RFE/RL: Battle Lines Drawn In Central Asian Water Dispute

“Do countries have the right to use water flowing through their territory as they wish? Or do they have an obligation to consider the needs of neighbors living further downstream?”  This is the opening line of a recent story by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.  In those two simple questions, the author has boiled down an ages-old international dispute – the classic upstream-downstream controversy – to its fundamental core.  In traditional contexts, it is a contest of absolute territorial and sovereign rights – the right of both the upstream and downstream countries to use natural resources found inside their respective territories without interference or diminution by other nations.  In a more modern framework, the issues are described in terms of equity and a fundamental obligation not to use one’s territory in a way that would significantly harm another nation.



In this particular story, the battle is over the waters of the Syr-Darya and Amuy-Darya, Central Asia’s two great rivers.  And the battle lines have been drawn between the upstream states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, who are pursing large hydropower stations in (Kambarata in Kyrgyzstan) and (Rogun in Tajikistan), and the downstream states of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan who are concerned about the impact that the hydro-projects will have on water supplies reaching them.  The water dispute is further complicated by the continued desiccation of the Aral Sea, the terminus of the two rivers, which has been ongoing for decades following Soviet era diversions of the rivers for agricultural purposes.



The parties will face each other at the upcoming meeting of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea on April 28 in Almaty.

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