The U.S. and Water Wars in Central Asia
The Committee on Foreign Relations of the U.S. Senate has produced a report (pdf) on water conflicts in South and Central Asia, recommending that the U.S. do more to help prevent them.
The report is called "Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia's Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan." It doesn't explicitly address the chance of war between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan over water, but it quotes former CENTCOM commander Anthony Zinni saying: ‘‘[w]e have seen fuel wars; we’re about to see water wars.’’
The substance of the report's Central Asia sections won't surprise anyone who has followed the spat between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan over their water issues. But the more interesting parts of the report concern what the U.S. ought to do about it. For one, the authors call attention to the wide disparity in U.S. spending on the issue:
We pay too little attention to the waters shared by their [Pakistan and Afghanistan's] Indian and Central Asian neighbors—Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. For example, in 2009 the United States provided approximately $46.8 million in assistance for water-related activities to Afghanistan and Pakistan compared with $3.7 million shared among all five Central Asian countries for these efforts.
And the recommendations are, thankfully, the sort of modest and technical projects that 1. could actually get done and 2. could actually do some good. For example, the report recommends providing technical assistance on measuring water flow and volume. The countries in the region aren't working with solid data, which of course increases the chance of disagreements:
When staff traveled to Central Asia, they observed that key water-dependent neighbors, such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, lack a common baseline from which to begin discussions over water use. In both countries, government officials agreed that climate change and water use for energy or agriculture could have a significant effect on water supply, but they lacked sufficient resources to meet their research needs. In addition, tensions between these two countries continue to escalate as plans to build the Rogun Dam move forward without any common baseline for what the impacts of the dam are on water flow. Although the Tajik Government claims that the dam will have only a minimal impact on river flows into Uzbekistan, the Uzbek Government disagrees. According to the facts, as both countries see them, they each have compelling reasons to support or oppose this dam.
Other recommendations involved helping with glacier monitoring and improving irrigation systems to conserve water better. The U.S. is cutting assistance to the region, so it's not necessarily a good time to be suggesting new projects. But the report also notes that water programs have seen their funding increase over recent years, and linking the issue (as this report does) to Afghanistan and Pakistan is a good way of focusing Washington's attention. So we'll see.