D3: Dams and State Borders in Central Asia – Pre-programmed Conflicts?

Dr. Beate Eschment (ZOiS) and Dr. Henryk Alff (HNEE)

Project description

The issue of access to and the distribution of water triggers many local, regional and international conflicts in arid Central Asia. Dams and water reservoirs can be a particular source of controversy, especially if they are located close to a border or are even transboundary. Project D3 aims to examine the potential for conflict associated with two such dams/water reservoirs as well as the conflict resolution strategies pursued in each case. To this end, we analyse the representations and attitudes of state institutions, (state) media and the affected local population on both sides of the border.

The first case study is the Sardoba water reservoir in northern Uzbekistan, only a few kilometres from the border with Kazakhstan. A breach of the dam on 1 May 2020 also flooded localities and agricultural land in Kazakhstan. After initial intergovernmental tensions, an amicable solution was found at the highest level. However, relatively little is known about the views of the affected population.

The second case study deals with the Kempir-Abad/Andizhanskiy reservoir on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the Fergana Valley. Its territorial affiliation was already disputed during the Soviet era – and still is today. A border treaty ratified at the highest level in autumn 2022 despite many opposing votes, stipulates that the territory of the reservoir will fall to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan will receive about four times that land area elsewhere in exchange. However, the initially local protests against this in Kyrgyzstan have now developed into a domestic political crisis that shows no signs of being resolved.

Key questions

  • Which local and national discourses interact in public debates on the role of and conflicts around dam(s) and reservoirs in Central Asia?

  • What are the implications of these negotiation processes for conflict resolution?

  • What conflict-reinforcing and conflict-mitigating factors can be identified?

  • What conclusions can be drawn regarding the construction of new dams?

Methodology and sources

  • Discourse analysis

  • Expert interviews

  • Interviews with local stakeholders and citizens

    Project team