively minimize the disputes on water use for energy because there was no enforcement mechanism in the agreement. Moreover, the price of hydropower was cheaper than that of other energy sources, giving the downstream countries an advantage. [2]

Another weakness in the agreement regarding the exchange of energy sources to meet the winter demands in Kyrgyzstan was the level of uncertainty in predicting the annual availability of water. Making a decision on the amount of water to be released during the summer and autumn seasons for the downstream countries can be delayed due to not knowing exactly how much water will be available. [2] During water surplus years, the irrigation needs in the downstream countries could be satisfied without having to "buy" more water from the upstream countries in exchange for other energy sources. [2] Conversely, at times of water scarcity, Kyrgyzstan did not abide by the agreement and stored water for its own use. [2] The agreement on water energy resources in the SDR basin suffers from durability, failing to into account fluctuations of water availability, be it extremely low or high levels of water availability. Furthermore, there is an absence of a formal and fair dispute resolution mechanism in the agreement. As a result, the downstream countries are trying to solve the problems on their own by building more dams for themselves as well as constructing reservoirs which will be used to absorb additional water. [2] Such actions will exacerbate the ecological status of the basin and exacerbate existing tensions between the countries.

Kyrgyzstan then came up with an interesting interpretation of water within the framework of its own domestic laws. In 2001, the president of Kyrgyzstan signed a law "On interstate use of hydrological facilities and water resources in Kyrgyzstan". [2] The intention was to treat water as a "national good" equal to other natural resources such as oil and gas.[2] This meant that the law supports the idea that the other downstream countries should pay for the water they use.[2] The law does not have any effect on the downstream countries, but this idea is interesting because Kyrgyzstan is arguing that the downstream countries should pay the "transit" cost.However, the downstream countries are making the argument that since water is not being extracted from underground or going through additional refining procedures for use, it cannot be considered equal to oil or gas. [2]

Why did the disputes arise? - History of "Production of Hydropower VS. Agriculture Industry"

In the Soviet Era, water distribution and the usage of water were not a source of conflict between the current republics. [2] This is because the Soviet central authority provided sufficient subsidies for the upstream countries who released the water for irrigation downstream. [2] At the time, the upstream countries did not worry about producing hydroelectric energy. Now hydropower is the center of the dispute. Water management during the Soviet Era was administered by the Ministry of Water and Land Reclamation of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), executing the plans developed by the head of the government in Moscow. [2]

Upstream, dams were built; downstream, land for irrigation was cultivated. The dam functioned for the purpose of supplying the water to the irrigated land, primarily released during the summer and autumn seasons. [2] Historically, the production of cotton was a major source of income, therefore priority was given to the cotton production in the countries downstream. [2] Statistics show that the production of cotton has increased by two-thirds from 1965 by early 1990s. [2] When the majority of water in the SDR was used for irrigation purposes, the upstream region did not have any conflicts with the downstream. As mentioned before, the less water for the upstream republics was compensated by the USSR authorities. [2]

The subsidy plan was based on a barter-trade scheme heavily subsidized by Moscow as the upstream countries were compensated for their lack of energy production from hydropower, and supplied with other sources of energy such as oil, gas, and coal. [2] The compensation was sufficient enough at the time that the upstream countries did not produce hydroelectricity even during the winters, when energy is most needed and released water downstream for the irrigation. [2] The SDR, having been managed in such a way, has been faced with serious challenges after the collapse of the USSR. As the countries were accustomed to the system of the downstream enjoying the flow of water for their agriculture and the upstream benefitting from the subsidies from Moscow, the question remained as to who would replace the centralized authority of the Soviets and effectively manage the water resources for their two main uses across the SDR: hydropower and irrigation. [2]

With the absence of subsidies and replacement energy resources disputes of water use between the upstream Kyrgyzstan and the downstream Uzbekistan intensified. [2] To address the disputes, the riparians had to develop alternative ways to manage the water use in the SDR.

What they have done so far?

Water management of trans-boundary rivers was first discussed in the 2001 International Conference on Fresh Water held in Bonn, Germany. As an international approach to river management, the report from the conference suggested that: [2]

"Water should be equitable and sustainably allocated, firstly to basic human needs, and then to the functioning of ecosystems and different economic uses including food security.”

