Uzbekistan “will suffer” as Taliban canal diverts fifth of Amu Darya river, warns expert

Uzbekistan “will suffer” as Taliban canal diverts fifth of Amu Darya river, warns expert
Water flow reductions caused by the canal could severely impact Uzbek agriculture. / @FDPM_AFG
By Mokhi Sultanova in Tashkent June 4, 2024

Qosh Tepa canal, under construction in Afghanistan, looks set to divert 20% of the Amu Darya river’s water, raising concerns about potential water shortages in Uzbekistan, according to an international expert on natural resources and economics.

Rieks Bosch, cited by, said the exacerbation of water scarcity could have detrimental effects on Uzbek agriculture. Turkmenistan, further downstream than Uzbekistan, is also set to suffer from the realisation of the “thirsty” Qosh Tepa.

“In any case, it's clear that Uzbekistan will suffer,” Bosch was reported as saying.

From May 27-29, an international conference on climate change was held in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It drew official representatives from Central Asian countries, journalists and international experts. Among them was Bosch, who discussed the likely impacts of the canal project pursued by Afghanistan’s Taliban administration during a panel session.

Bosch emphasised that the negative impacts of the project on Uzbekistan would far outweigh any potential benefits. 

“The realisation of this project could result in significant water wastage and intensify water scarcity, as well as increase water prices in agricultural sectors,” he was reported as warning.

The concept of the Qosh Tepa canal has a long history. The idea was explored by the British as far back as 1950. It was later looked at by the Russians, and finally the Americans. 

However, Afghanistan, determined to boost its agriculture, decided to launch the construction project despite not tying down the necessary funds.

The Taliban plans to divert one fifth of the Amu Darya’s water into the canal, a move that would necessitate a 50% reduction in water use by the Uzbek regions of Khorezm and Karakalpakstan, Bosch explained.

“Building the canal is easy, but establishing an irrigation system is 10 times more difficult,” Bosch noted. 

He pointed out the complexities involved in ensuring an efficient irrigation scheme, predicting that the Taliban would face substantial challenges. He estimated that without a well developed system, 30-40% of water diverted could be wasted.

Water prices are a major concern. In Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the cost of water provided by state utilities is between $1.20 and $1.60 per cubic metre, but its real value is around $16. 

Bosch indicated that the canal project could sharply increase the prices. While measures are being taken to conserve water, there is no effective bridge between price development and resource management.

“The government of Uzbekistan is trying to establish relations with Afghanistan, but the Taliban is very tough. Afghanistan does not intend to make any agreements with Central Asia on this matter,” Bosch was also reported as stating. 

Bosch pointed out the lack of a cooperative platform, which hampers effective negotiations.

Bosch mentioned that Uzbekistan has systems in place for efficient water use and profitability, and the focus should now be on maintaining efficient water supply.

The Qosh Tepa canal project was officially presented by the Taliban government in March 2022. It starts from a point on the Amu Darya river in the Balkh region of northern Afghanistan. 

Recent satellite images have shown the creation of an artificial reservoir along the canal, with Uzbekcosmos noting that the canal bank had not been eroded by the Amu Darya's flow, but rather due to rising groundwater levels.

In October last year, the Taliban assured Uzbekistan that the canal project would not cause it harm.

Nikolai Podguzov, chairman of the board of the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB), last year highlighted severe upcoming water shortages in Central Asia. These would be exacerbated by the construction of the canal, he said.

Speaking at a CIS meeting in Bishkek, Podguzov noted that Central Asia, already highly vulnerable to climate change, relies heavily on the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers for water, with 92% used for irrigation. 

The Qosh Tepa is expected to reduce water flow to downstream countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan partly due to its low technological standards, causing substantial water losses through leakage.

Even without the canal, Central Asia was projected to face a water deficit of five to 12 cubic kilometres annually by 2028-2029, threatening food, drinking water and energy supplies