At the fifth annual Pan-European Ministerial Conference in Ukraine from May 21 to 23, the five Central Asian nations formally invited international agencies and lenders to craft and enforce policies for protecting water sources. While the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe presses that agenda, bilateral talks may also gather strength. In early May, a Kyrgyzstani newspaper reported that Kyrgyzstan's embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan had approached the host government about creating a joint working group for financing new hydropower engineering efforts. This official endorsement of water management contrasts with past practice. As the Central Asian countries' "Invitation to Partnership" notes, "the resource-based approach that evolved during the arms race still dominates water management thinking in Central Asian countries." But some potent agencies still champion discredited methods.
At a conference in Moscow in early April, all speeches explored the 32-year-old idea of diverting part of the Ob River in Siberia's flow via a new canal to Central Asian republics. Diversion of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers in the Soviet era led the Aral Sea to shrink. [For background, see the Environment archive.] Central Asian republics notoriously waste water: the Kiev conference document claims that per capita consumption in the five countries averages twice that of developed nations. Supplies from the lower Amu Darya, which runs through Uzbekistan, have operated for years at less than half of an artificially low consumption limit. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive.] Levels will decrease more starkly "against the background of population growth
Ibragim Alibekov is the pseudonym of
an independent Kazakhstani journalist.