EXCERPT | Transboundary Water-Energy Distribution Characteristics in Central Asia

Available water resources in Central Asia are mainly surface water, underground water, and return water.

By Lidan Gu, Haiwei Zhou, Ziqiang Xia and Feng Huang

Image Attribute: Syr Darya River Floodplain, Kazakhstan, Central Asia / Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Attribute: Syr Darya River Floodplain, Kazakhstan, Central Asia / Source: Wikimedia Commons

Distribution and demand characteristics of water resources

The geographic scope of Central Asia includes the Kazakhstan hills, Turan lowland, Tianshan Mountains, and one part of the Pamirs. It mainly covers Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as well as Afghanistan in the West Asia and some territory of the Aral Sea in Iran. Main bodies of water in Central Asia include inland lakes (e.g., Caspian Sea, Aral Sea, Balkhash Lake, Issyk-Kul Lake, and Alakol Lake), inland rivers (e.g. Amu Darya, Syr Darya, Ili River, Kara Tal River, Emin River, Talas River, Chu River, and Ural River), and one external river (Irtysh River). All of these rivers or lakes are inland and are mainly replenished by melted snow from high mountains and summer rainfall. Moreover, these lakes and rivers basically belong to transboundary river basins between Central Asian countries or their neighbor countries.

Available water resources in Central Asia are mainly surface water, underground water, and return water. Surface water resources are rivers and, which are supplemented by melted snow from high mountains and summer rainfall. Influenced by the geographic location, fresh water resources in Central Asia are distributed extremely and unevenly (Weinthal 2006). Mountains in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and the northeast Kazakhstan are connected with plateaus. Rich snow and glacial water resources have developed various rivers and lakes, forming a dense river network. It is the runoff formation region in Central Asia and possesses relatively higher total water resources. On the contrary, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and the central south of Kazakhstan are plains, lowlands and deserts, which have a sparse river network and few water resources (Hu et al. 2014). The most prominent trans-boundary water problem in Central Asian is the fight for water resources of the Aral Sea among five Central Asian countries. According to hydrologic data of the Aral Sea basin from 1911 to 2000, the annual average runoff in the Aral Sea basin was 112.609 billion m3, including 77.093 billion m3 of the Amu Darya and 34.076 billion m3 of the Syr Darya. Table 1 shows the uneven distribution of surface water resources of the Aral Sea basin in five Central Asian countries. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the upstream possess over 2/3 (43.4 and 25.1%) of surface water resources of the whole Central Asia, while Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan in the downstream share the rest or about 1/3 of surface water resources.

Table 1 Surface water resources composition of the Aral Sea in the basin countries
Almost all Central Asian countries are typical agricultural countries. Agriculture occupies large proportions of their national economic structures. In arid and semi-arid regions in Central Asia, precipitation is inadequate to maintain local rain-fed agriculture and irrigation agriculture becomes the only one choice. Agricultural water is the main water usage in Central Asia. Water-consuming industrial crops (e.g., cotton and rice) accounted for 90% of agricultural water usage. Water usage of farm land per capita amounts to nine times of that in developed industrial countries (Li 2009). In the centralized planned economic system of the Soviet Union, a complementation between the water resources advantages of upstream Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the energy resources (including petroleum, natural gas, and coal) advantages of downstream Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia is formed. Upstream reservoir water resources are mainly used for farmland irrigation in the downstream. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, energy structure, conflicts of agricultural mode, and economic structure between upstream and downstream countries emerged. The fight for water resources among five Central Asian countries were exposed gradually. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would hold upstream river water for hydroelectric generation as their pillar industry, which further intensified the water shortage of the downstream countries. This irrational industrial structure and the economic development mode in the region caused structural contradictions of water demands among different countries.

Distribution and demand characteristics of energy resources

Central Asia is rich in strategic energy resources, including petroleum, gold, natural gas, various minerals, and strategic materials (e.g., uranium). It is the third biggest petroleum reserve region in the world, and is second only to the Persian Gulf and Russia Siberia (Zhang 2009a, b). Although there are abundant energy resources in Central Asia, these resources present an extremely uneven spatial distribution (Weinthal 2006). Reserves, outputs, and consumptions of petroleum and natural gas in Central Asian countries are shown in Tables 2 and 3 (Bernauer and Siegfried 2012). In Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan possess rich energy resources, including petroleum, natural gas, and coal.

Table 2 Reserves, outputs and consumptions of petroleum in five Central Asian countries in 2012

Table 3 Reserves, outputs and consumptions of natural gas in five Central Asian countries in 2012

Of these countries, the Kazakhstan economy is dominated by petroleum, natural gas, coal, and husbandry. As the biggest petroleum country in Central Asia, Kazakhstan has the highest proven petroleum reserves and annual output than any other Central Asian country. Natural gas is the major energy resource in Turkmenistan which is located in the southwest of Central Asia and the east coast of the Caspian Sea. Its land petroleum resources and oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea occupy a strategic energy position in Central Asia. Particularly, oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea have attracted worldwide attention. Uzbekistan also possesses tremendous oil and gas resources. Its 63% territorial area is in the oil and gas concentration belt along the Caspian Sea. Uzbekistan is one of the top ten countries in global natural gas exploitation, and its annual natural gas output is only next to that of Turkmenistan in Central Asia.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are high-mountain countries. Although they possess a great deal of water resources and hydel energy resources, they lack oil and gas resources and face great difficulties in exploration and exploitation. Therefore, they substantially rely on energy imports. Without the economic value of petroleum and natural gas reserves, Tajikistan would greatly depend on Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. For Kyrgyzstan, the domestic fossil fuel resource reserves are far from enough to satisfy the needs of the Kyrgyz people. Approximately 95% of annual demand for crude oil, natural gas, coal, and petroleum products depends on imports (Zhang 2010). These fossil fuel resources are imported from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and are principally used for electricity and heat generation in thermal power plants during the dry season (winter). Electricity is an important industry in Kyrgyzstan, but is also one of the important export commodities. It mainly exports electricity to members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, especially neighboring countries, such as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia.

At present, extensive hydropower development is not only an important premise of natural energy security but also an important component of the national economic development strategy of Kyrgyzstan. However, the hydropower generation structure is significantly restricted by uneven time distribution and great inter-annual variation of water resources. The annual power generation is unstable, high during the wet year (or wet season), but low in the dry year (or dry season), thus resulting in the unstable exportable electricity.

Cite This Article:

SpringerPlus 2016 5:1918 DOI: 10.1186/s40064-016-3616-0 ©The Author(s) 2016 Received: 6 April 2016 Accepted: 28 October 2016 Published: 4 November 2016

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This excerpt is taken from an article which is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, by the authors and original publisher. 

References:

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2014. Hu RJ, Jiang FQ, Wang YJ, Li JL, Li YM, Abdimijit A, Luo GP, Zhang JM (2014) Arid ecological and geographical conditions in five countries of Central Asia. Arid Zone Res 31(1):1–12 (in Chinese)

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