The governments of Tajikistan and the Netherlands are in the midst of hosting the March 22-24 UN water summit in New York where experts will warn delegates that the world is facing an imminent water crisis – demand for fresh water is expected to outstrip supply by 40% by the end of this decade.
Water is an ever-increasing worry for Tajikistan. Disputes over water rights are one reason why the country has been embroiled in several armed clashes with neighbour Kyrgyzstan during post-Soviet times. Tajikistan is also among the Central Asian nations threatened by warming winters and shrinking glaciers that cause erratic and declining water supplies from the mountains. In fact, researchers say climate change is causing rapid melting of glaciers right across the ‘Third Pole’ – the Tibetan Plateau that is home to the largest global store of frozen water outside of the north and south polar regions – disrupting regional water distribution. The Third Pole functions as a complex water distribution system that delivers the life-giving liquid to multiple countries, including parts of Afghanistan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
A new worry for Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan is a decision by Afghanistan's Taliban regime to push ahead with a major canal and irrigation scheme that could deplete water resources the trio draw from the Amu Darya border river. Iran is also involved in tense exchanges with the Taliban over river water rights in a border area, while an irate and water-stressed Iraq this week persuaded neighbour Turkey to release extra water flows from a dammed reservoir for at least one month.
At the UN 2023 Water Conference, experts are making the case that governments must urgently stop subsidising the extraction and overuse of water that is triggered by misdirected agricultural subsidies. A landmark report on the economics of water will be introduced as scientists urge nations to start managing water as a global common good, given how most countries are highly dependent on neighbours for key water supplies. It will outline how industries ranging from mining to manufacturing must be made to overhaul wasteful practices.
The report – Turning the Tide, A Call to Collective Action, by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water – is highly significant in that this is the first time that the global water system has been scrutinised comprehensively. Its value to individual countries, and the risks posed to their prosperity if the issue of water is neglected, is outlined in clear terms. As with the Stern review of the economics of the climate crisis in 2006 and the Dasgupta review of the economics of biodiversity in 2021, the report authors aim to highlight the water crisis in a way that policymakers and economists can easily deal with.
Johan Rockstrom, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, and a lead author of the report, last week told the Guardian that the world’s neglect of water resources was leading to disaster. “The scientific evidence is that we have a water crisis. We are misusing water, polluting water, and changing the whole global hydrological cycle, through what we are doing to the climate. It’s a triple crisis.”
The report sets out seven calls to action on water:
Addressing the water crisis is fundamental to fixing the climate crisis and global food crisis. “There will be no agricultural revolution unless we fix water,” Rockstrom was also cited as saying, adding: “Behind all these challenges we are facing, there’s always water, and we never talk about water.”
The report from the Global Commission on the Economics of Water warns: “We are seeing the consequences [around the world] not of freak events, nor of population growth and economic development, but of having mismanaged water globally for decades. As the science and evidence show, we now face a systemic crisis that is both local and global.
“Our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance for the first time in human history, wreaking increasing damage on communities everywhere. Further, countries are interconnected not only through transboundary rivers or streams of groundwater, but also through atmospheric flows of water vapour. And dangerously, we face water’s deepening connection with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, with each reinforcing the other.
“We can only fix this collectively. And if we move with urgency.”