The costs of irrigation inefficiency in Tajikistan


The Aral Sea Basin consists of the drainage area of two major rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. The rivers originate in the Tien Shan Mountains and the Pamirs, and run through Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. An estimated 116 km3 is diverted for irrigation, one of the key drivers of economic growth, employment, poverty reduction, and food security in the region. Despite emerging water stress, water continues to be used in a particularly wasteful manner. Irrigation efficiency in the region is estimated at about 30 percent (that is, only 30 percent of the water that is withdrawn from the rivers for a specific irrigated area actually reaches the roots of plants), and average annual abstraction for irrigation is well over 15,000 m3 per hectare. Improving irrigation efficiency has important regional implications because large amounts of water could be unlocked for more productive purposes by other sectors or in other locations in the basin. 5. But irrigation efficiency is also important from a national perspective. Pumping plays an important role in Central Asia’s irrigated agriculture and accounts for significant sunk and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs. As a result of inefficient use of irrigation water, all Central Asian countries score high in global rankings that compare the water use per person and per unit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Central Asian countries are among the most water-intensive economies in the world. The study focuses on Tajikistan in recognition of the interest expressed by national authorities who have articulated concerns about the intensity of energy and water in Tajikistan’s economy. Like its Central Asian neighbors, Tajikistan is highly water- and energy-intensive. Ninety percent of water withdrawals in the country is allocated to irrigation, with 44 percent of the area that was originally equipped for irrigation being reliant on pumps. The irrigation sector accounts for a significant proportion of the total national electricity bill, and is also one of the largest consumers of power in the country. Irrigation efficiency and energy use in the sector are intricately interlinked, and inefficiencies in the use of one resource inevitably have an impact on the other.