Central Asia is one of the major agricultural producers in the world. Agriculture in this region is based on crops with high water demand such as cotton, despite its predominantly arid climate and the global warming to which it is particularly exposed.
Little amount of Central Asia’s water comes from rainfall, and its crops are heavily dependent on irrigation. It has a total irrigated area of about 100000 km2, which makes the rate of water consumption per capita in Central Asia much higher compared to the countries of Europe for example, and 90% of which is used by the agricultural sector.
The countries of the interior of Asia are among the countries most vulnerable to lack of river water, which threatens their security. This vulnerability had increased with the global warming of the Earth and the lack of precipitation.
Global warming reached about 1.2 ° C above pre-industrial levels, increasing by 0.2 ° C per year. Projections predicted that warming would reach between 5 and 7 ° C at the end of the century if the international commitments of the Paris Agreement are not maintained. This agreement aims to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels.
Central Asia consists of of five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It is one of the most arid regions in the world, with very fragile ecosystems made up of mountains, oases and desert.
Given the heavy dependence on irrigation in most of the countries of Central Asia, water is by far the most critical factor in the economic, political and social development of the region.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, this region has experienced great crises such as water conflicts between neighboring countries, the drying up of the Syr Darya – an endorheic river having two sources in the mountain of Tian Shan in Kyrgyzstan and in the Kara -Daria in eastern Uzbekistan, and soil salinization.
The main water resources in Central Asia come from meltwater from alpine glaciers and snow. Thus, water resources are scarce, less than 600 m3 / inhabitant, which is well below the world average of 1700 m3 / inhabitant, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Along with increasing temperatures and loss of glaciers, the region is expected to have a peak runoff moving from 30 to 60 days, shifting from the current spring / early summer regime to a late , winter / early spring, runoff regime. In addition, the rainfall rates are expected to increase but also the water demand (114 to 118 mm) in May for the wheat crop in Kazakhstan for example in a scenario of 1.5 ° C warming , which greatly exceeds the predicted increase in precipitation (< 25 mm).
This increase in water demand, which is added to the scarcity of resources, should unfortunately make it more difficult to manage water resources between the five neighboring countries and consequently increase tensions. The Fergana Valley, which is part of the Syr Darya River basin, is in particular the major cause of these tensions. The arbitrary borders of the Soviet era had made the valley shared between three countries, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This region already has a high population density with great ethnic differences.
Episodes of pressure on the region’s water resources are expected to continue. Climate change is increasingly diminishing the mountain glaciers of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that feed the main rivers of Central Asia. It is estimated that a quarter of the volume of water stored in glaciers was lost already in the second half of the
20th century, and another quarter will be gone by 2025.