As in large other parts of Central Asia, lack of rain in the immediate run-up of the harvest campaign, especially in the central north and the northwest of the country, has caused much of the setback not just to households, but also the sensitive agro-sectors and water-intensive industries such as cement and metallurgy are suffering from. Thus, the capital Bishkek and its agglomeration this summer receives less than one-sixth of the irrigation water they need to maintain the parks, gardens and fields. Kazakhstan has complained that Kyrgyzstan dies not live up to its water supply commitments. The reason is clear: it could not do so, even if it would.

photograph © 2014 Charles van der Leeuw

photograph © 2014 Charles van der Leeuw

“The Kyrgyz Department of Water Resources declared that the country had used up about 70% of its irrigation water accumulated,” in the words of a recent background report [http://en.tengrinews.kz/politics_sub/Kazakhstan-and-Kyrgyzstan-exchange-blows-as-latter-prepares-to-join-Customs-254747/] by the Kazakh independent news agency Tengrinews. “in its reservoirs and Bishkek and Chu cities started to experience shortages of irrigation water. In addition, the experts of the Department said that it was a low-water season for Kyrgyzstan, which made it impossible to supply the required amount of water to Kazakhstan. […] According to the Kazakh-Kyrgyz intergovernmental agreement, Kyrgyzstan should supply water to Kazakhstan at a rate of 35 cubic meters per second. But now it flows at about 20 cubic meters per second. The Ministry of Agriculture and Melioration of the Kyrgyz Republic informed that as of July 9, 2014, the Ortho-Tokoy water reservoir contained 88.4 million cubic metre of water, while the figure at the same time last year was 185.5 million cubic metre.”

 

Water supplies in Central Asia are extremely exposed to the whims of nature. The majority of [Kyrgyzstan’s] territory belongs to the river basin of Syr Daria with the biggest river Naryn (about 700 kilometre), which runs from the east to west through the country and joins Kara Darya in Ferghana valley,” one background report dating from the end of last decade [http://landportal.info/sites/default/files/kyrgyz_livestock_pasture_management_and_use.pdf] reads. “Other big rivers are Kara Darya, Talas, and others. All rivers of the Kyrgyzstan are typical mountain rivers with fast flow, laying in stony beds. In winter they usually do not have much water, in spring when snow melts in the mountains basin and mountains foothills they get flooded and in summer they get water from the snow melted in glaciers and high mountains and from undersurface water sources.”

 

Yet, it is exactly this pattern which is changing – hence summer droughts habitual in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan but until recently unseen in Kyrgyzstan – even though the situation could be much worse. “Vesti.kg said that its department of hydrological forecasts reported that the average annual water basins of Kyrgyz rivers were at  81.25%, and would be at 70.88% during the next two summer months,” the Tengrinews report reads further down.. “The website said that any number between 80% and 120% was officially considered withi the normal range and even 70.88% was not small enough to call the situation as serious ‘lack of water’.”

 

Whatever, the case, even at times when mother nature begrudges Kyrgyzstan abundance of water as she does this summer, the inhabitance keep behaving as though she would not. “Every year we lose 50 percent of water because of irrational use,” the Minister of Economy Temir Sariyev was quoted last week in a news report by the local agency 24.kg [http://www.eng.24.kg/community/171600-news24.html] as telling a public forum in Bishkek.. “Annually 50 billion cubic meters of water flows through Kyrgyzstan, only 7 billion of which is used for the needs of the country,” the report read. “In Europe, one person spends 50 litre of water per day for drinking, washing, laundry and other purposes, and here one person spends 560 litre, because we do not value the water. […] The cause of irrational use of water irrigation networks is underdevelopment and lack of culture in terms of saving water.”

 

Among mid-term solutions on the table now is the application of sprinkling technology, even though the necessary funds to install the required equipment have yet to be raised. “In order to save and efficiently use water the National Development Strategy of the country plans to develop [a number] of major projects on the irrigation network through to 2017,” Sariyev was quoted as stating. “The strategy for introduction of drip irrigation technology for agricultural crops is under development now. Its practical implementation is planned since spring 2015 in Chui region, AkiPress [http://www.akipress.com/news:544859/] reported referring to First Vice Prime Minister Tairbek Sarpashev as telling a seminar on July 19. “Drip irrigation will not only allow to save water, but will also increase crop yield,” the minister was quoted aas saying. “It is necessary to find investors and consider possibility of implementation of the project based on leasing.”