Turkmenistan may lose up to 50% of its water supply when Afghanistan completes Qosh Tepa Canal

The report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) estimates that Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan may lose anywhere from 15% – 50% of their water supply when the construction of Qosh Tepa irrigation canal is completed in Afghanistan.

After taking power in August 2021 Taliban completed 100 kilometers of the canal between March 2022 and May 2023. The Qosh Tepa canal is vital for Afghanistan as it could provide water to the millions of its citizens hit by regular droughts. According to the FAO nearly 17 million people, or 40% of population, face severe food insecurity. The climate change will influence crop growth periods and yields, putting at risk Afghanistan’s 80% of the population that is reliant on agriculture for sustenance.

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are worried because the canal will direct water from the Amu Darya river and thus reduce their water supply. The Amu Darya river provides 80% of all accessible water resources in the region. Due to the rapid melting of the glaciers in the Pamir mountains, the water in the river is expected to start decreasing from 2050.

Afghanistan and Tajikistan are upstream states along the Amu Darya river while Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are downstream. The issue of transnational river water usage is regulated by the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Waters and the 1992 Almaty Agreement. However, Afghanistan is not a party to any of these interstate agreements. Nevertheless, Afghanistan cannot ignore the rights of other downstream countries.

Turkmenistan heavily relies on Amu Darya river which feeds into 1,300 km long Karakum Canal. It irrigates nearly 1.25 million hectares of land. Agriculture consumes 91% of all the country’s water resources. Turkmenistan already suffers from fluctuations in the river level. For example, in June 2023 farmers in Lebap velayat struggled to irrigate their cotton fields because of insufficient water reaching the area. Climate change will make the water scarcity problem only worse, threatening the country’s agriculture and food security.

At the same time, Afghanistan depends on its neighbors for other vital resources. For example, Turkmenistan supplies Afghanistan with gas while Uzbekistan provides electricity. Hence, the countries will have to find a workable solution which takes into account the interests of all states. Countries also need to upgrade their irrigation systems to avoid water waste. Given the pressures from climate change the governments will also have to adopt sustainable farming and irrigation techniques such as crop diversification, drip irrigation systems, reuse of collector and drainage water.

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