Water Under The Bridge? Kyrgyzstan's Liquid Transfer To Kazakhstan Causes Controversy Amid Major Shortages
By Bruce Pannier December 11, 2021
When Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin thanked Kyrgyz cabinet chief Akylbek Japarov for the extra water Bishkek provided to Kazakhstan this summer, he had no idea how much trouble it would cause.
At a December 8 meeting in Nur-Sultan, Mamin expressed gratitude for the extra liquid resource that Kyrgyzstan released from its massive Toktogul Reservoir into a river that goes to Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan faced severe drought last summer and the extra water from Kyrgyzstan saved farms and herds in southern Kazakhstan.
The problem, though, is that drought was everywhere in Central Asia this year and Kyrgyzstan was also severely affected.
Bishkek's generosity had parliamentary deputy Dastan Bekeshev asking some questions on December 9 about the extra water given to Kazakhstan.
"During this time [last summer] farmers turned to us, asked us for water for irrigation and we told them there is no water," Bekeshev said.
Bekeshev said people started calling him, "and not only me but other deputies," after Mamin's comments were reported.
"[The people calling] said it turns out we were lying."
The grain harvest in Kyrgyzstan this year dropped by 34 percent compared to 2020, largely due to the drought.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan both asked Kyrgyzstan to release more water during the 2021 growing season, even though officials in all three countries knew this could leave levels at the Toktogul Reservoir critically low.
And the level is critically low at the moment, somewhere around 10.8 billion cubic meters (bcm) when it should normally be at 15 bcm or more.
The Toktogul hydropower plant (HPP) provides some 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan's domestically generated electricity, and it runs year-round, usually releasing some 6-7 bcm of water during the winter.
If the water level drops under 6 bcm, the turbines at the Toktogul HPP will stop turning.
So, in return for the extra water, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan agreed to supply electricity to Kyrgyzstan so the HPP would not have to function at full capacity and water could accumulate in the reservoir before next spring.
But water is not accumulating fast enough and most of the Kazakh electricity -- and all the Uzbeki electricity -- has already been delivered.
Kyrgyzstan's National Energy Holding Company said on December 8 that the country had already received 616.4 million kilowatt hours of the 900 million kWh Kazakhstan promised to supply.
Kazakhstan was supposed to receive 330 million cubic meters of water from Toktogul and Bekeshev wants to know how much extra water was added on top of that.
The Kyrgyz Energy Ministry simply commented on December 10 that the water released for Kazakhstan was in keeping with agreements to receive electricity supplies from Kazakhstan.
But it seems it was an overgenerous gesture to a neighbor and Mamin was right to thank Kyrgyzstan publicly for helping stave off what could have been a much worse situation with crops in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is one of the world's top grain exporters but this year's grain harvest was 20 percent lower than in 2020 because of the drought.
But the Kyrgyz government's generosity was apparently not widely known in Kyrgyzstan and with inflation running at some 11.8 percent in 2021 (according to the national bank), and with prices for the cost for basic goods having increased by 15 percent or more this year, Kyrgyz consumers are not going to be happy that food production is down because they lacked water that the country actually had.
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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