Water Resource Policy of Kazakhstan

  • Sergey S. ZhiltsovEmail author
  • Igor S. Zonn
  • Adelina S. Nogmova
  • Vladimir V. Shtol
Part of the The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry book series (HEC, volume 85)


For the Central Asian countries, the problems of water resources – their adequate volume and free access – were historically the key issue which is connected with the hydrographic position of the region and the climate typical of continental territories. The permanently quickly growing population is also a factor here.

In Kazakhstan the situation with water resources had aggravated after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan borders on Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, and China. Kazakhstan strongly depends on the policy of neighboring countries in the water and energy fields because many rivers crossing its territory take their origin outside of the country. And the more so, the neighboring states often disregard the requirements of Kazakhstan keeping in mind only their own interests. As a result, out of all Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan has the lowest indicator by water supply per a unit of land.

In the early 1990s apart from the growing contradictions with the Central Asian countries over water, Kazakhstan faced pressing from China that launched economic programs for development of its western territories. Accomplishment of these programs required more water, and China started taking more water from rivers shared with Kazakhstan. And Kazakhstan locating in the lower reaches of transboundary rivers had no means to influence China. This touchy issue in water relationships with neighboring countries has survived to the present. The unequal conditions of upstream and downstream countries are the source of serious conflicts. China, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan being the upstream countries control over 80% of all fresh water supplies. At the same time, the agrarian interests of the downstream countries (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) are in conflict with the upstream countries. In other words, one group of countries is targeted to industrial development, power generation, and increase of hydrocarbon production, while the other needs water for development of irrigated farming. The Interstate Kazakhstan-China Commission was established as a platform for negotiations, but it turned out ineffective. The commission failed to elaborate the mutually acceptable options to address the issue of transboundary water resources use.

But Kazakhstan still pursues the policy aimed at continuation of negotiations with the Central Asian countries on sharing the transboundary river flow. If no progress is attained in coping with this issue, Kazakhstan may face considerable difficulties as the economy of the country and the social situation in some of its regions directly depend on availability of water resources, including of transboundary rivers.

This issue remains acute for Kazakhstan due to the following factors typical of all Central Asian countries: availability of zones of environmental disaster – drying out of the Aral Sea, salinization, desertification, and others; the disbalance between the number of population and the volume of available resources; acceleration of climate changes; and growing pollution of water sources which results in deterioration of sanitary conditions.

Fair and sustainable management of joint water resources requires establishment of effective institutes capable to ensure the integral approach to this issue. Unilateral actions of countries neighboring on Kazakhstan aimed at using transboundary water only for their own needs give rise to conflict situations which will invariably affect the development of interstate cooperation and regional stability in Central Asia.


Central Asia Hydropower Kazakhstan Transboundary rivers 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sergey S. Zhiltsov
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Igor S. Zonn
    • 3
    • 4
  • Adelina S. Nogmova
    • 1
  • Vladimir V. Shtol
    • 1
  1. 1.The Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian FederationMoscowRussia
  2. 2.Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)MoscowRussia
  3. 3.Engineering Research Production Center for Water Management, Land Reclamation and Ecology “Soyuzvodproject”MoscowRussia
  4. 4.S.Yu. Witte Moscow UniversityMoscowRussia

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