Central Asia’s Response to Water Scarcity and Climate Change

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In 2021, a severe agricultural drought and water shortages for irrigation swept Central Asia, causing massive crop and livestock deaths.

More than 2,000 domestic animals died in Kazakhstan province due to the drought. Kyrgyzstan held several protests because of water shortages to irrigate their crops.

In Uzbekistan, water shortages have resulted in lost produce leading to high prices for seasonal vegetables. The lack of rain has also caused groundwater levels to drop, forcing authorities to enforce water rationing. Turkmenistan also suffered low pasture yields and fodder for livestock.

A study in the International Journal of Climatology shows that heatwaves are increasing in frequency, duration, and intensity on average between 1917–2016 in Central Asia. It also finds that heatwave frequency has increased 1.3 times since the 1960s, with enhanced rates during the last 50 years.

Some studies also point to the shifts in precipitation patterns in the Tian Shan mountains, a vital source of freshwater for irrigation and pasture. However, as temperatures rise, precipitation falls as rain rather than snow – which only melts in spring and summer, providing a steady supply while rain flows through quickly.

As temperatures rise in the region, crops, and livestock also require more water for survival.

Another study analysing the show in the Tian Shan mountains finds the snow line moving upward across the mountain range. This means that snow accumulation is moving upwards to the highest elevations, and as the planet warms, the authors project that more snowline retreats can be expected in the next 20 years.

Water remains a cause of conflict in the region. In April 2021, hostilities erupted between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in a clash over a poorly demarcated water reservoir. The lack of clear demarcation of the water source is a cause of frequent disputes.

A 2017 Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation report states that the intense competition over water resources and their use for irrigation and hydropower generation is “mostly driven by uncoordinated national strategies.

A combination of low water efficiency, negative externalities caused by unilateral action and competing national priorities have caused disagreements and contributed to political and diplomatic disputes between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan” despite a general commitment to cooperation. The report estimated that the cost of inaction to improve water management in Central Asia is up to US$ 4.5 billion annually.

Droughts due to climate change are costing Central Asia over 5% of its regional GDP. World Bank reports that to mark the UN Day to Combat Desertification and Droughts, countries in the region are gathering in convening in Tashkent to discuss the power of nature and nature-based solutions (NBS) to mitigate the impacts of drought by restoring landscapes, improving water security, and strengthening climate resilience.

The World Bank supports the region in achieving green growth, implementing environmental conservation, and sustainable management of landscapes, water resources, and disaster risks.

Below are the projects centred around NBS that are emerging in Central Asia as part of the World Bank’s flagship RESILAND CA+ Regional Landscape Restoration Program:

Kazakhstan is planting trees to increase pastureland productivity and restore ecosystem services and land productivity.

The Kyrgyz Republic uses green and grey solutions to reduce flooding and mudflow impacts.

In Turkmenistan, a study will be carried out to analyse opportunities for landscape restoration by identifying the best NBS to combat desertification.

Hydropower provides 90 per cent of Tajikistan’s electricity generated from its several hydroelectric dams. It is also home to the world’s second tallest dam, Nurek Dam, but when the upstream dam – Rogun Dam, is completed, it will be the tallest in the world.

A study in the Vakhsh River Basin investigates effective landscape restoration interventions, combining advanced modelling and ecosystem service valuation to demonstrate the financial benefits of supporting green infrastructure in a country where hydroelectric generation is crucial to the economy and social well-being.

In Uzbekistan, a study finds that landscape restoration through afforestation can reduce air pollution from the sand and dust storms from the dry Aral Seabed.

Implementing this nature-based solution improves people’s health and livelihoods, bringing annual economic benefits up to $44 million and lowering CO2 emissions.


Yu, S., Yan, Z., Freychet, N., & Li, Z. (2020). Trends in summer heatwaves in central Asia from 1917 to 2016: Association with large‐scale atmospheric circulation patterns. International Journal of Climatology40(1), 115-127.

Yang, P., Zhang, Y., Xia, J., & Sun, S. (2020). Identification of drought events in the major basins of Central Asia based on a combined climatological deviation index from GRACE measurements. Atmospheric research244, 105105.

Setlur, B., Agostini, P., & Jongman, B. (2023, June 16). Embracing Nature’s Resilience: Combating Desertification in Central Asia with Nature-Based Solutions. World Bank. Retrieved from https://blogs.worldbank.org/europeandcentralasia/embracing-natures-resilience-combating-desertification-central-asia-nature

Helf, G. (2023, May 4). Border Clash Between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Risks Spinning Out of Control. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved from https://www.usip.org/publications/2021/05/border-clash-between-kyrgyzstan-and-tajikistan-risks-spinning-out-control

Satke, R. (2021, July 12). Central Asian drought highlights water vulnerability. Prevention Web. Retrieved from https://www.preventionweb.net/news/central-asian-drought-highlights-water-vulnerability

Valuing Green Infrastructure: Case Study of Vakhsh Watershed, Tajikistan. (2023). Altus Impact. Retrieved from  https://altusimpact.com/projects/green-infrastructure-tajikistan-2/

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