The report also stated that:

"Water can promote regional cooperation. Such cooperation across internal and international boundaries should be intensified as a means to share the upstream and downstream benefits.”

These two statements are of great value because the first addresses that meeting the basic human needs and the functioning of the ecosystem comes [2]before economic uses. When managing the SRB, this is very important because the riparians are primarily focused on sustaining their national economic interests by either securing water for hydroelectricity production or for the purpose of irrigation. Without restoring the ecosystem from unsustainable use and minimizing the negative consequences from climate change, the economic benefits will not last long.

The second statement is worth noting because the statement itself describes the key assumptions of the water diplomacy framework: that water is not the source of conflict, and that it is not a finite resource. The report suggests that "water can promote regional cooperation" and this cooperation comes from sharing the benefits between the downstream and upstream countries. The creation and expansion of benefits is key in resolving the disputes in the SDR basin.

Institutional Reforms

1992 agreement "On Cooperation in the Field of Joint Water Resources Management and Conservation of Interstate Sources" [2]

  • This agreement was reached in order to emphasize the need for joint actions in addressing the problems of the Aral Sea in general. An agreement on water sharing, use, conservation, financing and management. [1]

The establishment of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC) [2]

  • Composed of ministers or delegates of each member state in the Aral Sea. The ICWC is the highest decision making body regarding the water management of both the SDR and ADR basins. The meetings are held quarterly.
  • Discusses monitoring of water deliveries, any problems in water supply, and compliance with agreement. [1]
  • Operates through the Basin Valley Organization (BVOs), Scientific Information Center (SIC), and the ICWC Secretariat.

Basin Water Organization (BWO) for both the SDR and ADR basins [2]

  • Responsible for water quality monitoring, technical aspects of water allocation, and day-to-day operations of water supply facilities. [2], [1] It is each country's national policy.
  • Problems with BWOs are: [2]
  1. Data collection on water resources are not transparent and accurate. The analysis of the data collected still remains inadequate.
  2. The organization is not entirely independent. Initially, the organization was intended be a regional organization, but in reality the organization is under the influence of the national water agencies. Moreover, the location of both of the BWO for SDR and ADR basins is in Uzbekistan, staffed with Uzbek specialists. The transparency and legitimacy of the organization has been questioned and is one of the main sources of mistrust among the riparian countries.

Scientific Information Center (SIC)

  • The SIC has 14 branches and is responsible for creating the information base, supporting and carrying out programs for water conservation.[1]

1997 establishment of the International Fund to Save the Aral Sea (IFAS)

  • Led by the World Bank, UNDP, and UNEP, two special bodies have been created: IFAS and the Interstate Council for the Aral Sea (ICAS).[1] Later the two were merged into a single IFAS.[1]
  • IFAS is headed by each of the presidents of the five Central Asian countries on a rotation basis.[1]
  • The Executive Committee of IFAS (EC IFAS) consists of the five prime-ministers of each country and is responsible for carrying out its functions in preserving the Aral Sea. The location of the EC IFAS has been: Almaty (1993-1997), Tashkent (1997-1999), Ashgabat (1999-2002), and Dushanbe (2003-2009). Since 2009, the EC IFAS has been based in Almaty again.[5]

The dynamics of institutional structure

In a regional inter-state level, the institutional mechanisms work in two ways. [1] One way is IFAS and ICWC dealing with the overall macro-level water resources, management, and funding decisions. [1] The second way works under the boundaries of the BWOs which deal with the technical aspects of water regulation among the riparian states. [1]

At the domestic country level, each countries’ ministries are responsible for the management of the water resources. [1] The ministries plan policies, make decisions on the allocation, regulation, and distribution of water resources to the provinces within the countries. [1]

At the provincial level, the provincial water management organizations make decisions on the distribution of water to major irrigation programs. [1]

Relevant Legal Framework

All the riparian countries of both the SDR and ADR basins have acknowledged: The Helsinki Rules of 1966: "a basin state may not be denied the present reasonable use of the waters of an international drainage basin to reserve for a co-basin sate a future use of such waters" [2], and The Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourse signed in New York in 1997. [6]

The Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP)

The ASBP, with the assistance from the World Bank, UNDP, and UNEP, was officially launched in 1993 after the ICAS and IFAS were founded. The ASBP is one of the main activities of IFAS and its main objective is to promote sustainable development in the region, specifically the sustainable use and management of water resources of the SDR and ADR Basins.[5] The four main goals of ASBP are as follows:

