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Energy crisis: How disunity leads Central Asian states to water scarcity

According to estimates of the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), inefficient use of water and energy resources in Central Asia leads to annual damage and unrealized economic benefits. The countries of the region lose at least 1.5 percent of GDP.

Water sector accounts for about 40 percent of GDP loss and power industry — for 60 percent.

Experts are unanimous: only joint management of resources can not only solve the problems of water or electricity shortages, but also lead to growth of each Central Asian country’s economy.

Billions in losses and water scarcity

About 77 percent of Central Asia’s water is in the upper reaches of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which are in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The downstream countries — Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan — consume 85 percent of these resources at a fairly high rate. To date, use of water for irrigation in the region is twice as high as compared to the world’s best practices.

Analysis by the Eurasian Development Bank has shown that against the background of growing demand for electricity, the water deficit in some years is as high as 26 percent. Since the 1990s, it has been growing rapidly.

Central Asian countries are close to the threshold of severe water shortage.

Nikolai Podguzov, Chairman of the EDB Board

The first to suffer from this is Uzbekistan. Forecasts say that by 2035 electricity demand in Central Asia will increase by 46 percent. Economic losses in the agricultural sector due to water shortage are estimated at an average of $1.8 billion a year (in dry years — up to $3.3 billion).

Economic losses in the Central Asian energy sector have been estimated at up to $2.7 billion.

«During the years of independence, energy exchange between the countries collapsed by 80 percent. Each republic decides the issue of electric energy supply on its own now. Given the growth in demand, the countries need 82 gigawatts of additional capacity by 2035. (The capacity of the Toktogul hydropower plant is 1.2 GW — Note of 24.kg news agency). If the energy exchange were in place, the figure would go down to 72 GW. Those 10 GW cost $22 billion. They could be spent on the development of irrigation and irrigation systems,» Nikolai Podguzov, Chairman of the EDB, said at the Second Eurasian Congress.

Unified system is needed

Over 30 years, power connectivity has been disrupted and suboptimal water use causes problems. Coordinated development of energy systems and establishment of energy exchange is needed to solve them. A good economic effect can be achieved through this work.

Thanks to joint work, it is possible to achieve up to 1.5 percent of GDP growth in the region and increase water supply by 40 percent.

Moreover, Russian companies and the Eurasian Development Bank are ready to invest in the implementation of joint regional energy projects. The Eurasian Economic Commission also got involved in the work. It is preparing the rules for the future common electric power market of the EEU countries and is working on projects for the construction of nuclear and hydroelectric power plants.

Tajikistan is ready to return to the United Energy System of Central Asia in 2022.

«We welcome the participation of our companies in the development of our neighbors’ water and energy complex and see great prospects for its development. Development of joint work of our energy systems and organization of the common electric power market will allow us to optimally use the available generating capacities. We will be able to develop renewable sources and maintain reliable power supply to consumers. I have already instructed to involve Russian companies in investment projects for development of water and energy complex of Central Asia,» the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Alexander Novak said.

He noted that the world is on the verge of energy transition. Large-scale introduction of renewable energy, development of electric transport, hydrogen power, regulation of carbon emissions and the fight for carbon neutrality are planned.

All these trends largely unlock the development potential of Central Asian countries in the water and energy sector.

Simply put, the countries will be able to solve not only their problems in the water-energy sector.

«It is also a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, substitution of coal energy with hydro energy. In the new world it is already money, carbon units which can be sold. We want to ensure sustainable development through the development of a unified energy system, because energy and water are the main sources of economic growth,» Nikolai Podguzov said.

What should Kyrgyzstan do?

Sergey Machekhin, Deputy Director General for Project Engineering, Sustainable Development and International Cooperation at RusHydro PJSC, believes that serious attention should be paid now to Uzbekistan. It is the country that has serious intentions to develop the fuel and energy complex.

Kyrgyzstan is certainly one of the richest countries in terms of its hydro potential. It should be used.

«I believe that the development of an integrated system and even changes in the spatial planning scheme in Kyrgyzstan can lead to changes in both the energy, water and economic landscape of the region as a whole. An old friend is better than two new ones. I would like to ask all our colleagues not to forget that we historically interact with each other, we have a huge package of knowledge and engineering solutions,» Sergey Machekhin concluded.

However, here’s the paradox. There were no representatives of Kyrgyzstan during the panel discussion on the problems of water and energy complex in Central Asia.

It would seem that it is high time to present their own vision of the problems, negotiate with potential investors, and express their readiness to cooperate and build new hydroelectric power plants. But no, there were no Kyrgyz officials at the discussion. Apparently, we don’t really need the finances and the new energy capacities.