Water Resources Management in Central Asia and its Role in the Emergence of Conflicts Affecting Regional Stability

AuthorMar Campins Eritja
PositionFull Professor (Catedrática) of International Public Law, Universitat de Barcelona.
Pages13-46
PAIX ET SÉCURITÉ INTERNATIONALES
Journal of International Law and International Relations
Num 7, janvier-décembre 2019 | ISSN 2341-0868
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.25267/Paix_secur_int.2019.i7.01
Paix et Securité Internationales
ISSN 2341-0868, Num. 7, janvier-décembre 2019, pp. 13-46
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.25267/Paix_secur_int.2019.i7.01
TRANSBOUNDARY WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT
IN CENTRAL ASIA AND ITS ROLE IN THE EMERGENCE OF
CONFLICTS AFFECTING REGIONAL STABILITY1
Mar CAMPINS ERITJA2
I. -INTRODUCTORY REMARKS. II. -THE MANAGEMENT OF WATER RE-
SOURCES: A PRIORITY FOR CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRIES. III. -AN UN-
SATISFACTORY REGULATION AND A WEAKENED INSTITUTIONAL
FRAMEWORK CHALLENGING THE SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT OF
SHARED WATER RESOURCES. IV. -FINAL REMARKS
ABSTRACT: This paper draws from the situation of imbalance in the use of water resources
among the Central Asian States, in a context marked by a deep dichotomy between two competing
uses of water -irrigation and the production of hydroelectric energy. From the perspective of water
resources management, the hydrographic and geopolitical complexity of the region is unquestiona-
ble and has been found in the cause of several interstate conf‌l icts, which are frequently aggravated
by important environmental challenges.
From there, this paper discusses the adequacy of the international regulatory framework to
guarantee the sustainable governance of water resources in the region. The impact of multilateral
conventions in the region is analysed, as well as the development of a series of bilateral agreements
that have actually maintained the status quo. This situation has worsened due to the low consistency
and e ectiveness of the regional institutions created by these same agreements. From a regional
perspective, the situation in the countries of Central Asia o ers an exceptional case for analysis. It
is an area with signif‌i cant security risks due to the widespread lack of governance over the use of
water resources, which are unevenly distributed between the Central Asian States, and have under-
gone alarming environmental degradation in recent years. Although this situation could represent a
major opportunity for the development of interstate cooperation, the upshot will depend to a large
extent on the capacity of political institutions in the region to manage these resources in a way that
is both environmentally and politically sustainable.
KEY WORDS: Central Asia, international waters, international security, energy
1 A previous version of this paper was published in Spanish, in , A. (Dir.), Agua,
recurso natural limitado. Entre el desarrollo sostenible y la seguridad internacional, Marcial Pons, Bar-
celona, 2017, pp. 199-227. The updated English version has been carried out within the fra-
mework of the BIODINT project (DER2017-85406-P) and within the activities of the Jean
Monnet Chair on EU Environmental Law (587220-EPP-1-2017-1-EN-EPPJMO-CHAIR).
2 Full Professor (Catedrática) of International Public Law, Universitat de Barcelona.
Citation: CAMPINS ERITJA, M., «Transboundary Water Resources Management in Central Asia and its Role
in the Emergence of Conf‌l icts A ffecting Regional Stability», Paix et Sécurité Internationales, num. 7, 2019, pp. 13-46
Received: 17 July 2018
Accepted: 15 October 2018
Transboundary water resources in Central Asia and its impact in the emergency of conf‌l icts affecting regional stability
Paix et Securité Internationales
ISSN 2341-0868, Num. 7, janvier-décembre 2019, pp. 13-46
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.25267/Paix_secur_int.2019.i7.01
LA GESTIÓN DE LOS RECURSOS HÍDRICOS EN ASIA CENTRAL Y SU INCIDENCIA
EN LA EMERGENCIA DE CONFLICTOS SUSCEPTIBLES DE AFECTAR LA ESTABI-
LIDAD REGIONAL
RESUMEN: Este trabajo parte de la situación de desequilibrio en el uso de los recursos hídricos
entre los Estados de Asia Central, en un contexto marcado por una profunda dicotomía entre dos
usos competitivos del agua: el riego y la producción de energía hidroeléctrica. Desde la perspectiva
de la gestión de los recursos hídricos, la complejidad hidrográf‌i ca y geopolítica de la región es
incuestionable y constituye de hecho, la causa de varios conf‌l ictos interestatales que, con frecuen-
cia, se ven agravados por importantes desafíos ambientales. A partir de ahí, el trabajo analiza la
idoneidad del marco jurídico internacional para garantizar la gobernanza sostenible de los recursos
hídricos en la región. Se analiza el impacto de los convenios multilaterales en la región, así como el
desarrollo de una serie de acuerdos bilaterales que, en esencia, se han limitado a mantener el status
quo. Esta situación se agudiza debido a la poca consolidación y efectividad de las instituciones
regionales creadas por estos mismos acuerdos. Desde una perspectiva regional, la situación en los
países de Asia Central ofrece un caso excepcional para el análisis. Es un área con importantes ries-
gos securitarios debido a la debilidad generalizada de los mecanismos de gobernanza sobre el uso
de los recursos hídricos, distribuidos de manera desigual entre los Estados de Asia Central y sujetos
a un proceso de degradación ambiental alarmante en los últimos años. Si bien esta situación podría
presentar una gran oportunidad para el desarrollo de la cooperación interestatal, el resultado depen-
derá en gran medida de la capacidad de las instituciones políticas de la región para administrar estos
recursos de una manera ambiental y políticamente sostenible.
