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Central Asian Countries Face Water Shortages This Year

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan

The Toktogul Reservoir, located on the Naryn River in Kyrgyzstan, is currently holding only 8.5 billion cubic meters of water, rather than the 19 billion cubic meters it should be holding, and this could lead to serious water shortages for countries in the region, Kyrgyz authorities warned this week.

The Toktogul must have at least 11 billion cubic meters of water before water outflows can begin.

The reservoir is the main source of water in downstream Uzbekistan, which needs 56 billion cubic meters of water per year, especially during the growing season. Agriculture accounts for 91 percent of Uzbekistan’s water consumption.

A number of Uzbek provinces experienced water shortages last year, and this year the country is is considering stopping water supply to neighboring countries, specifically Kazakhstan, which is located on the lower reaches of the Syr Darya River.

The Toktogul Reservoir was built on the Naryn River, a tributary of the Syr Darya, during the Soviet era to provide water for irrigation. After Central Asian countries gained independence in the wake of the USSR’s collapse, the reservoir and its associated power plant have been mostly switched over to an energy-producing mode.

The switchover has increased the reservoir’s inactive storage capacity from 5.5 billion cubic meters to 5.95 billion cubic meters, causing water deficits during the growing season in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Overloading of the Toktogul hydroelectric plant in winter causes an increase in water flows from the reservoir; this in turn causes the Syr Darya River to overflow its banks, leading to floods in downstream countries.

The Syr Darya runs 2,200 kilometers through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the dying Aral Sea.