Kazakhstan and China seek a common solution to water problems

The settlement of water relations between China and Kazakhstan is of strategic importance for the development of friendly and mutually beneficial ties between both states.

Currently, the second stage of the state program of the People's Republic of China "Great Development of the West of China" is being implemented, calculated to last until 2030. This will require a further increase in water intake from transboundary rivers.

According to experts, the increase in water intake by China is already affecting the formation of adverse environmental consequences, among which the water intake from the Black Irtysh River has led to a reduction in water intake into Lake Zaisan, which in turn has already led to a decrease in its level.

A decrease in the flow and water level in the Irtysh River led to a deterioration in the conditions of intake and a decrease in the water level in the Kazakh channel "Irtysh - Karaganda named after Satpayev".

As a result, the problem of water supply in the central regions of Kazakhstan and, above all, Karaganda city and the Karaganda region, for which this channel is the main source of water supply, may seriously worsen.

A decrease in the flow of the Irtysh River can cause climate aridization and lead to a decrease in natural soil moisture, a decrease in crop yields, degradation of pastures, as well as desertification of a significant part of the territory of the north-eastern region of Kazakhstan.

Recently, about 40 reservoirs and more than 250 water intake structures have been built in China in the basin of the transboundary Ili River, and more than 500 thousand hectares of land are now being irrigated. It should be noted that 23 transboundary rivers flow through the territory of Kazakhstan and China.

Kazakhstan is experiencing a shortage of water resources. About half of the republic's surface waters come from the territory of neighbouring States. Of the total reduction in annual runoff, about 90% is due to the reduction in the flow of those neighbouring states. The authorities of Kazakhstan are actively solving the problem of water shortage, changing the strategic orientation of the development of the economy, switching from extensive to intensive methods.

According to Chinese scientists, working in close contact with international donors, Kazakhstan is effectively reforming the management of its water resources, paying special attention to the links between large water users in different sectors of the economy. A new emphasis is placed on improving the efficiency of water use.

By 2030, Kazakhstan will reduce the consumption of water coming from abroad by 4.5 billion cubic meters per year. An additional incentive for changing Kazakhstan's water policy was the desire to reduce potential tensions with China. Thus, the Kazakh authorities created all the necessary conditions for favourable negotiations on water issues.

Back in 2017, the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, noted that the water resources of transboundary rivers are common property and Kazakhstan fully understands the desire of its neighbours to use water rationally. The watershed should proceed without prejudice to the countries located in the lower reaches of transboundary rivers, that is, for Kazakhstan. Therefore, this country is counting on fair and equal negotiations with China on watershed issues.

Kazakhstan and China, for example, already have a positive experience of cooperation in the water sector. So in 2013, on the transboundary Korgas River, the two countries built a hydroelectric power plant together, and signed an intergovernmental agreement over its joint operation. In 2019, the reconstruction of a joint hydraulic engineering facility on the Sumba River was also completed.

In the same year, the construction of the Chukurbulak (Almaly) drainage dam on the Khorgos River began, which is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

In a word, the fate of tens of millions of people, political stability, well-being in the region, and hence the strengthening of friendly relations and trust between China and Kazakhstan will depend on the reasonable and good-neighbourly use of transboundary water.

So Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a written statement to the participants of the summit of world leaders on November 1-2, 2021 in Glasgow within the framework of the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, called on the world to undergo a "green transformation". Guided by the concept of the common destiny of man and nature, China intends to pay priority attention to the preservation of the environment.

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Phillipe Jeune

Phillipe Jeune

Phillipe Jeune is a Paris-based freelance journalist, and an occasional contributor to EU Today. He has a background in intelligence gathering, and he specialises in business and political matters, with a particular interest in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.

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