Turkmenistan can become uninhabitable in the near future

Water is receding in all Central Asian countries. A research by Dr. Eric Rudenshiold from the Caspian Policy Center titled “Is it too late to save Central Asia? The crisis is already here” reveals existential threat facing the region.

According to the study:

  • nearly one-third of Central Asia’s population (or 22 million people) lack access to safe drinking water;
  • temperatures are increasing at twice the global average; one-third of the region’s glaciers have already melted;
  •  and the water supply has decreased by more than four times since the 1960s.

Turkmenistan is experiencing water scarcity.

Cotton and rice are two water-intensive crops which strain the rational use of water resources. Cotton represents 10% of Turkmenistan’s GDPs while 90% of all water used for agriculture. Long-term cotton cultivation has led to the decline of the Aral Sea (75% decrease of the surface area) and increased soil salinization, and the proliferation of toxic dust storms.

About 80% of Turkmenistan experiences intense dust and sandstorms, further increasing desertification and resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses.

As a downstream country Turkmenistan experience shrinking water volumes as levels of the Amu Darya River in 2023 have declined by three times over prior years. Turkmenistan is categorized as under ‘high stress’ for fresh water supplies. The construction of the Qosh Teppe canal in upstream Afghanistan along the Amu Darya River, further threatens to reduce water flows to Turkmenistan by 20% – 30%. The Amu Darya River is the main water source for Ashgabat. Via the 800-mile Karakum canal it irrigates over three million acres of land.

Furthermore, the water levels of the Caspian Sea have been in noticeable decline due to Russia’s diversions of the Ural and Volga Rivers for agricultural purposes. All five littoral Caspian countries are desalinating Caspian water to meet the need for drinking water, which further exacerbates the sea’s decline.

Turkmenistan is experiencing extreme temperatures.

To illustrate, in the winter of 2023 due to record cold temperatures Turkmenistan was forced to suspend heating gas supplies to Uzbekistan to avoid freezing condensate in older gas pipelines.

Turkmenistan is ranked as the 44th most polluted country in the world and among the world’s leading methane emitters. In 2022 there were 184 super-emitter events in Turkmenistan’s gas and oil fields. In an attempt to reduce its methane emissions Turkmenistan joined the Global Methane Pledge in 2023 and has started to engage with international experts to address adaptation to climate change.

According to the author of the report, Central Asian governments would need to work together to slow down the region’s rapid warming, prevent rapid declines in glaciers and water supply, upgrade its infrastructure, shift to new greener technology and shift focus from water intensive industries.

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