Will Tajikistan Turn Water Into Oil?

Via Fergana News, a report on Tajikistan’s recent decision to sell water to China:

Tajikistan has decided to do what has been said for many years, but that has not been done for one reason or another. Dushanbe will start selling its water abroad – Beijing will partner. Tajikistan’s Orienbank signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Chinese company Heaven Springs Dynasty Harvest Group (its head office is in Hong Kong), which provides for the establishment of a joint venture on the Lake of Sarez. The Chinese company explains that the company will pour bottled water from Sarez and “supply the countries of Central Asia and other states”.

The Chinese are the first who are interested in using Tajik water for sale to other countries. The leadership of Tajikistan has already repeatedly suggested, in particular, to Iran and the Arab states to establish supplies of drinking water from the Lake of Sarez. Back in 2007, President Emomali Rahmon and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signedMemorandum on cooperation on the use of drinking water from the Lake of Sarez. At that time, the situation with a shortage of drinking water was aggravated once again. The parties discussed the project on laying a water pipe from Tajikistan to Iran, according to which drinking water would be supplied to this country in exchange for oil and gas. However, this project was never implemented. Later Rahmon offered water from Lake Sarez to the authorities of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

It should be noted that the current agreement between “Orienbank” and Heaven Springs Dynasty Harvest Group is necessary for the Tajik side also for environmental reasons. Pumping water from the lake will reduce its pressure on the Usoy dam – a natural dam of the lake – and the risk of its breakthrough. To date, the volume of water in the lake is 16 cubic kilometers. On Sarez, sensors are installed that monitor the condition of the Usoy dam and the water level in the lake around the clock. The monitoring of the lake is also conducted by the staff of the CoES of Tajikistan. They argue that overflow of water across the edge of the Usoy dam is impossible because of more springs in the body of the dam. However, there is a risk of a large landslide on the right bank of the lake – the specialists are especially attentive to the condition of its slopes. In the spring of this year the Ministry of Emergency Measures of Afghanistan complainedto the fact that floods occurred in Afghan Badakhshan because of “increased filtration in the dam of Lake Sarez”. However, in Dushanbe they quickly denied these statements. Nevertheless, the lake is in a seismically unstable zone, and a serious earthquake can damage the Usoy dam.

Usoi dam, the natural dam of Sarez. NASA Satellite Image

The problem of lack of water

According to the latest UN data, 2.1 billion people already suffer from a shortage of water in the world . “Achieving universal access to safe and inexpensive drinking water means providing the simplest water supply to 844 million people and improving the quality of services to 2.1 billion people who are experiencing difficulties with this,” the international organization said in its report. It should be noted that the problem of shortage of drinking water on a global scale is not new, but the rate of increase in the number of people who face this difficulty is impressive. In 2014 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, global risks were voiced, which will have to face humanity in the near future. Among the risks was a shortage of water. It was predicted that by 2025, 5.5 billion people will live in areas experiencing an average or acute water shortage – two thirds of the estimated population of the Earth.

Up to 70% of consumed fresh water today is accounted for by agriculture. It is interesting that 99% of the 4000 km3 / year of water used for irrigation, domestic and industrial consumption, energy production comes from underground and surface renewable sources. However, the amount of surface water decreases, and world consumption is increasingly shifting from river and lake water to groundwater, which accounts for 20% of total consumption. This figure is growing rapidly, especially in drylands. During the 20th century, groundwater abstraction increased fivefold (despite the fact that during the last century the world lost 70% of its natural wetlands). Also used are non-renewable (fossil) aquifers, this applies mainly to Saudi Arabia, Libya and Algeria. Obviously, that due to the relief or some other specific conditions, it is not possible everywhere in the world to easily and quickly drill a well to receive water from it. And then the idea inevitably arises: can it get water from some near or far neighbor, who has more than necessary?

Irrigation installations in Saudi Arabia. Photo from the site

The World Water Market

The largest consumers of water (by volume) are India, China, USA, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico and Russia. Among them, the worst is obtaining water in China and India. The key factors are the growth of the population and industry. Despite the fact that China and India are among the countries most provided with river flows, huge amounts of these sewage are simply poisoned by industrial discharges. For example, the Chinese rivers Huang He and Yangtze and the Indian Ganges are among the most polluted in the world.

