Aral Sea: left 2014 and right 2000, 1960 extent black line

Environmental situation Troubled legacy of decades of exploitation

Although Uzbekistan faces many environmental problems, there is still little public awareness of environmental issues.

For example, agriculture, one of the most important sectors of the country's economy, was for a long time limited mainly to the monocropping of cotton. Cotton plantations used up huge amounts of water – a resource that is very limited in this Central Asian country. Most of the water needed for these plantations was diverted from the main rivers, most notably the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. Both rivers flow into the Aral Sea. The Aral Sea – formerly the fourth largest lake in the world and covering an area nearly as big as Bavaria in Germany – has now almost completely disappeared.

The intensive use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers is also contaminating the soil and drinking water in many regions. Furthermore, the increased demand for food, generated by Uzbekistan's rapid population growth, is leading to overgrazing, soil degradation and uncontrolled deforestation. Lax controls of pollutant emissions caused by industry and traffic and inadequate treatment of sewage and refuse are all having a very detrimental environmental impact on Uzbekistan's cities.

Moving towards more sustainability

The issue of environmental sustainability is increasingly gaining importance in Uzbek politics. Among other things, the government wants to significantly increase the share of renewables in power production and, above all, harness the huge potential of solar energy more effectively

The country has also started diversifying its agriculture and taking steps to prevent land degradation. These steps include making better use of available water resources, replanting forests and managing pastureland more sustainably. Uzbekistan has formed a knowledge network with its neighbours Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan to share successful solutions in this area.

Since 2016, Uzbekistan has also increasingly taken on a lead role in balancing interests and deepening regional cooperation in Central Asia. Most recently, for example, the Uzbek government hosted the Global Gateway Conference in November 2022, which brought together EU and Central Asia representatives. One high-priority issue in this region, which is particularly hard hit by the impacts of climate change, is the use of water resources on the basis of mutual agreements.

In the Aral Sea Basin with the riparian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan the challenge is to find a sustainable balance between the different interests of competing users (drinking water, irrigated agriculture, hydropower) for the increasingly scarce water resources and to strengthen regional organisations.

Here, the BMZ is providing support under a regional approach through advisory projects that increasingly focus on integrated, climate-smart resource management, and especially the regional water system.

As at: 27/02/2023