PALABRAS CLAVE: Asia central, aguas internacionales, seguridad internacional, energía.
LA GESTION DES RESSOURCES EN EAU EN ASIE CENTRALE ET SON IMPACT SUR
L’ÉMERGENCE DE CONFLITS SUSCEPTIBLES D’AFFECTER LA STABILITÉ RÉ-
GIONALE
RESUMÉ : Cette recherche part de la situation de déséquilibre dans l’utilisation des ressources en
eau entre les États d’Asie centrale, dans un contexte caractérisé par une profonde dichotomie entre
deux usages de l’eau en concurrence dans la région, l’irrigation et la production d’énergie hydroé-
lectrique. Du point de vue de la gestion des ressources en eau, la complexité hydrographique et
géopolitique de la région est indiscutable, et s’est révélée être à l’origine de plusieurs conf‌l its entre
États, souvent aggravés par d’importants déf‌i s environnementaux. À partir de là, ce travail examine
l’adéquation du cadre juridique international pour garantir la gouvernance durable des ressources
en eau dans la région. Il analyse l’impact des accords multilatéraux dans la région, ainsi que l’éla-
boration d’une série d’accords bilatéraux qui ont en réalité maintenu le statu quo. Cette situation
s’est aggravée en raison de la faible cohérence et e cacité des institutions régionales créées par ces
mêmes accords. D’un point de vue régional, la situation dans les pays d’Asie centrale o re un cas
d’analyse exceptionnel. C’est un domaine qui présente des risques importants pour la sécurité en
raison de la faiblesse généralisée des mécanismes de gouvernance en ce qui concerne l’utilisation
des ressources en eau, inégalement réparties entre les États de la région et qui ont subi une dégrada-
tion environnementale alarmante ces dernières années. Même si cette situation pourrait représenter
une opportunité majeure pour le développement de la coopération entre États, le résultat dépendra
dans une large mesure de la capacité des institutions politiques à gérer ces ressources de manière
durable tant sur le plan environnemental que politique.
MOTS CLES: Asie centrale, eaux internationales, sécurité internationale, énergie
Paix et Securité Internationales
ISSN 2341-0868, Num. 7, janvier-décembre 2019, pp. 13-46
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.25267/Paix_secur_int.2019.i7.01
I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
The management of transboundary river basins is an area that has tradi-
tionally underlined the link between situations of environmental stress and
the emergence of new threats to international peace and security.3 This re-
lationship, already noted in the Bruntland Commission’s 1987 report4 and
brought under the broader scope of human security a few years later by the
United Nations Development Programme,5 is illustrated by the Central Asian
countries commonly known as the “f‌i ve Stans”: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
From a regional perspective, the situation in the countries of Central Asia
offers an exceptional case for analysis. It is an area with signif‌i cant security
risks6 due to (among other factors) the widespread lack of governance over
the use of a series of natural resources, which are unevenly distributed be-
tween the States in question, and have undergone alarming environmental
degradation in recent years. At the same time, this situation could represent
a major opportunity for the development of interstate cooperation. The ups-
hot will depend to a large extent on the capacity of political institutions to
3 See , Th., “On the Threshold: Environmental Changes as Causes of Conf‌l ict”, In-
ternational Security, Vol. 16, nº 2, 1991, pp. 76-116; , K., Environment
and Conf‌l ict Project: International project on Violence and Conf‌l icts Caused by Environmental Degradation
and Peaceful Conf‌l ict Resolution, Center for Security Studies, 1995, pp. 1-185; , S. “Scarcity
and Cooperation Along International Rivers”, Global Environmental Politics, Vol. 9, nº 1, 2009,
pp. 109-135. See, also, , F., “El agua como factor de hostilidad y de cooperación
en el ámbito internacional” and Scovazzi, T., “L’acqua come causa di controversei internazi-
onale”, in Gutiérrez Espada, C.- Riquelme Cortado, R. - Orihuela Calatayud, E.- Sánchez
Jiménez, M.A.- Cervell Hortal, M.J.- Rubio Fernández, E.M., (Coord.), El Agua como factor de
cooperación y de conf‌l icto en las relaciones internacionales contemporáneas, Instituto Euromediterráneo
del Agua, Murcia, 2009, pp. 139-170 and 305-316.
4 , Our Common Future, Report of the World Commission on En-
vironmental and Development, 1987, Doc. A/42/427.
5 PNUD, Informe sobre el desarrollo humano, PNUD-Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1994, p. 25
et seq.
6 “International waters: Identifying basins at risk”, Water
Policy, Vol. 5, 2003, pp. 29-60, p. 42 available online at .environmental-expert.
com/Files%5C5302%5Carticles%5C5877%5C2.pdf>; ,
A., (Ed.), Building a Regional Framework in Central Asia: Between Cooperation and Conf‌l ict, ICIP
Research 02, Institut Català Internacional per la Pau, 2014.

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