  1. Stabilizing the environment in the Aral Sea Basin;
  2. Restoring the disaster zone around the sea;
  3. Improving management of transboundary waters in the basin;
  4. Developing the capacity of the regional organizations to plan and implement the program.[5]

ASBP has developed into the most “comprehensive” international program in the Aral Sea region, supplemented by diverse support and participation from international donors. These donors included the ADB, UNESCO, EU and the governments of the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and others.[5]

Since 2002, the second phase of the program has been initiated by the five riparians in the region. The objective of IFAS was to address a wide range of environmental, socioeconomic, water management and institutional issues from 2003 until 2010. According to the ICAS report, the contributions from the member countries of the IFAS has amounted to over $1 billion, with additional funding provided by the international donors such as the UNDP, the World Bank, ADB, USAID, and various other governments in the world.[5]

IFAS Summit 2009 and onwards

In April 2009, the heads of states gathered for an IFAS summit, where they produced a joint statement emphasizing the importance of IFAS as well as the need to improve its organizational structure.[5] In this summit meeting, they agreed to begin developing the third phase of the ASBP.

In 2010, EC IFAS began the preparation process, as the third phase was decided to cover the years 2011 to 2015.[5] The preparation process involved intensive consultations with various national and international experts. The objective of the third phase of ASBP (ASBP-3) is to improve the environment by:

  1. Applying the principles of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM);
  2. Developing a mutually acceptable mechanism for water sharing; and
  3. Being able to improve the environment while taking account all of the national interests in the region.[5]

So far, 335 project proposals have been received by EC IFAS.[5] Based on the objectives of ASBP-3, a set of criteria has been agreed upon to make decisions on which projects will be included in the program. The list of criteria is as follows:

  • National projects to be implemented within one state and primarily financed from the national budget;
  • Regional projects to be implemented in the territory of two or more states;
  • Meeting the ASBP goals and objectives;
  • Meeting one of the directions of ASBP;
  • Linking with the corresponding national and regional policy goals and programs.[5]

After an extensive consultation processes with the experts and international donors, 45 projects were selected and are part of the ASBP-3.[5] In December 2010, the draft ASBP-3 was presented to the international donors and the IFAS board and won full support.[5]

Stakeholder Analysis

Stakeholder Key Interests Openness Towards Regional Action and International Facilitation Environmental Concerns
Kyrgyzstan Sustain energy production. Average; Needs international finances for projects. Low; Priority is in securing energy production for domestic use and exports
Uzbekistan Secure enough water for its agricultural use, particularly cotton Low; Priority is in securing energy production for domestic use and exports Low; Uses environmental concerns as a leverage to restrict the upstream reservoirs and hydro-power plant constructions
Kazakhstan Managing the water flow in a sustainable way Relatively high; Understands the need for a regional action, quite open to foreign assistance High; Concerned about not enough water flowing into the Aral Sea.
Tajikistan Sustain energy production. Average; open to foreign financial assistance. Low; Priority is in securing energy production for domestic use and exports
Local Environmental Groups and Civil Society Argue for state's responsibilities and solutions for environmental risks and vulnerability Currently, not participating in this level Very high
Local Businesses and Water Service Providers Maintain their business Currently, not participating in this level Average; Concerned about water quality and future flows
International Community and Organizations Facilitate a true commitment of the republics in restoring the river basin. Participating mainly as donor groups, less involved in the decision making process. Very high;

Reviving the ecological health of the SDR Basin is their top priority.

Main Stakeholders


For Kyrgyzstan the SDR is the heart of the country. Five major hydro-electric power plants, all located on the Naryn River, produce 97% of the country’s hydro-electric power. [5] Although only a small portion of its entire hydro-electricity potential is being utilized today, the country has been exporting 2 to 2.5 billion kwh/year to neighboring countries like China, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. [5] Therefore their main interests are to produce enough energy for domestic use as well as exporting hydro-electric energy to other countries. Like the Toktogul, many artificial reservoirs have been built to function not only for storage purposes, but also for the purpose of minimizing risks of seasonal floods and produce hydropower. [5]

