DUSHANBE, February 27, 2011, Asia-Plus -- A report “Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan” to the members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations notes that the proposed Roghun Dam on the Vakhsh River in southern Tajikistan is relevant because of its potential effects on energy security for Tajikistan and on water availability for Uzbekistan.

According to the report, the collapse of the Soviet Union drastically weakened water management in the Central Asian region that may lead to instability in the region.

The report, in particular, notes that the U.S. approach walks a fine line with respect to water issues and must be tailored to reflect the realities of water politics in Central and South Asia.  While the focus of the United States is appropriately directed toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is important to recognize that our water-related activities in the region are almost exclusively confined within the borders of these two countries.  “We pay too little attention to the waters shared by their 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.”

“Providing the right support can have a tremendous stabilizing influence, but providing the wrong support can spell disaster by agitating neighboring countries. By neglecting the interconnectivity of water issues between Central and South Asia, the U.S. approach could exacerbate regional tensions,” said the report.  “Our activities should be carefully calibrated to address a broad range of needs and encourage reluctant state actors to come to the negotiating table.”

According to the report, 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 Roghun 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.”

The report says the United States can help create space for regional and bilateral negotiations on water by reducing the pressure on shared water resources.  “This means recognizing that countries in this region cannot simply engineer their way out of growing water scarcity, but should begin managing water resources more effectively.  In fact, many experts agree that these countries must start shifting their focus from increasing the supply of water to decreasing the demand for it.  Supporting improved demand management is at its core a type of conflict management.”