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Are drought conditions returning to the Aral Sea basin? Fast facts from Central Asia’s water reservoirs

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It is well known that the Aral Sea Basin experiences multi-year periods of high and low water, and that low-water periods often correspond to poor harvests, higher food prices, reduced hydroelectric production, and heightened inter-state tensions in Central Asia. The most recent drought, in 2008, contributed to the “compound crisis” of water, energy, and food insecurity that particularly affected poor households in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan during that and subsequent years.

Since the drought of 2008, increased attention has been focused on issues of water and energy insecurity in the Aral Sea Basin. Data on Central Asia’s largest reservoirs, which are reported every ten days on the CAWATERinfo website (, indicate that, during late 2008 and early 2009, water volumes at Kyrgyzstan’s Toktogul reservoir (the largest in the region, and Central Asia’s only multi-year storage facility) were 40 percent or more below their average levels for the same months during the preceding 18 years. At the Nurek hydropower station, Tajikistan’s single largest source of electricity, these data show water volumes some 10 percent below monthly averages for the previous 17-18 years during this time.