After independence, the downstream countries ceased providing oil, coal, and gas which left the country no other option but to increase its water discharge during the winter to produce more hydro-electricity. Kyrgyzstan also constructed additional power plants along the Naryn River in addition to the ones built during the Soviet era. Despite the drying up of finances in the country, they have been able to continue the constructions of the power plants thanks to loans from Russia. One of the newly built power plants began its operation in November 2010. [5] There are still many more to come, as the country is planning to build more than 200 small hydropower plants with the purpose of meeting the energy needs of smaller rural villages. [5]


Uzbekistan’s primary interests directly contradict those of Kyrgyzstan. While Kyrgyzstan’s central interest is to produce sufficient hydro-electricity, Uzbekistan’s core interests lie within the broad framework of agriculture, particularly on the production of cotton. Although only 10% of its land is arable, cotton is their most important crop and irrigation for cotton farming takes up approximately 90% of total water usage. [5] Uzbekistan made efforts to lower its dependence on cotton to reduce the amount of water being used for irrigation. By the 1990s they managed to reduce cotton production to about 30% of the total irrigated land, substituting with other crops like wheat and vegetables. [5] Still, the fundamental problem of Uzbeks raising their voices about Kyrgyzstan building hydro-electric plants and reservoirs upstream has not been resolved. Uzbekistan is keen on securing enough water downstream in the SDR Basin.

Uzbekistan has also continuously raised concerns on the environmental degradation caused by the constructions of dams and hydropower plants in the upper stream regions of Kyrgyzstan. Despite raising the voice of environmental protection in the basin and expressing the country’s continuous commitment towards addressing the issues, the country has done little to its cotton production. From the outset, the country seemed dedicated towards taking an active role in building a regional action plan to revive the basin; in reality the country seems less interested in the actual regional environmental issues. On the contrary, Uzbekistan seems to be using the environmental problem as leverage to criticize and “regionally” limit the use of water in Kyrgyzstan. The Karimov government publically announced their concerns about Kyrgyzstan’s development in the Naryn River, calling it a “cascade for energy production”. [7]

Secondary Stakeholders


Kazakhstan is primarily interested in the managed water flow beginning from Kyrgyzstan and passing through Uzbekistan, particularly during the growing season. Kazakhstan is also interested in reviving the northern part of the Aral Sea. To prepare for and minimize the impacts from reduced water discharge from the upper streams, Kazakhstan built the Koksaray reservoir which is located just upstream of the Aral Sea. [5] This enables Kazakhstan to store and release water in winter and minimize dependence on upstream water releases. The reservoir also allows Kazakhstan to store previously unused water and control the flow into the Aral Sea. However, the SDR Basin is a less pressing concern for Kazakhstan when compared to the problems in the Ili-Balkhash Basin. [5] The Ili-Balkhash Basin is located in the very eastern part of the country bordering China. The Chinese are heavily using the water in this basin, which is putting the ecological balance at risk. [5] To Kazakhstan, the Ili-Balkhash Basin seems to be a greater concern than the SDR Basin.

Kazakhstan’s role is still important in the upstream/downstream dynamics in the region. Although Kazakhstan is not at the center of the dispute, it is one of the downstream countries and has the geo-political power and presence in the region to take action. An example of this is the initiation of a summit meeting in late 2008. 2008 was not a good year for both the upstream and downstream countries in the SDR basin. The severe cold weather in the 2007 and 2008 forced Kyrgyzstan to use more water than usual for hydro-electricity production. [5] This led to a decrease in the level of water availability for downstream countries, most prominently Uzbekistan. The lower levels in the Toktogul reservoir was one of the main causes of the decline in water flow downstream. [5] In these difficult conditions, Kazakhstan took over the rotating presidency of IFAS and the EC IFAS was also moved from Dushanbe to Almaty. [5] Under the Kazakh presidency of IFAS, the leaders came up with a preliminary solution for the following year, agreeing to deliver additional energy from the downstream countries to upstream countries in the winter. [5] Kazakhstan’s role as the regional “balancer” will be continuously important in the forthcoming upstream/downstream dynamics in the SDR Basin.


