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Serious water deficit plaguing Central Asia ‘irreversible’ and will only get worse, warns Mirziyoyev

Serious water shortages plaguing Central Asian countries have become "irreversible" and will only get worse, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev warned in an address given at a meeting of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea on September 15.

Lying between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea was once known as the fourth largest lake in the world. Soviet irrigation projects, however, caused much of it to dry up in what has been dubbed as one of the world's worst environmental catastrophes.

According to Mirziyoyev, in some parts of Central Asia the pressure on water resources could triple by 2040. The economic damage might eventually reach 11% of gross regional product, he cautioned.

Despite Uzbekistan’s efforts to implement drip irrigation and other innovative irrigation systems, around 90% of water in the country is still used for agriculture, and scientists warn demand for water in Central Asia’s most populous country will only grow as the population increases. To get some kind of grip on the dilemma, the government has started a gradual expansion of water tariffs.

Mirziyoyev also expressed concerns as regards the construction of the Qosh Tepa Canal in Afghanistan by the country’s Taliban administration, which is not signed up to any water sharing agreements with the nations of Central Asia. The Taliban say Afghanistan is entitled to a share of the water flowing in the Amu Darya river for agricultural purposes.

"You know very well that the Afghan side is actively working on the construction of the canal. Its launch could fundamentally change the order and balance of water use in Central Asia," the president said. He emphasised the potential transformative impact of the canal's completion on the current water utilisation balance in the region.

To address this issue comprehensively, he proposed the establishment of a joint working group. This group's primary task would be to conduct a thorough assessment of all aspects related to the construction of the Qosh Tepa Canal and its potential consequences for the use of water from the Amu Darya River.

Mirziyoyev also advised considering the involvement of Afghan representatives in the regional dialogue focused on the cooperative management of water resources.