Excessively high dependence on water resources is the main reason for high susceptibility of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to climate change impacts. This dependence is also rooted in low economic productivity of water use in all other Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Mongolia. To make efficient use of water, the principle of “more crop per drop” must be implemented in the irrigation sector and, water-energy subsidies could be slowly phased out and more pro-poor policies promoted instead of subsidising low efficiency water use.
This becomes more important in a scenario where the transboundary river system exerts dependency of the downstream countries on streamflow from the upstream countries. For example, 75 percent of renewable water resources of Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan originate from neighbouring countries. No doubt transboundary cooperation will become increasingly important to overcome water stress in the region. Therefore, more economic inter-linkages, trade and easing cross-border trade will reduce competition for water. Mostly, in these situations equal sharing of the water is not possible, therefore, states should target more of sharing of the benefits from the water.
However, a good development is that with funding from multilateral development partners, there are at least $70 million worth regional projects operational currently (where Pakistan is also a beneficiary) which address the topic of climate change and adaptability. Top list of the activities may include better planning of water resources, collecting and sharing regular and systemised data on climate. The second tier could include capacity building, and improving the basin organisations. Also, formation of climate financing, setting up climate risk insurance schemes could be immediate steps.
These views were shared by Dr Iskander Abdullaev, deputy director, CAREC Institute who has over 25 years of experience in the field of water and environmental management. He holds MSc and PhD degrees from the Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Agriculture Mechanization Engineers and has experience of working on Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, Israel, USA, Germany, and Netherlands.
He says several geographic sub-regions of CAREC could be particularly prone to population displacement due to negative consequences of the climate change. The limited water availability interrupts electricity generation, at the same time limitations on energy availability might constrain the delivery of water services in dry areas of the region.
High economic costs are unavoidable if adaptation measures are not implemented. Firstly, large investment costs are required to make adaptation measures disseminate into large areas. Secondly, some of the adaptation measures require careful implementation not to danger sustainability in the long run. For example, in many countries increasing irrigated lands is considered as an important adaptation measure, whereas it may bring considerable problems to the environment in the long-term. Thirdly, the time horizon of countrywide dissemination of adoption measures needs to be realistically assessed. Usually, several years and decades are needed until adoption covers large areas.”
Dr Abdullaev comes up with suggestions on how the farming communities shall be enabled to adapt early to the unintended consequences of climate change. Firstly, he says the government should support farmers on turning water use from low productivity to higher ones. Second, the cropping structure must be changed towards higher return crops. He also says that the water saving efforts must be subsidised and promoted.
More of renewable energy use must be promoted in agriculture, investment in infrastructures and canals for rainwater harvesting, water storage, and conveyance would make the region more resilient to climate change. Similarly, investment into other technologies to improve crop varieties and fertiliser applications should also be considered. The agricultural system could also be extended to incorporate agricultural extensions, finances, and services in place.
The adoption of these measures is extremely important for Pakistan which irrigates more than 33 percent of its lands with electric pumped schemes (given the chronic energy crisis), its agriculture employs almost 37 percent of the total workforce, and its agricultural produce has over 22 percent share of export value, he adds.
Lastly, with reference to Pakistan and other CAREC countries, he says climate change also brings droughts, water stress to many parts of the region. “As the droughts hit livelihoods of the rural poor even harder, the government could take steps to introduce crop insurance schemes for the drought prone areas to provide minimum support to the affected communities. The capturing and storing of the rainwater, small-scale field ponds, dissemination of drought tolerant crops and drip irrigation schemes also could help reduce climate change impact.”