International watercourses, international water law and Central Asia

Richard Kyle Paisley

International Waters Governance Initiative, University of British Columbia IAR, Vancouver, Canada V6T1Z2



Research Paper


International watercourses are a very significant part of the water resources endowment of Central Asia (CA) where a “water-energy-agriculture nexus” has long been a conundrum. The crux of the conundrum is the conflict between upstream nation states wanting to release water in the winter to generate hydropower and downstream nation states wanting the water released in the summer largely for downstream agricultural purposes. Two CA states (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) have a relative water surplus. Four other CA states (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan) say they do not get their fair share from the region’s great rivers—the Syr Darya and Amu Darya—which slice across CA from the Tien Shan/Pamir Mountains and the Hindu Kush to the Aral Sea’s remains. This paper critically reviews the genesis of the CA water-energy-agriculture nexus conundrum, the role of international law in the possible resolution of the conundrum and a possible way forward. This way forward includes a redoubling of efforts by all CA states, including Afghanistan, to develop one, or more, legally binding CA wide international agreements regarding international shared water, and related, resources together with a high-level mediation to address possible downstream objections to new upstream hydro development projects.

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How to cite: Paisley, R. K. (2018). International watercourses, international water law and Central Asia. Central Asian Journal of Water Research, 4(2), 1–26.


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conflict resolution, conundrum, governance, international water law, international waters