Disposal of waste in the Yangtze River. Photo from

All this has prompted China to start exporting water from abroad. The first suppliers of H2O to China were South Korea and Thailand. In early 2018, negotiations (with similar discussions earlier) with the Russian authorities on the supply of potable water by tankers from Kamchatka intensified . According to the head of the largest food corporation of China COFCO Lujan Syunuzu, options are also considered for the import of water from Sakhalin Island and Primorsky Krai. Turkey is now trying to enter the Chinese and Indian “water markets” .

Turkey, by the way, has become one of the largest suppliers of bottled water in the world. According to data for January of this year, the Turks sold their water to 110 countries. The fact is that every year the country dumps more than one billion cubic meters of water into the Mediterranean. This, for example, is 20 times higher than the annual demand of the Israeli agriculture. Back in the 1980s, Turkey created special docks, tankers and water collection systems with the intention of selling surpluses of water to the more arid countries of the Middle East. In the “zero” between Turkey and Israel (it is one of the countries with the most acute problem of providing fresh water), despite all political contradictions , negotiations on water issues began. Israel was interested in the possibility of importing Turkish water on sea tankers. In 2004, between countriesan agreement was signed . In accordance with it, Israel decided to annually purchase 50 million cubic meters of water over the next 20 years from the Turkish river Manbabet (Manbaget). The transportation of H2O was to be handled by marine tankers with a capacity of 250,000 tons. However, the project did not take place – de facto because of disagreements over Palestine. In 2010, there were reports of the possible construction of a water pipe from Turkey to Israel along the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea through the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (this particularly angered the Greek Cypriots).

It is strange, however, that until now no news has appeared about the possible sale of water from Turkey to Iran. Both countries recently went on to rapprochement – thanks to wars in Syria and Iraq . Countries have a common border. And Iran is now in the “top of the arid countries . 

In February, the military adviser of the spiritual leader of Iran, General Yahya Rahim Safavi (Yahya Rahim Safavi) said it was time to start negotiations with Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and other neighbors about the distribution of water. According to the general, water can lead to the fact that “Central Asia can become the most controversial region in the future, and Afghanistan can become a source of future development of water resources.” As for Afghanistan, there are indeed such prospects, but while two-thirds of the country suffersfrom drought. Of the Asian countries in Afghanistan, perhaps, the situation with access to the water of the population is the worst. Mainly, because of the ongoing not for the first ten years of the war, in which a lot of close and distant states are drawn. And, it turns out that Afghans, who could potentially become one of the largest suppliers of water (thanks to the glaciers and rivers of the Hindu Kush), suffer from its shortage.

Icebergs – a competitor for rivers and lakes

The main competitor of “water tankers”, sea and underground colossal water pipelines can become icebergs from Antarctica. In early July in the UAE, the private company The National Advisor Bureau Limited announced the launchThe project for towing icebergs to the coast of the country. The cost of the project, it was called The UAE Iceberg Project, is estimated at $ 50 million. Not such serious money by the standards of the UAE. “This is an economically, technically and commercially feasible idea. Its implementation by 2020 will mean the end of the water deficit in the region, and the UAE will become one of the world’s largest freshwater exporters, “said Abdulla Mohammed Sulaiman Al Shehi, director of The National Advisor Bureau Limited. His company for the last five years has been studying the towing of icebergs. According to al-Shekhi, today he has a unique technology for towing huge ice blocks with their minimal melting. The estimated weight of icebergs to be transported is more than 100 million tons. The delivery time is about nine months.

“The first step is to find and select icebergs using satellite imagery. Sea currents to the north will become the main force that will move them. Towing vessels will help and guide the movement of icebergs, “- described in general terms al-Sheki technology. As soon as the iceberg is on the shelf, the company will start collecting fresh water for consumers. Blocks of ice will be broken off from the surface and stored in special containers.

With regard to international laws and permits necessary for the implementation of the project, international law states that icebergs are generally available water resources, can be used by anyone and moved to any part of the world.

Given the financial capabilities of the UAE and other Arab monarchies on the Persian Gulf, who can join projects such as The UAE Iceberg Project, icebergs for them can become “second oil.” But the same Tajikistan, despite the already huge reserves of fresh water, because of the scarcity of its financial resources, may be out of the way of turning its rivers and lakes into a “second oil”. Will be content with the role of “water appendage” of China, and nothing more.

This entry was posted on Friday, July 13th, 2018 at 2:46 pm and is filed under China, Tajikistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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