Increasing water use efficiency in the Aral Sea region
Irrigated agriculture plays a key role in the economy of Central Asian countries, with the agriculture sector contributing from 10% to 45% to the gross domestic product and employing 20% to 50% of the rural population in the Aral Sea Basin. Irrigated agriculture accounts for approximately 90% of all water abstracted in the Aral Sea Basin. Due to the semi-arid climate, about 80% of the agricultural land in Central Asia is under irrigation. Waterlogging and soil salinity are major issues in the Aral Sea Basin due to the overuse of irrigation water and the poor performance of the drainage system. Salinization now affects over 47.5% of the irrigated lands of Central Asia. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the most affected with over half of the irrigated land subjected to secondary salinization. In addition, due to climate change, periods of water scarcity have increased in recent years, and this is an additional challenge for irrigated agriculture. To address water, land and ecological issues, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) launched a project titled ‘Ecologically oriented regional development in the Aral Sea region’ in 2020. The project covers Mangistau, Kyzylorda and Khorezm provinces of Kazakhstan as well as Karakalpakstan, which is an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan. A subproject under the GIZ project mentioned above was initiated by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) together with national partners from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This project is titled ‘Increasing water use efficiency in the Aral Sea region’. The overall objective of this project is to assess the benefits of adopting innovative irrigation technologies for improving rural livelihoods and achieving ecological sustainability in the Aral Sea region. This overall objective is divided into three sub-objectives: (1) study the existing challenges related to water-use efficiency in selected pilot areas of the region; (2) develop an action plan to overcome these challenges as a proactive response strategy; and (3) organize training and capacity building activities for project stakeholders based on a needs assessment.