Published on Voices

On the importance of snow and joint climate action in Central Asia

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Kyrgyz Republic / World Bank

If you think about it, snow is a pretty amazing thing. It is nature’s way of storing water in the winter, and then using it in the summer when it is needed, namely during the growing season. If it gets too warm, the water does not stay locked up as snow till the summer. Too much warmth also means that more snow and ice may melt than usual, resulting in floods. But at the same time, if the water comes down the mountain too abundantly and too early, there may not be enough water during the growing season, causing drought-like conditions.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are among the Europe and Central Asia Region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. In these five landlocked Central Asian countries, water resources depend on glaciers and snow pack. In this region, we have already seen average annual temperatures increase since the mid-20th century by 0.5°C in the south to 1.6°C in the north, and impacts are already being observed, from melting glaciers in upland areas (where glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since the 1900s), to droughts and floods in the lowlands (where weather-related disasters are estimated to cause economic losses from 0.4 to 1.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product per year for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz Republic, for instance).
The future looks even more challenging. According to a World Bank report “ Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” the region’s glaciers, which account today for 10 percent of the annual stream flow in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins, are projected to lose up to 50 percent in volume in a 2°C warmer world, and potentially up to 75 percent in a 4°C warmer world. Melting glaciers and a shift in the timing of rivers’ flow will result in a lot more water in the rivers but this excess availability will not be in sync with growing season’s water needs.  In the second half of the century, there would then be too little water flow in the rivers when the glacier volume is reduced.  The timing of peak flow of key rivers is projected to shift towards spring with a 25 percent reduction in flow during the critical crop growing season. The report also projects increased heat extremes which mean more of a reliance on irrigated agriculture (the report projects a 30 percent increase in irrigation demand) leading to an increase in water demand, exactly when water availability becomes more unpredictable. In this region, water is also connected to energy security, given the reliance on hydropower, creating further challenges.
Last week the World Bank Group also launched “ Shock Waves” a report that shows very clearly that climate shocks threaten poverty eradication gains. This is particularly relevant in Central Asia. While the population as a whole is vulnerable to changing climate, those pursuing subsistence agriculture and pastoralism will be particularly affected as they depend more directly on vulnerable and depleted land and water resources and do not have the means to cope with shocks and adapt to change.  Across the region, 50 to 75 percent of the countries’ population live in rural areas, with often high poverty rates, and the effects of climate change threatens to keep them in, or push them back into, poverty. So building climate resilience is fundamental for these countries trying to improve the life of their poorest citizens. At the same time, many of the vital resources the five economies share are interconnected: the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers are the region’s main arteries flowing through the countries, creating interdependencies with respect to water and energy (namely hydropower).
Faced with similar climate change challenges and tied together by interconnected water and land systems, the five Central Asian countries saw the benefit of a coordinated and integrated approach, and last year requested the World Bank’s help to put together a regional climate program, working closely with the countries as well as development partners.
I am pleased that we were able to answer that call. A Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Program for Aral Sea Basin (CAMP4ASB) was approved by the World Bank’s Board of Directors two weeks ago. In its first phase, this program includes the Republic of Tajikistan, the Republic of Uzbekistan, and the Executive Committee for the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (EC-IFAS), the Regional Implementing Agency, supported with US$38 million in IDA grants and credits. Preparation is already underway for formally integrating the other Central Asian countries into this program over the next two years. 
The project will support stakeholders at all levels - from local farmers to government agencies – to raise awareness of climate change and related appropriate responses, and assist rural communities in becoming more climate resilient, by piloting new technologies.  What would success look like at the end of the project? Four key measures are proposed, namely that users report satisfaction with the climate knowledge services provided by the program; country-led plans and programs draw on these knowledge services and the lessons from pilot investments; there is increased collaboration among countries on climate-related investments to maximize synergies; and additional resources are mobilized for knowledge, capacity, and investment for regional climate/green actions.
The program’s success in Central Asia would indeed demonstrate that the sum is greater than the parts, when it comes to acting quickly and smartly in a warming and increasingly interconnected world.


Kulsum Ahmed

Practice Manager in the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice of the World Bank

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