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Enabling Country of the Transboundary Syr Darya Basin to Make Sustainable Use of their Ground Water Potential and Subsurface Space with Consideration to Climate Variability and Change

To create the regional and national enabling environment for climate resilient, sustainable, conjunctive use of surface and groundwater resources in the Syr Darya Basin

The Syr Darya River, part of the Aral Sea Basin, is one of the largest and most important water arteries in former Soviet Central Asia. It runs along territories of four new states – Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan, and supplies water to a large part of population of the region. In particular it flows along the well-known Fergana valley, which is the most populated area in Central Asia. Several large reservoirs were constructed on the river before the end of the Soviet Union for a total volume of 40 km3. The regime of the reservoirs and water off take to numerous irrigational channels were centrally controlled and allowed timely distribution of water over the whole territory. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and creation of independent states, the operation regime of the upstream reservoir has become an issue, since the priorities and national interests of the new states were not always congruent. These contradictory interests of up and middle stream countries and the discharge of water from the upstream reservoirs in winter period for power generation, has resulted in flooding in the middle stream and accumulation of significant amount of water in the natural depression Arnasai. At the same time, the amount of river flow available for irrigation of summer crops is significantly reducing. Growing climatic variability and change, with rapidly shrinking glaciers and increased frequency of extreme events, is further complicating this already complex situation of land and water degradation, and almost total loss of the key environmental services provided by the freshwater ecosystems of the basin.

Solutions presented thus far by scientists, international institutions, and governments to ameliorate the problems in the Syr Darya, and more in general the Aral Sea Basin, have failed. To a large extent, this can be explained by the difficulties of reaching consensus on appropriate and effective management strategies. However, serious questions must also be raised whether the solutions proposed – solutions that focus almost exclusively on the equitable allocation of surface water flows – are destined to fail unless the entire resource including groundwater is considered. It is argued that any strategy for the management of water resources in Central Asia must have appropriate regard for the huge and so far largely disregarded groundwater resources present in the basin, and of their significant role in the overall water budget (according to the FAO groundwater accounts at present for only 5.6% of all the irrigated land in Central Asia).

Data suggest that a number of important aquifers occur in the region and many are transboundary. These internationallyshared resources must not only be managed in close collaboration with neighboring countries but also managed conjunctively with surface water as part of a fully integrated water resource management strategy. At present, the role and potential of groundwater is recognized within individual countries of Central Asia but its regional significance in the context of the Syr Darya Basin is rarely acknowledged.

Against this background, the project will attempt to strengthen the countries ability to evaluate the quantity and quality of their groundwater resources in the Basin, to assess the opportunities for improved sustainability that groundwater use will present, and to manage surface and groundwater in a conjunctive manner and within a framework of transboundary cooperation


Aral Sea , Syr-Darya 1 aquifer , Syr-Darya 3 , Syr-Darya 2

Asia , Central Asia

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Documents & Resources
General information
GEF ID 5301
Project type Full-Size Project
Status canceled (CEO PIF Clearance)
Start Date 21 Mar 2013
End Date 30 Apr 2018
GEF characteristic:
Focal Area International Waters
GEF Allocation to project 3.50M US$
Total Cost of the project: 21.00M US$
Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan , Tajikistan

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Project contacts
Vladimir Mamaev UNDP/GEF Regional Technical Advisor for International Waters for Europe, CIS and Arab States