[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Thu, 15 Jan 1998 09:56:44 +0100
Reply-To: Lars Stefan Hans Jalling <l.s.h.jalling@STV.UIO.NO>
Sender: Former Soviet Republic - Central Asia Political Discussion List <CENASIA@VM1.MCGILL.CA>
Subject: Some thoughts about water in Central Asia X-To: CENASIA@VM1.MCGILL.CA
To: Multiple recipients of list CENASIA <CENASIA@VM1.MCGILL.CA>

A dialog on water in Central Asia

On CenAsia list, January 1998

Date: Thu, 15 Jan 1998 09:56:44 +0100
From: Lars Stefan Hans Jalling <l.s.h.jalling@STV.UIO.NO>


When going through my archives, I found an article posted to the Cenasia-list p=E5 Daene McKinney concerning the value of water and the relationship between Kyrgyzstan and the other CAR (8.12.97). - You'll find the whole article at the end of this message.

Since there has not been much discussion on the list lately, I'll take the chance to make some comments on McKinney's article although it was posted long ago.=20

First of all, I find McKinney's article a bit too biased. I agree that Kyrgyzstan is in an akward position, with small financial means to pay for gas and coal-deliverances from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and that payment for water as a means to accumulate money would be beneficial from a Kyrgyz point of view. However, there are some claims in his article that I believe should be modified somewhat.

McKinney writes that an edict signed by Akaev says that

"The Kyrgyz Republic states that it has the right to use water resources from rivers within its territories for maximum benefit."

Further down, he writes:

"This matter continually contravenes the constitution of

Kyrgyzstan as well as the Law on Water. International laws, providing that water resources which are formed on a particular territory are the property of that particular state, are ignored."

I disagree with McKinney's interpretation of International Water Law. While it is true that there are arguments put forward that supports the right of states to use whatever resource within their territory, there are equally arguments that support the right of existing use. This would mean that the traditional use of water for irrigation purposes in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan would have "priority" compared to "recent" Kyrgyz needs of water for hydroenergy purposes.

However, the UN body International Law Commission (ILC) put forward a number of proposals concerning International Water Law in 1994. Most important was perhaps the principle of "equitable use" (not to be confused with equal use), which basically means that the interests of all states sharing a water resource should be maintained. Although difficult to put into practice, it is a more reasonable principle then either "territorial sovereignty" (Kyrgyz interests) or "existing use sovereignty" (Uzbek/Kazakh interests). (See for instance UN-report at <<gopher://gopher.un.org./00/esc/cn17/1997/off/97--9.EN>; or Stephen McCaffrey in Peter H. Gleick (ed.) (1993) "Global Water Resources".)

Moreover, due to environmental considerations, it has increasingly been common to view basins as a whole. This means that water utilisation in the entire basin is the yardstick for evaluations of the use of water. Water use should be measured from an efficiency-point of view. For instance, as it is possible to substitute water as an energy source with goal or gas, it is reasonable that Uzbek and Kazakh demands for water to irrigation gets priority. On the other hand, if the Kyrgyz can achieve higher efficiency in their agricultural sector than the two others, then water should be put to use in Kyrgyzstan.=20

McKinney further argues that the 1992-agreement between the five republics concerning the use of water (which in principle upheld a status quo of the Soviet water distribution scheme)=20

"creates unlimited rights for the governing of all water resources in Kyrgyzstan".

However, as McKinney writes himself in the preceeding sentence, the agreement clearly states that=20

"the parties have equal rights for the use <<of water resources> and hold responsibility for the provision of rational use and protection."

As far as I can understand, this means that Kyrgyz needs are to be assessed in conjunction with the other republics'. Most interesting in the Central Asian context is perhaps the rate of <italic>efficiency </italic>in water use. Without too much knowledge to the water installations on Kyrgyz soil, I would imagine that their efficiency rate could match that of the irrigation infrastructures in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan...

McKinney points out that the downstream republics traditionally have received ("Kyrgyz") water for "free". However, as long as the Soviet Union existed, there were considerable transfers of resources to Kyrgyzstan (as well as to other parts of Central Asia). Thus, for giving away their water for "free", the Kyrgyz received other commodities in return.

It is indeed a problem at present, when the Kyrgyz are forced to pay for gas and coal-shipments that previously was sold much cheaper to them. And perhaps selling water in return is the only way to solve the Kyrgyz acute need for money.

To a certain extent I do agree, albeit I see it from a slightly different perspective. I believe that pricing the water will increase utilisation efficiency, which is basically the main problem in the area. As we all are aware off, too much water is consumed. The Aral is dead, and now the deltas are in danger, too. To price water may force the consumers at both local, national and regional level to increase the efficiency.

Another interesting aspect of the Kyrgyz wish to use water for hydroenergy purposes is that it is much less environmentally damaging that using coal or gas. (Although there are problems with water installations. too.) In my view, that is an important argument in favour of the Kyrgyz claim for water to their hydroenergy production.

According to McKinney, Kyrgyzstan wishes to share maintenance-costs of the "Kampyr-Ravat channel and the Sohski reservoir" with the Uzbeks. On the other hand, he states, the construction of the "Kara-Ozek damp" should be payed by the downstream republics as this is of no interest to Kyrgyzstan.

I believe that this is precisely the main problem in Central Asia. Because of poor economies as well as other factors, the republics look to their own needs first. However, water management is a <bold>regional </bold>task. This is true for maintenance of water installations in the upstream countries as well as the construction of more efficient water carriers in the dowstream ones. One solution could be to allocate the payments for water to the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS). At present, IFAS is for all practical purposes a dead body. However, if it suddenly was to be in charge of financial means that could be used for different projects, the republics would probably give much more attention to it. Also, my claim is that there must be established a priority list between different regional needs in relation to water management. The repair of water installations in the upstream republics must be done soon, to avoid collapse of dams etc - which would have devastating consequences in the whole region. On the other hand, the health of the people adjactent to the Aral Sea should be given much more support that today.

All in all, I believe that McKinney's approach only reinforces the divisions and disputes between the republics, and that this is exactly what must be avoided. The water management issues are to large and to many to be solved unilaterally. But regional solutions requires regional cooperation - whether one likes it or not.

Sorry for writing so long!


Lasse Jalling
Majorstuveien 5
0353 Oslo, Norway
e-mail: l.s.h.jalling@stv.uio.no

Date: Fri, 16 Jan 1998 15:55:24 -0600
From: "Daene C. McKinney" <daene_mckinney@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU>

Dear Mr/Ms Jalling:

I did not write that article. I received it from a friend in Almaty, Kazakstan who got it from a public news paper. I simply forwarded it to the list because I thought that it summarized many of the arguments of the Kyrgyz nationalists on the subject of owneship of water in the Naryn-Syr Darya basin. I make no statement of agreement with the authors, in fact, I would make many of the same criticisms that you have made.

Sorry for the confusion.

Daene McKinney