The SDR passes through the very northern part of the Tajikistan. Like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan today suffers from a severe energy deficit. In some of the most severe cases, power only lasts for a few hours a day. [5] The lack of energy in the country is exacerbated by the operation of a big aluminum plant and increased electricity consumption during severe winters. [5] In this respect, the country’s primary interest should be supplying enough energy for its domestic consumption and producing hydro-electric energy for export. However, the country is more focused with developing its hydro-plants in the ADR Basin, since the country takes up almost the entire upper stream basin of the ADR. Tajikistan already built approximately 250 hydropower plants in the Vakhsh River, which is the most important tributary of the ADR. [5] The Tajik government is in serious disputes with Uzbekistan concerning the construction of the Rogun Dam. The construction has stalled and is under process for an independent impact assessment carried out by the World Bank. The results of the assessment as well as the issue of the construction of the Rogun Dam will also effect the overall geopolitical dynamics in the SDR Basin.

Local Environmentalist Groups and Civil Society

While the role of environmentalist groups and NGOs is growing in the four riparians, the governments have routinely silenced critics of environmental issues and activists. Though this may be a post-Soviet legacy, the governments have not been very friendly with opinions from locals and non-state actors, particularly the environmental activists and civil society. Nevertheless, the environmentalist groups maintained their positions at the local level by exerting influence on smaller scale, attempting to emphasize the state's accountability to the worsening environmental risks and vulnerability. [7]

Local Businesses (Energy Producers and Water Services Providers)

Energy producers and water service providers may contribute to the cooperative actions in the SDR Basin. Their primary interest is a stable business environment, the ability to consistently produce energy (for both domestic consumption and exports), and the provision of water all year long, even in remote areas of their respective countries.

International Environmental Community (including the World Bank, UNEP, UNDP, EU, etc)

Many international organizations have interests in reversing the environmental degradation in the SDR Basin and in the Aral Sea Basin. The Aral Sea crisis has gained world-wide attention, which led to an increase in funding and donations from various international actors. Efforts of the international community led to the development of the ASBP and the consolidation of IFAS. However, several obstacles exist in the region. It became quite clear that the riparian governments, particularly Uzbekistan, were hesitant in enacting significant change, making it difficult for the international community to make a difference. Some organizations, like Mercy Corps, still continues to play a role in conflict resolution by tackling water sharing and infrastructure improvement issues. [7] The WWF is also involved in improving the conditions for endangered species like the snow leopard. [7]

Why is it not working?

Basin-wide problems arise from each country narrowing in on own its national interest to develop its economy. The problem of water is not just about the water itself, it’s more about energy needs and agriculture. In other words, the SDR basin problems incorporate a combination of water, food, and energy. Therefore a sector-by-sector approach is not going to work. The riparians should go about a multi-sectoral approach, dealing with agriculture, energy, and water in a package.

A major implication from the SDR Basin case is that the absence of the Soviet subsidy and barter system after the independence in 1991 has made the issue of water allocation a central topic of dispute. It is crucial to find some mechanism that will more effectively and efficiently replace the former Soviet subsidy and barter system. A starting point is thinking about water and energy together. When water and energy issues are detached from each other, the dispute will be almost impossible to resolve. It is important to understand that in the SDR Basin, as with other basins, water is a source of survival. Without sustaining the energy production for the upstream countries and agricultural industry for the downstream countries, the disputes will continue. The volume and the quality of water in the basin is continuing to worsen, therefore short to long term solutions are needed in order to sustain the use as well as the ecological health of the water. In the context of the Water Diplomacy Framework, this aspects reiterates the importance of creating a multi-level, win-win situation. When water is dealt separately from energy, the zero-sum game begins. Having both in the same package should initiate constructive dialogue between the upstream and downstream riparians.

According to the materials read for this report, it seems imperative that the riparian countries of the SDR basin seek assistance from international organizations or any international expert to provide the facilitating role. Within the water-energy nexus, Kyrgyzstan and the upstream countries Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan should be able to find areas or detailed strategies to engender "shared benefits" or "mutual gains". Continuing to execute the actions under the framework of the ASBP is one great example. ASBP is one channel for facilitating a regional effort to create shared benefits. The riparians, particularly Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, need to be more open towards including the international donor and expert groups in their dialogues.

