Linking science and action – how to resolve water challenges in Central Asia

With its mixed continental climate, Central Asia faces unstable periods of draughts and rains. This has led to serious water shortages across the regions (Fig. 1) followed by escalating water-based conflicts between countries, increased hunger and threatened economics. However, despite the scientific progress and the continuous international effort, Central Asian water management institutes still rely on outdated forecasting and modernization is dragging. Russian meteorologists affiliated in German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) discussed the obstacles to sustainable water management in the region. Scholars argue that the reason of poor management is that local decision makers cannot use novel scientific research in practice.

Fig. 1. Major characteristics of the Central Asian region: a) water bodies, irrigated land. b) t°C during the cold season c) Mean seasonal precipitation d) cold season precipitation e) Seasonal cycle of precipitation, temperature, snow coverage for the Naryn and Amudarya basins (data from http://chelsa-climate.org)

Lately, regional and international scientists have been developing new forecasting technologies tailored for Central Asian issues. Although these inventions provide a great potential in decision making, limited institutional reforms hinder the development of water sector. This is especially evident in all five Central Asian countries where state-centric management contradict local ownership and responsibility. The principal problems are inefficient governance structures, limited institutional funding and insufficient cooperation between the countries of the region. The lack of freedom that local stakeholders have bring significant lost to regional economics. High vulnerability of the regional economies to water shortages suggests that science should play a central role in managing the issue.

The governments do not seem to be ready for such solutions,  particularly institutional structures often impede sustainable institutional learning and knowledge anchoring over longer times. Decision makers are often not aware of the scientific progress. No matter how big effort of national and supporting international research centres, the demand for knowledge is limited. GFZ recommends involving young academics, technical experts and more stakeholders to develop a multi-disciplinary network and to support a sustainable regional collaboration in the water sector. The science alone can not achieve this but requires support from the state and from global policy organizations.

Original source: Gerlitz, Vorogushyn, Gafurov (2020) Climate informed seasonal forecast of water availability in Central Asia: State-of-the-art and decision-making context, Water Security vol. 10 Aug 2020

Link: https://doi.org/10.1016/J.WASEC.2020.100061

Front photo: livingasia.online

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