Triggering the Cooperation Across the Food-Water-Energy Nexus in Central Asia

The Amu Darya River Basin in Central Asia offers almost paradigmatic food-water-energy nexus dilemmas. The glacier fed Amu Darya River is crucial to the livelihoods of the approximately 50 million people who live in its basin across six countries. The end of the Soviet Union saw the centrally administered basin collapse into a fragmented system, one still dominated by regional tensions over resource use and allocation amongst the six countries through which the Amu Darya River flows.

Opposing needs in terms of resources and intra-regional disparities give way to an upstream/downstream divide. Despite the strong interdependencies that tie the upstream countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and the downstream countries of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, a lack of cooperation and trust is ever present. This is a significant barrier to overcoming the formidable challenges that all these low income post-Soviet Central Asian countries face.

Upstream countries are water rich, but they face chronic energy deficits and recurring food crisis; whereas downstream countries are major producers of fossil fuel energy and agricultural crops, but depend heavily on the former to meet their water needs and sustain their agricultural activities. Although cooperation around benefit-sharing across the whole food-water-energy nexus should be sound policy, it has so far been very limited.

The pressures across the whole nexus are being amplified by rapid population growth, expected to increase by another 40 per cent by 2040, placing enormous demands on food, water and energy availability and infrastructure.

These challenges will likely be aggravated with the rippling effects of climate change, which is hitting the Central Asian region harder and faster than elsewhere. Upstream glaciers are experiencing an accelerating loss of ice due to warmer temperatures, and projected precipitation decreases will further aggravate conditions in the already water-stressed basin.

Cyclical floods and droughts already plague the countries along the two basins of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. An increased frequency and intensity of such events will negatively affect agricultural productivity, hydropower production and the availability of water resources in the region.

Assessing potential pathways for cooperation across the nexus to respond to these and other high-priority challenges was the main purpose of the “Triggering Cooperation Across the Food-Water-Energy Nexus in Central Asia” workshop. Convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the EastWest Institute (EWI) and the International Water Association (IWA), a detailed analysis of nexus dilemmas, as well as integrative solutions for water, food and energy security, have been compiled in a new report.

Concrete outcomes from the workshop were five Action Plans, which addressed high-priority nexus challenges with fully-fledged project proposals:

  1. A system of payment in exchange for ecosystem service provision, ensuring that wealthier downstream users cooperate financially in protecting upstream water resources.
  2. Building an integrated basin-wide information system on natural resource use.
  3. Strengthening regional economic integration as a catalyst to simultaneously minimise border disputes
  4. A Network of Training Centres for Improved Irrigation Capacity Building and Service Provision
  5. Network of Nexus Knowledge & Innovation Centres to tackle food insecurity.

The Central Asia Nexus workshop was part of a series of regional meetings that IWA and IUCN have been organising since 2013 to reconcile competing water demands in river basins. This joint initiative, the “Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions”, is a call to action to those leading transformations in water infrastructure planning, financing and operation, facilitating new engagements across sectors to deal with the interconnected challenges around water, energy and food/fibre production.

The Dialogue will hold a final event at the 7th World Water forum in Daegu and Gyeongbuk, South Korea from 12-17 April, 2015.