Achieving sustainable growth in Central Asia, given rapid population growth and ongoing climate change, requires improved management of water and energy resources. Irrigated agriculture, which remains critical to the economy of the region, is both water and energy intensive. Water and energy systems are intertwined but poorly coordinated, creating ongoing water-energy nexus challenges. Addressing these inefficiencies and nexus challenges can increase agricultural productivity and support broader economic growth, including through increased hydro-electricity generation and trade. This will require modernization of irrigation and hydropower infrastructure, and increased coordination and cooperation in the management of the major rivers of Central Asia – the Amu Darya and Syr Darya – that interconnect Central Asian countries and Afghanistan.
Although water supply and sanitation services use a small fraction of the water resources of the region, they are critical to health, quality of life and human capital. As many as 22 million people, or nearly one third of the Central Asian population, lack access to safe water, mostly in rural areas, and even in many urban areas, sewerage coverage is inadequate. The economic losses associated with these inadequate services exceed the estimated cost of service improvement and infrastructure upgrades.
Climate changes will have profound consequences for Central Asia. Warming temperatures are affecting streamflow regimes and are driving water demands ever higher. Both flood and drought extremes will increase, differentially affecting communities across the region. Investments in improved water and weather data and forecasting capacity are required to inform water planning and operations, in order to build resilience across multiple economic sectors.
Water and energy reforms are progressing in all countries in Central Asia, and the appetite for regional dialogue is increasing. Nonetheless, the capacity of regional institutions mandated to tackle water cooperation remains low and is undermined by limited trust between stakeholders. More broadly, regional and national geopolitics are positive and dynamic, creating space for renewed dialogue and institutional strengthening.
The World Bank is committed to facilitating regional dialogue on water and energy cooperation, including through the Central Asia Water and Energy Program (CAWEP) that seeks to strengthen the enabling environment to promote water and energy security at the regional level and in the beneficiary countries: Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. CAWEP-supported regional discussions and knowledge exchanges between technical-level experts, academia and decision-makers, networking youth, and the World Bank’s strategic investments in initiatives that improve water and energy management, are starting to have real impact. By the end of 2020, CAWEP will conclude an intensive round of water security consultations with governments across the region. New priorities for cooperation, including to assist the COVID recovery effort are emerging from these consultations and these will be shared with all stakeholders early in 2021.
The 2019 CAWEP Annual Report records 25 primary activities: nine focussed on water security, nine on energy security and seven grounded in water-energy linkages. Water security initiatives include:
- World Bank analytical work that culminated in the Towards Water Secure Sustainable Economies brochure that highlighted three proposed areas for national and regional action. Two of these action areas were the focus of regional dialogue events between international, regional, and national water stakeholders. The first, “Towards Sustainable and Climate-Resilient Water Supply and Sanitation Services in Central Asia”, was held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan; the second, “Towards Regional Initiatives for Modernizing Irrigation in the 21st Century”, was held in Almaty, Kazakhstan. These events provided direction to future national and regional engagement efforts.
- An investment in the Central Asia “Solutions for Water” Living Lab Project to improve cross-country cooperation and foster linkages between water end-users, academia, students, local authorities and small businesses.
- An investment in strengthening the service delivery of Central Asia national hydrometeorological agencies to improve hydrometeorological monitoring and forecasting, especially weather and hydrologic forecasts to support transboundary cooperation.
The World Bank is well placed to increasingly leverage opportunities for working with the countries of Central Asia to help improve water security. Regional technical and policy dialogue, together with capacity building, remain vital for stimulating water cooperation. For people in the region, long-term sustainable development and livelihood security will become increasingly reliant on cross-border innovation and collaboration.