bneGREEN: Water shortages alarm sounded in southern Kazakhstan and Istanbul

bneGREEN: Water shortages alarm sounded in southern Kazakhstan and Istanbul
Parched agricultural land in Kazakhstan's Zhambyl region. / Radio Azattyk news video, screenshot.
By bne IntelIiNews August 23, 2023

A state of emergency was on August 22 declared in parts of drought-hit southern Kazakhstan due to a lack of irrigation water transferred by neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and abnormally high temperatures.

The move comes just days after authorities in Turkey requested that inhabitants of Istanbul cut their water consumption—with major cities across Turkey facing a drought crisis amid extreme summer heatwave temperatures—and reports that the Irtysh River, which originates in China and then flows into northern Kazakhstan and Russia, is experiencing its lowest water levels since the late Soviet era.

Around 80% of irrigation water in southern Kazakhstan's Zhambyl region comes from Kyrgyzstan, where there has been a significant reduction in water flow this year. Kyrgyzstan stopped supplying irrigation water to Kazakhstan in August, with the water volume in reservoirs having dropped to as low as a tenth of the usual volume.

The emergency regime covers the Zhambyl, Bayzak, Kordai, Merken, T. Ryskulov and Talas districts of Zhambyl region. Officials said they were deciding on payments for farmers suffering withered crops.

In Kazakhstan, 65% of water consumption is accounted for by agriculture. Around half of the country's surface water (44.9 cubic kilometres) comes from the neighbouring countries of China, Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

In Turkey, the Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (ISKI) has published data outlining how the dams in Turkey’s largest city were only around 33%-full as of mid-August. That’s the lowest rate recorded in nine years. Water supplies are also dwindling rapidly in dams that serve the capital Ankara and third largest Turkish city Izmir.

Mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu  urged the city's 16mn residents to save "every precious water drop flowing from the tap".

Extreme temperatures in Turkey have lately included a record high 49.5C, together with high humidity, reached in some regions.

Without rainfall, Istanbul’s dams would be able to continue pumping water for around two months. For Ankara, the figure is around seven months, while for Izmir it is more than a year, official data shows.

Istanbulites have been urged to take shorter showers, with around 70% of water consumption in their city attributed to bathroom usage. 

The greatly diminished water flow of the Irtysh River has been partly blamed on drought, but perhaps the most significant cause is China's increased water consumption, including the diversion of water for agricultural and other needs, as well as the construction of multiple dams along the upper reaches of the river.

That’s according to an report, which quoted representatives of the Kazakh Ecology Ministry’s Water Resources Committee as saying: “The Chinese side reduced the runoff in the Irtysh basin by 21.5% (2.1 km3). Also, the PRC side reduced the flow of water through the Balkhash-Alakol basin by 15.3% (2.3 km3),”. So far, the most serious impacts of the Irtysh River difficulties have been felt in terms of disrupted barge traffic in downstream regions of Russia, including Omsk, Tyumen and Sverdlovsk.

Russian officials have reported a substantial drop in revenue for river cargo haulers and the regional fishing sector dependent on the Irtysh. They are mainly blaming Kazakhstan for the problem. quoted an unnamed Russian official as saying; "Kazakhstan sends us little water. As a result, not only the Irtysh is becoming shallow, but the water level in the Tobol and Siberia rivers is also falling."

The Irtysh’s low flow could have serious environmental ramifications for Kazakhstan; in particular, it could potentially result in the shrinking of Lake Balkhash. “Not only production and agriculture in East Kazakhstan, but also Central Kazakhstan, including Astana, depend on the water resources of the Irtysh,” the report stated.

“This river is a kind of donor that feeds local rivers and lakes. If the Irtysh dries up, everything will turn into a desert,” it added.