Are ‘Water Wars’ imminent in Central Asia?

Kuva, Uzbekistan- This town sits in the corner of the most fertile piece of land between Iran and China.
The overpopulated, Israel-sized Ferghana Valley has attracted the armies of Alexander the Great, Arabs, Mongols and Russian tsars. It has also spawned some of the bloodiest conflicts in the former Soviet Union, including ethnic clashes, incursions of armed Islamists and the Uzbek government’s merciless crackdown on a 2005 popular revolt.
The glaciers and snows of the Tian Shan mountains around the valley give birth to the Syr Darya, one of Central Asia’s two major rivers, and turn the valley into a giant hothouse with nearly perfect conditions for farming. Border areas in nearby Xinjiang, China’s troubled Muslim region, also depend on Tian Shan’s glaciers for water.
But between 1961 and 2012, the sky-scraping range whose name means “Heavenly Mountains” in Chinese, has lost 27 percent of its ice mass, the German Research Centre for Geosciences said last year. The annual loss amounts to up to 5.4 cubic kilometres of water a year, it said.
“This means that the glaciers in the Tien Shan lose each year as much water as all the people of Switzerland, including industry” consume in six years, Dr Daniel Farinotti of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research who led the research, told Al Jazeera.
By the 2050s, the loss may amount to half of the glaciers’ ice mass, the research concludes pessimistically.
“The situation is of particular concern in light of both the local population growth and the continued glacier shrinkage anticipated in response to climatic changes,” it said

Killing for Water
The fields and orchards of Kuva, a millennia-old town known for Buddhist artefacts and irrigation systems that predate the Arab invasion of the 8th century, are a short drive away from the mountains.
But farmers here are “ready to kill each other for water,” a local mirob, or community official responsible for distribution of piped water from a communal canal, told Al Jazeera.
The official, who could not give his name because of his job’s sensitivity, described how over the past decade farmers have increasingly resorted to quarrels and fistfights and used their connections to officials to influence the timing and duration of water allocation to their land lots.
This year, there’s next to nothing to irrigate the fields with. “There’s been no winter this year, so we’re begging God for water,” farmer Rasul Azamatov told Al Jazeera.
He drove his rundown motorcycle along an old, dry trough, its concrete sections bent and cracked, the cracks stuffed with plastic or cotton. An apricot orchard around him was in full bloom, pink petals falling on the dry soil with sparse leaves of last year’s grass that survived the snowless winter, but is withering without rain.
The district’s irrigation hub is the Kerkidan reservoir built in Soviet times and once a magnet for picnickers and fishers. But what is left of the reservoir that is now shared by Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is an expanse of drying, crackled dirt and a few muddy puddles.
The Ferghana valley is a bit bigger than Israel, but lacks its proficiency in water conservation – and does not have many alternatives to farming. Cheap Chinese exports have killed local plants and factories, and the valley has become a major source of labour migration – mostly to Russia
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Source: Islamic News Daily

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