KABUL – During the recent summit of leaders from the founding states of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan addressed a pressing concern regarding the proposed Kosh Tepa canal project in Afghanistan. This canal, designed to divert water from the Amu Darya River, has the potential to significantly alter the water dynamics in Central Asia.
Afghanistan, which lacks formal water usage agreements with Central Asian states concerning the Amu Darya River, is actively pursuing the construction of the Kosh Tepa canal. President Mirziyoyev emphasized the emergence of a new actor in the region’s water management, unbound by existing obligations. He voiced the need for a collaborative working group to thoroughly assess the canal’s construction and its ramifications on the Amu Darya’s water balance while establishing communication with Afghanistan on this matter.
In response to President Mirziyoyev’s concerns, Abdul-Latif Mansour, head of the Taliban’s Ministry of Water and Energy, stated, “Those who express their concerns should do so on the basis of an agreement, but Afghanistan does not have any water-related agreements with anyone here.” Mansour also expressed the Taliban’s readiness to engage in discussions regarding the utilization of Amu Darya’s water resources.
Najibullah Sadid, a water resources expert, argued that Kabul has legitimate rights to use the Amu Darya’s resources, asserting that the current Afghan authorities possess approximately 27% to 30% of the river’s water resources.
The Kosh Tepa canal project, unveiled in March 2023, aims to create an 8.5-meter-deep canal spanning 285 kilometers, starting from the Amu Darya in the Kaldar district of Balkh province. The canal’s capacity is expected to reach 650 cubic meters per second. With an estimated cost of around $684 million, the project is financed publicly and is being executed by the National Development Company. Its intended benefits include irrigating 3 million jerib of land (1 jerib equals 2000 sq. meters) in the provinces of Balkh, Jawzjan, and Faryab, along with providing employment opportunities for approximately 250 thousand people. Construction efforts have already engaged over 6 thousand individuals, with a completion target set for 2028.
Experts express concerns that once the Kosh Tepa canal becomes operational, it could exacerbate water-sharing issues in the region amid a growing water shortage in Central Asia. Countries downstream, particularly Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, could suffer the most, potentially losing up to 15% of their irrigation water from the main river. Notably, Uzbekistan, with a population of 36 million and 90% of water used for agriculture, stands as the primary water consumer in Central Asia, underscoring the significance of this issue for the nation’s future development.