Water resource management is emerging as a top regional policy issue for Kazakhstan. In just one sign of the government’s growing concern, the Ministry for Water Resources and Irrigation is pushing for a “contractual framework” with China and Uzbekistan to regulate usage of transboundary rivers.
A resource-management blueprint covering 2024-2030 is currently being negotiated, according to a report published by the Zakon.kz news outlet. The framework agreement would establish a system for joint management of river traffic and water flows between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as fix volumes for water allocation for agricultural and other purposes by China and Kazakhstan. Water Resources Minister Nurzhan Nurzhigitov described the promotion of interstate cooperation on transboundary rivers as a top governmental priority.
Beyond working with Tashkent and Beijing on river management, Kazakhstan intends to use its chairmanship this year of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) to promote a sustainable system for sharing water resources. The organization is one of the few that brings together all five Central Asian states. At the most recent IFAS summit, Kazakh President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev voiced Astana’s intention to have the organization play a more active role in regional water-management issues.
“IFAS has become the most important institution of regional cooperation in the issues of transboundary water resources sharing, as well as solving environmental and socio-economic problems in the Aral Sea basin,” Tokayev told the gathering. “It is difficult to overstate the role of the Fund in ensuring security, stability and sustainable development of Central Asia.”
Kazakh officials say a major aim of its IFAS chairmanship will be to encourage Kyrgyzstan’s closer engagement with the organization. Authorities in Astana are also keeping a wary eye on Afghanistan, where the Taliban government is pressing ahead with the construction of a canal that could divert a significant amount of water from the already stressed Amu Darya River. The project, if completed as envisioned, could upset Central Asia’s delicate water balance.
Kazakhstan established its ministry for water resources in late 2023. The minister, Nurzhigitov, in an interview with Zakon.kz, said that since then, officials have implemented measures to encourage more rational use of resources within the country, including bringing “irrigation systems and hydraulic structures into compliance with the standards,” and facilitating the “automation and digitalization of water supply processes. “
“We need to see in real time where and how this water is being used,” Nurzhigitov said. He added that authorities were also working on developing a system to use groundwater more efficiently. “Unfortunately, today we only use a small percentage of groundwater, so there is work to be done in this area.”