event 11 Dec 2017

Report and Policy Brief // Rethinking Water in Central Asia: The Costs of Inaction and Benefits of Water Cooperation

By Benjamin Pohl, Annika Kramer, William Hull, Sabine Blumstein (adelphi), Iskandar Abdullaev, Jusipbek Kazbekov, Tais Reznikova, Ekaterina Strikeleva (CAREC), Eduard Interwies and Stefan Görlitz. Despite a general commitment to cooperation, Central Asia is witnessing intense competition over water resources. Water policies are often driven by uncoordinated national strategies. A combination of low water efficiency, strong interdependencies, and competing national priorities has caused disagreements, and contributed to political and diplomatic disputes between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Insufficient water cooperation entails significant costs and major risks for the future development of the region.

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(C) Oziel Gómez / Unsplash

Central Asia is witnessing intense competition over water resources and their use for irrigation and hydropower generation. Despite general political commitment to cooperation, water policies in Central Asia are largely driven by uncoordinated and partly contradicting national strategies. This limited water cooperation, however, entails significant costs and major risks for the future development of the region.

“Rethinking Water in Central Asia” analyses these “costs of inaction” – defined here as the difference between the current, limited cooperation and the benefits that would result from full cooperation. Even if only parts of these costs are taken into account, they amount to more than US$ 4.5 billion per year for the whole region and are significant for each of the five countries studied. Due to deteriorating infrastructure, environmental degradation and demographic and economic pressures, these costs will increase if water management remains as it currently is.

By raising awareness of these costs of inaction, and by setting out a variety of pathways towards eliminating them in the future, the present report seeks to encourage and support Central Asian policy-makers in strengthening regional water cooperation and improved water governance. The costs of inaction mirror the potential benefits of water cooperation, and their scale hence demonstrates the scale of the benefits and opportunities that better water management and closer cooperation can deliver for Central Asia.


This policy brief is based on the report “Rethinking Water in Central Asia: the costs of inaction and benefits of water cooperation” prepared by adelphi and CAREC for SDC. The report assesses the costs of inaction on transboundary cooperation in the region, drawing on existing literature and insights from national expert groups. The study identifies current costs resulting from suboptimal water management and assesses future risks related to continued limited cooperation by describing four different future scenarios that allow comparing the risks related to doing ‘business as usual’ with three scenarios of cooperation.


Full report

Policy brief




Adelphi, CAREC

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