It has already been established that the current institutional structure has not been effective due to various reasons. One of the reasons is the rather conservative political priorities of the member states and the insecure situations in the region at the time of the establishment of the institutions. [6] Another is the absence of the presence of non-state actors such as the civil society and other international experts and observers. [6] As aforementioned examples provided, the presence of non-state actors is somewhat suppressed by state control. Giving non-discriminating rights to the non-state actors and the civil society is essential to improving the situation in the SDR Basin. Finally, one other pitfall in the institutional framework is the weak financial mechanism. The member countries of IFAS have not fulfilled their financial commitments, even lowering the financial commitments to 0.3% of government expenses for the relatively richer downstream countries, and 0.1% of government expenses for the upstream countries. [5] In the longer term, the budget for cooperative actions cannot be entirely sustained by external donations. The riparians need to establish a concrete agreement on their financial contributions to minimize the risks, increase accountability, and revive the SDR Basin.

In addition, the riparian countries have a trust issue, their distrust amongst each other has deterred them from making progress in water governance. Trust-building measures should seriously be considered when they have experienced things go the awry for the past two decades. The riparian countries should re-negotiate the structure and composition of the BWOs. Somewhat biased organization of the BWOs and the lack of their ability to gather and analyze accurate data needs improvement in order to enhance the trust level among the countries.

The costs for uncooperative measures continues to rise both to the stakeholders and the environment. Finding areas for mutual gains through a cooperative governance mechanism with the participation from civil societies and international expert groups should be accompanied by proper investments from the riparians and other international donors. The riptarians’ focus should be three-fold. First is to be able to meet the basic human needs. Secondly, they must revitalize the water level and the health of the eco-system. Lastly is finding areas for shared benefits both for the upstream and downstream countries. The only way to get this done is through continuous and active dialogues and building trust through mutually agreed regulations and management schemes.

Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight

What is an ASI?

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A Way Forward: Applying the Water Diplomacy Framework

A number of opportunities exist to improve the situation in this basin. Inclusion of all relevant stakeholders, the design and implementation of joint-fact finding, exploration of mutual gains (rather than zero-sum) negotiation, and opportunities to create additional value by exploring how to expand benefits from water through addressing irrigation inefficiencies in the basin are explored here.

Contributed by: Jungwoo Chun (last edit: 14 May 2014)

Key Questions

Transboundary Water Issues: How can packages or options that link issues creatively or build on possible technology innovations be employed to create non-zero sum choices within negotiations that include water resources?

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Power and Politics:

Who should ultimately be given the authority to make decisions on the institutional reform and come up with a mutually agreeable enforcement mechanism?

  1. ^ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 Murray-Rust H., Abdullaev I., Ul Hassan M., Horinkova V. (2003). Water Productivity in the Syr-Darya River Basin. Research Report 67. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute.
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  3. ^ Micklin P. (2000). Managing Water in Central Asia. London, UK: The Royal Institute of International Affairs 72
  4. ^ 4.0 4.1 Savoskul OS., Chevnina EV., Perziger FI., Vasilina LY., Baburin VL., Danshin AI., Matyakubov B., Murakaev RR. (2003). Water, Climate, Food, and Environment in the Syr Darya Basin. Contribution to the project ADAPT Adaptation strategies to changing environments.
  5. ^ 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 5.19 5.20 5.21 5.22 5.23 5.24 5.25 5.26 5.27 5.28 5.29 Water Unites. (2014). The Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, Central Asia's lifelines.
  6. ^ 6.0 6.1 6.2 Fedorenko V. (2014). Prospects For Water Cooperation in Central Asia. Rethink Paper 14. Washington, USA: Rethink Institute.
  7. ^ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Wooden A. (2014). Karimov's Government does not care about the environment.

Facts about "The Syr Darya River Basin Upstream Downstream Disputes"RDF feed
Area444,000 km² (171,428.4 mi²) +
ClimateDry-winter +
Geolocation40° 40' 30.6128", 70° 37' 55.6805"Latitude: 40.6751702324
Longitude: 70.6321334839
Key QuestionHow can packages or options that link issues creatively or build on possible technology innovations be employed to create non-zero sum choices within negotiations that include water resources? +
Land Useagricultural- cropland and pasture + and industrial use +
Population18 million +
Water FeatureAral Sea + and Syr Darya (River) +
Water UseAgriculture or Irrigation +, Domestic/Urban Supply + and Hydropower Generation +
Has subobjectThis property is a special property in this wiki.The Syr Darya River Basin Upstream Downstream Disputes + and The Syr Darya River Basin Upstream Downstream Disputes +