09/27/2023, 09.16
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The Afghan canal and the fears of neighbouring countries

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Qosh Tepa mega-project launched by the Taliban to divert the waters of the Amu Darya is causing alarm in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, which would lose up to 15% of their current water resources in a context already marked by a serious crisis. The knot of the absence of political relations with the Taliban government. The spectre of a future water war if the 285-kilometre-long project is completed.

Tashkent (AsiaNews) - Serious concerns are emerging from many quarters in Central Asian countries regarding the construction of the Qosh Tepa canal in northern Afghanistan, to divert the waters of the Amu Darya.

The mega-project envisages that the main canal will be 285 kilometers long, 100 meters wide and 8.5 meters deep, and the initiative as a whole aims to convert 550 thousand hectares of desert into agricultural land. Uzbekistan's president, Šavkat Mirziyoyev, said the project "can radically change the water balance across Central Asia."

The canal is being built by the National Company for the Development of Afghanistan, entirely at the expense of the Kabul government, for an expected investment of 684 million dollars, to be completed by 2028.

Around 250 thousand people will be employed in the works in the provinces of Balkh, Jauzjan and Fariab, currently 6 thousand are already at work, and the Taliban believe that it will be an effective relaunch of all agriculture in the country. Work is progressing at great speed, and the first phase of the project will be completed within the current year.

According to experts, the new canal could lead to very negative consequences especially in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which would lose up to 15% of spring water from the main river in the region, in a very critical phase for water resources.

Uzbekistan is the largest user of the Amu Darya water, being the most populous country in the area, with over 35 million inhabitants, a number that is constantly growing. 90% of the water is used for agricultural work, but the basin has currently dropped below 65%, creating serious problems for Uzbekistan, but also for Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, not only on an economic level, but also in terms of safeguarding the environment and nature reserves near the river.

We therefore understand Mirziyoyev's concerns, expressed during the recent Dushanbe summit of the leaders of the founding countries of the International Fund for the Salvation of the Aral, and reiterated on several other occasions.

With Afghanistan, the leader of Tashkent recalled, there is no agreement on the shared use of the waters of the Amu Darya: "A new player in water exploitation has appeared in our region, who has no obligation towards us, but this will lead to very widespread changes." It is therefore necessary to form a working group to analyze all aspects of the issue, trying to find an effective communication channel with Kabul.

The Taliban responded to Mirziyoyev's remarks through the interim head of the Ministry of Water and Energy of Afghanistan, Abdul-Latif Mansour, according to whom “we have never historically had negotiations on the issue of water, and we cannot therefore be accused of any violation", but the Kabul government is still willing to open a dialogue on the topic.

Even a great expert on water resources, the Afghan engineer Najibullah Sadid, who lives and works in Germany, despite having criticized the Qosh Tepa Canal project in the past, confirms that Afghanistan has every right to use the resources of the Amu Darya, of which around 30% belong to Kabul.

At the moment the statements of the various leaders and experts from neighboring countries have not taken on a polemical or aggressive tone towards the Taliban, but there are fears that the situation could degenerate once the canal is activated, especially if the water shortages in the region are not alleviated in some way overcome, and there is a risk of a future “water war” throughout Central Asia.

Photo: Flickr / Kate Dixon

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