Central Asia steadily moves to desertification

Thawing of glaciers, convergence of landslides and avalanches, exhaustion of water stocks, droughts, decrease in productivity of crops and desertification of territories are not the complete list of negative consequences of global warming for Central Asia which is very vulnerable to climate changes on the Eurasian continent. By estimates of the World Bank (WB), economy of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan lose from 0.4% to 1.3% of annual GDP from natural disasters. But if weather continues to change in the same direction, much more serious problems are waited the region.

“That’s another story”

Objective data really set a trap. From the middle of the 20th century average temperature in the southern part of the region grew on 0.5ºC, and in northern – on 1.6ºC. The area of glaciers of the Pamir and the Tian Shan was reduced on a third. The main waterways of the region the Syr Darya River and Amu Darya begin the way from there. All this leads to gradual exhaustion of water stocks.

“Rather small glaciers which are in mountains especially in droughty areas are very important to regulate a river drain. Now glaciers … are quickly reducing everywhere. It is especially dramatic, for example, for areas of Central Asia because in the winter glaciers accumulate weight, and in the summer they give back. This snow turns into water in the spring and summer; flows down, and feeds fields. In case these glaciers disappear absolutely, the hydrological mode in these areas will sharply change and it is necessary to expect only an atmospheric precipitation and an underground drain, and that’s another story”, – the corresponding member of RAS, the director of Institute of geography of RAS Olga Solomina explains.

For years there are discussions around threat of destruction of a fragile mountain ecosystem owing to development of gold veins around glaciers Lysyy (the lower part is covered with breed dumps) and Davydov (is partially destroyed). But scientists claim that over time glaciers will equilibrate impact of mining industry. Another matter is temperature.

“The Tian Shan, Altai and Pamir are surrounded with deserts. In the south we have a Takla Makan Desert which in one and half times more, than Kyrgyzstan. In the West there is Kara Kum, in the north – desert territories of Kazakhstan”, – the glaciologist (glaciology is the science about natural ices in different versions on the Earth’s surface) Ryskul Usubaliyev explains. The flying dust, like flour is kicked up, and accumulates on tops of mountains, creating a thermal blanket on glaciers, and strengthens processes of their degradation.

The Amu Darya and Syr Darya dry up

Reduction of an ice cover leads to shallowing of two main waterways of the region – the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. “Contribution” to desertification also brings growth of the population in the countries of Central Asia. According to forecasts of the WB, by 2050 it will grow by 30% that in total with development of agriculture will considerably increase the need for water supply.

Eventually, if the climate changes further, and raise an intake of water, to the middle of the century water flow in a river basin of the Syr Darya can decrease by 2-5%, and in the basin of the Amu Darya –10-15%. For the region it bears catastrophic consequences. First, agriculture where today from 30 to 60% of inhabitants of the region are busy will suffer and 10% of GDP are produced. For example, by the end of century in some parts of Tajikistan because of “a thermal stress” the productivity of grain can be reduced by 30%. In Kazakhstan where 66% of lands are subject to a drought, collecting grain by 2030 can decrease by 37%, and by 2050 – for 48%.

Besides, shallowing of the rivers will strike serious blow to power supply of the region. At preservation of the current trends in about thirty years the efficiency of hydropower owing to falling of a drain can decrease by 20%. This problem is especially relevant for such countries as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The share of hydroelectric power station in their energy balance sometimes reaches 90%.

Some zones in Central Asia can become unsuitable for life at all. By the end of the XXI century a part of Kazakhstan and a half of Kyrgyzstan can undergo desertification, huge territories of Turkmenistan and especially Uzbekistan can turn into droughty zones. The situation with water supply of the last critically depends on fullness of the Amu Darya. “I will not remember large inflows of the Amu Darya on the territory of the republic, and it is not necessary to expect rainfall in this region. So there remains one source – this waterway”, – professor of the Center of power, oil and mining law and the policy of the University of Dundee in Scotland Sergey Vinogradov reminds.

According to him, it is necessary to create a new ecosystem in the delta of the main river of the republic that “not to allow transformation of this territory into a salt desert”. To achieve these objectives, considering plans of Tashkent for construction of reservoirs with a total amount of 45 cubic kilometers will be difficult.

The situation is aggravated with the fact that climate change happens not linearly. The droughty periods are replaced by pouring rains that leads to not less dangerous natural disasters. Only last year in Tajikistan because of floods, rockfalls, a descent of mud streams thousands of houses were destroyed, tens of thousands of people suffered, 20 people died. This year “on the territory of Tajikistan unstable weather in the form of intensive rainfall which, in turn, provoked a descent of torrential floods remains”, reported republic CES at the beginning of June. Strongly some districts of the Sughd region were damaged.

Heavy rains heat also Uzbekistan. Since spring the capital of the republic Tashkent “floats”: the hail, the gale-force wind which is rooting out trees with a root already caused considerable damage to the city.

From the middle of March there were rains in Turkmenistan that provoked floods and mudflows on the territory of the country. “Such incessant rains are a rarity for our region. More often there is a drought. Mud streams happen only in the mountain area when thawing glaciers. City infrastructure did not sustain long heavy rains”, – the director of the Center of research initiatives “Ma’no” Bakhtiyor Ergashev explained.

The Etrek River which broke through a dam brought a lot of trouble in the Balkan region of Turkmenistan. As a result of its exit from coast several embankments of the railroad Iran-Kazakhstan were washed away, a number of houses were destroyed, electro-and gas supply was torn off, a lot of cattle died. Considerable damage is caused by a flood also to crop production, in particular flooded cotton fields. But such abundance of rainfall should not create an illusion that now in Central Asia the surplus of water resources was formed. The rainy periods will replace long droughts and vice versa until glaciers completely disappear. If the climate continues the movement on a knurled track, only temperature and number of cataclysms steadily will grow.

For example, in Kyrgyzstan, by estimates of the WB, the general damage from earthquakes is about $200 million a year, damage from floods – $60 million, and damage from landslides – $2.6 million. It is possible to fight against global climate changes by creation of reliable systems of forecasting of weather, mechanisms of early warning and services of the emergency response to the approaching climatic anomalies. Large-scale investments into construction of the infrastructure steady against various weather cataclysms are also necessary. In agriculture and power, implementation of more effective technologies of use of the available resources and adaptation to new climatic conditions is necessary.

This is the general basis for work within EEU and projects for EDB and also intraregional interaction. “Climate change is a common problem for all countries of Central Asia therefore fight against its consequences demands joint efforts in regional cooperation”, – the leading expert on ecology and natural resources of the WB in Central Asia Gayane Minasyan noted. Atmospheric fronts, exhaustion of water resources, desertification do not know administrative borders and affect all inhabitants of the region, irrespective of color of the passport and nationality.