DUSHANBE -- The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched a new regional programme aimed at developing the management of water resources in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Managing water in that region is part of an effort to keep Afghanistan woven into a system of peaceful economic growth that can drain away the appeal of extremism.
The US Embassy in Tajikistan on Wednesday (May 12) announced a new Regional Water and Vulnerable Environment Activity.
The five-year, $24 million effort "will work in all five Central Asian countries and Afghanistan to strengthen regional co-operation on the management of shared water resources in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya river basins", the embassy said in a statement.
Water resource management in Central Asia and Afghanistan faces the challenges of limited water supplies, growing populations and climate change, according to Keith E. Simmons, USAID/Tajikistan acting mission director.
"For the last decade, USAID successfully worked with the government of Tajikistan to address water challenges by strengthening regional co-operation and building the capacity of stakeholders to take incremental, practical steps toward the wise use, conservation, and sustainability of the most precious natural resource -- water," he said.
"This new USAID activity will provide more opportunities for promoting stability, economic prosperity, and healthy ecosystems for the people of Central Asia and Afghanistan," he added.
Representatives from the Tajik Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, State Committee on Environmental Protection, Agency for Land Reclamation and Irrigation, regional water organisations, civil society, private sector and academic and research institutions attended the activity's virtual event.
The participants discussed regional and national obstacles facing the management of shared water resources and offered their input on next steps.
Discord over water
In an arid region characterised by water scarcity, competition for the resource can lead to international discord and even combat.
Afghan refugees deported from Iran report beatings and other harassment from Iranian police angered by Afghanistan's inauguration in March of the Kamal Khan Dam. The dam abruptly ended Iran's ability to take water for free from the Helmand River.
Agricultural decline linked to climate change has political consequences in the region. Competition for scarce farmland and water has led to frequent border disputes and violence in the Fergana Valley, the fertile region shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The valley was the birthplace of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, making clear the need to keep the peace on water issues in Central Asia.