Facing the Challenge of Climate Change
Central Asia faces serious environmental challenges, many as a legacy of Soviet times. Many of these environmental issues involve the use and abuse of scarce water resources. The huge investments in irrigation infrastructure by Soviet planners resulted in a vast diversion of water flows from the two main rivers of the region—the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya—into arid areas to feed the rapid expansion of region-wide cotton production, and to supply the rapidly growing urban centers in Central Asia. Since water was treated as a free good, it was used wastefully and unsustainably. In addition, Central Asia has to deal with many environmental hot spots caused by industrial and mining activities initiated in Soviet times. Add to this the lack of effective treatment of industrial and residential waste water and solid wastes in the growing cities of the region, and it is clear that Central Asia faces a tremendous environmental challenge, which needs to be addressed both at a national and a regional level to ensure that by 2050 the vision of a livable and sustainable future for the region is assured. These environmental challenges, which are generally well known and understood, will further be aggravated by the likely global and regional impacts of climate change, which until recently have not been as well understood and sufficiently considered, let alone addressed. This article focuses only on the climate change impacts and possible ways for Central Asian countries to address them in the coming decades.