By Paul Goble
Seven of the eight water basins of already water-short Kazakhstan are dependent on flows of water from foreign countries, and over the next two decades, six of these will nevertheless be suffering from serious drought and desertification, a trend that sets the stage for economic hardship within Kazakhstan and serious conflicts with its neighbors.
Those dire consequences, Rhythm of Eurasia analyst Sergey Smirnov says, are described in official Kazakhstan data and are compounded by the lack of a serious policy to address water shortages, the absence of a single bureaucracy responsible for managing water, and Astana’s earlier decision to stop training specialists in this area.
While that decision was recently reversed, the analyst says, there are clearly too few experts on the ground; and they have fewer opportunities to apply what knowledge they have given that water management facilities have bene cut back in Kazakhstan more since 1991 than during World War II (ritmeurasia.org/news–2023-07-25–vysyhajuschij-kazahstan-67714).
Instead of facing the problem head on and coming up with a policy that will ensure the better use of water for agriculture and more reliable supplies to industry and the population, Astana has acted on the basis of the principle that if it raises prices, it will encourage everyone to use less water.
But that strategy has two significant drawbacks. On the one hand, it impoverishes the population, especially in rural areas, without providing any hope that the situation will get better. And on the other, it enriches corrupt officials who thus have even less incentive to try to solve Kazakhstan’s drift toward desertification.