Published on The Water Blog

Central Asia: at the confluence of global water action and climate resilience Dushanbe conference to emphasize role of water in sustainable development

Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Photo: ©[truba71]/Adobe Stock Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Photo: ©[truba71]/Adobe Stock

Taking action to tackle the world’s water challenges is critical for the billions of people who face water scarcity and a changing climate. 

Water is central to economic growth and human wellbeing. Sustainably managing this precious resource is becoming more urgent as demand grows while supply becomes less reliable. And it is through the water cycle that the impact of climate change will be mostly felt, with water-related climate risks cascading through food, energy, urban, and environmental systems. 

The relationship between water and climate resilience is at the heart of the 2nd High-Level International Conference on the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development”, which meets in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, from June 6 to 9. 

The conference, one in a series of events known as the Dushanbe Water Process, is hosted by the government of Tajikistan and the United Nations as part of the UN’s Water Action Decade activities. The meeting is an important opportunity to advance an integrated approach, emphasizing the role of water in achieving the sustainable development goals and a water-secure world for all. 

Water stresses and climate change in Central Asia

Urgent action to address water challenges is also needed in Central Asia. 

The five countries of Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – are home to 76 million people. Much of the region’s significant water endowments are sourced from snow and glacier melt from the mountains of the Tien Shan, the Hindu Kush, the Wakhan, and the Pamirs, feeding flows into the Aral Sea basin. Two major rivers of the basin provide the water essential for human health, ecosystems, agriculture, hydropower, and inland fisheries. 

Yet as many as 22 million people in Central Asia – nearly one-third of the region’s population – lack access to safe water. This challenge is particularly acute in rural areas.  With the regional population expected to increase to between 90 and 110 million by 2050, continued urbanization, a warming climate, and the demands of economic growth, pressure on finite water resources will only intensify.

Inefficient water use in agriculture is a key concern. Much of Central Asia is endowed with high-quality soils suitable for the production of horticultural exports, yet a large share of agriculture involves low-value, water-thirsty crops, and inefficiency limits the economic productivity of water. About 50 percent of irrigated lands are affected by salinization and waterlogging as a result of poor irrigation and drainage systems. 

The cumulative effects of climate change will have profound consequences. Warming in Central Asia is expected to exceed global averages, with temperatures rising by an average of 5-6 degrees Celsius by 2100. Higher temperatures are already leading to earlier snowmelt, driving water demand higher, shifting peak runoff into spring, and reducing irrigation season flows.  Modelling suggests that by around 2050, the region will experience peak water, after which flows will decline markedly. Both flood and drought extremes will increase, as will overall water stress. 

Collecting water and climate data will be essential for effective modelling and analysis, enabling governments to make informed decisions in the face of hydrological variability and climate change. We cannot manage what we cannot measure.

Rethinking the response to water and climate change in Central Asia

Action is needed at the national and regional level to combat climate change, while building resilience and strengthening water security. The government of Tajikistan is playing an important leadership role in addressing these priorities and in the water sector internationally. The Dushanbe Water Process works to create partnerships at the global level, to ensure that people can thrive in a water-secure world. The World Bank is working with governments and other partners to advance several priorities:

  • Increasing investment in water supply and sanitation will build social stability, improve human and environmental health, support livelihoods, improve education outcomes, and reduce productivity losses. An example of this approach is the World Bank’s Tajikistan Rural Water Supply & Sanitation Project, focused on water supply and sanitation infrastructure.
  • Reforming water governance and irrigation management to boost productivity. Changes to water allocation priorities, guided by participatory river basin planning and supported by consistent national policy and water accounting, can improve water security across all sectors and support growth in the industry and service sectors, while private sector engagement can drive innovation. In Uzbekistan, the World Bank’s South Karakalpakstan Water Resources Management Improvement Project focuses on modernizing irrigation and water management.
  • Improving water resources management and cooperation on transboundary issues. Pressure on transboundary water is increasing. Efficient, integrated management of transboundary waters is critical to achieving food, energy, and water security.
  • Investing in adaptation measures to build resilience. This could include improving weather and water data and forecasting; reviewing reservoir operations to better balance energy security, water supply, and flood mitigation; and continuing to invest in hydropower while increasing electricity trading. The World Bank’s Central Asia Hydrometeorology Modernization Project aims to improve the accuracy and timeliness of these services. 
  • Addressing the region’s energy-water nexus challenges. With great untapped hydropower potential, high demand for energy for irrigation pumping, and significant demand for water to produce alternative energy sources, the water-energy nexus needs to be better understood and managed in a more integrated manner. With support from development partners, the World Bank’s Central Asia Water and Energy Program is helping governments improve water and energy security by facilitating regional cooperation, building institutional capacity, providing technical assistance, and leveraging financial investment.

Taking effective action in all these areas will transform the lives of tens of millions of people in Central Asia – and billions worldwide – in the years ahead. 

Jennifer Sara is the Global Director of the World Bank’s Global Water Practice. Tatiana Proskuryakova is the World Bank’s Regional Director for Central Asia. 


Jennifer J. Sara

Global Director, Climate Change Group, World Bank

Tatiana Proskuryakova

Regional Director for Central Asia

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