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Improved water delivery in the delta region of Syrdarya River, Kazakhstan

Over the last 25 years the region of Syrdarya river has dried out, impoverishing local communities. Improvements to water infrastructure have helped transform the lifes of local people.
Multiple Authors


Once full of water, the delta region of the Syrdarya river has completely dried out over the last 25 years, largely due to over-exploitation of water resources from the expansion of cotton and rice production. Projections of climate change in the region indicate a likely increase in winter precipitation and a decrease in summer precipitation. While glacial melt may initially increase stream flow in spring and early summer, summer flow will decrease further in the medium term as glaciers retreat and there is a lower contribution from meltwater. The climate signal is thus likely to exascerbate the situation, and will require adaptation measures.

The over-exploitation of water resources had transformed the surrounding region from a green landscape, where crop production and pastures were well supplied by the sufficient amount of water, to an arid area with dry, sandy air and salty water. Consequently the local community diminished from a population of 2500 people, all of whom had enough food for the household, to a few households who continued to live in such unbearable socio-ecological conditions because they had no place to go.

One such household had to scale down their productive farming land from 9 ha to 0.8 ha due to the shortage of irrigation water, which itself was salty and resulted in low crop productivity. Only potatoes and some vegetables formed viable crops. Fresh water had to be collected by horse from 30 km away. To earn enough money to support themselves the eldest son of the household had to find work as a laborer in the regional city.

The NGO “Tabiat Alemi”, partnered with the Committee on Forestry and Wildlife (Ministry of Agriculture, Kazakhstan) and the Research Institute of Rice Growing, and with support from a community micro project grant from UNDP Kazakhstan and the Coca Cola Company‘s New World initiative, worked to improve access to fresh water through rehabilitating abandonned water channels and installing water filters.

The featured document (see right-hand column) tells the story of this intervention through the eyes of the eldest son of the household described above. The text below details the main methods and outcomes of the project.


The water channels that had previously been used to transfer water form the Syrdarya river had filled up with silts and clays.

To improve the water delivery these long since abandonned water channels were rehabilitated in order to provide water to the village. The project also supported the installation of water filters so that the local community has access to pure water.

A number of diverse community- and farmer-centered trainings were also conducted as part of the project, including training on how to efficiently build houses and on improved agricultural practices. All the trainings were divided proportionally into theoretical and practical exercises, and were based on the principle of “Learning by Doing”, e.g. farmers were implementing new aghricultural practices demonstration plots on their own, but under the general supervision and instruction of the experts.

Outcomes and Impacts

As a result of this intervention the household described above, which represents the wider community, now has sufficient irrigation water to revitalize farming efforts to their full capacity of 9 ha.

They can now cultivate many crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, wheat, maize, cucumber as well as many other seasonal crops, and aim for two harvests in a year. Business people come to the village to buy the crops, which the household sells themselves in local and regional markets in order to make a good income. In their second year they expect to double their income through using their own seeds and improved cropping technologies, which they have learnt from the project experts.

The improved income has meant that the eldest son no longer has to go to the city to work and has been able to build his own house. It has also enabled the younger brother to open his own agricultural product shop in the village, which sells not just the farming products from the household but also quality agricultural supplies to the village, providing local farmers access to the quality agricultural products they need to build up their own businesses.

A year before the project there were about 35 households living in the village, now there are around 79 households. People are moving back to their roots because of the improved socio economic conditions.

The improved water supply has been used to establish a well-functioning nursery system that is now employing around 200 people, equal to almost 90 percent of the local working age population.

The improved water delivery system has also positively contributed to the livestock breeding system in the region due to improved pastures and a stock water management system.

I never though just because of improved delivery of water, our region may reverted back to green and boosted living livelihood and production system in the region; it is especially, a very special moments when no one had even a tiny hopes that we may return to these productive periods” Mt. Smagulov, local farmer

Irrigation restores productivity in previously abandoned farm land

The Environmental Education Center “Tabigat alemi” aims to provide solutions that protect the environment and improve quality of life in Kazakhstan, and to become powerful corporations in the field of management consulting. It is currently the only center working on improving the professional skills of workers in specially protected natural territories of Kazakhstan.

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