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  • Water irrigation system in Batken, Kyrgyzstan.
    AKDN / Alma Uzbekova
University of Central Asia
Water resources in Central Asia: Thinking beyond scarcity

Despite the abundance of water sources in Central Asia, residents in many villages still do not have access to safe water due to the lack of necessary infrastructure. Villagers are facing difficulties daily, as some family members have to walk long distances to fetch water for drinking purposes and household needs.

The University of Central Asia’s (UCA) Mountain Societies Research Institute (MSRI) organised a “Fragile Water” exhibit in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). Schoolchildren from 10 local schools presented water related projects, as part of MSRI’s “Kyrgyz Mountains Environmental Education and Citizen Science” project.

MSRI also developed a manual on “Studying Water Through Experiments” within the framework of the project. It is aimed at improving access of rural schools in Kyrgyzstan to low-tech methods and experiments for engaging kids in learning and exploring their surroundings natural environment. The manual includes chapters on the general properties of water, watershed mapping and the water cycle, biological assessment of water quality through macro-invertebrates, how to build DIY microscopes, simple chemical experiments, as well as the measurement of water discharge from small rivers. The manual was developed for biology, geography, chemistry and physics teachers, and can also be used by children and parents interested in the practical exploration of scientific concepts. The manual is available in Russian and Kyrgyz for free download at:


Schoolchildren learnt about water management through experiments in Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic.
Water is the focus of many other research works by UCA’s Mountain Societies Research Institute, which is intended to inform and support the decision making processes in Central Asia. The main use of water in the region is for irrigation, and it plays a crucial role in the livelihoods of rural households, where the discourse concerning water scarcity is often focused on the lack of water.

In contrast, MSRI’s research paper on “Natural Resource Management Dynamics in Border Communities of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan” argues that the per capita amount of water available in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is high, in comparison with many European countries. Their rates of water withdrawal are also proportionally much higher than in Europe. For example, freshwater withdrawal is particularly high in Tajikistan, where it represents 51% of the total renewable water resources.

The research report on Natural Resource Management was developed by MSRI as part of the “Reducing Conflict Over Water and Pastures in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan” project. While research on conflict over natural resources is generally focused on preventing violence, less attention is paid to the dynamics of disputes and cooperation. Filling this gap, MSRI’s report provides insight into the institutions, and local dynamics involved in natural resource management in border communities. It also offers solution-oriented recommendations to address existing management challenges.

Conflicts over natural resources are particularly acute along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border, affecting the livelihood of households in Batken (Kyrgyzstan) and Soghd (Tajikistan) provinces, where around a quarter of the population still lives below the poverty line. Inhabitants are primarily involved in cultivating crops, keeping livestock, and rely on the transborder use of water and pasture resources to do so. As border regimes and institutional management rules change, farmers face constraints in accessing these resources. Learn more in MSRI’s report, which is available for free download at: