Glacial melting in Central Asia poses severe environmental and security risks for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Glaciers presently contribute up to 70% of the water flow in the major river systems of the region during hot, dry summers. It is predicted that between 64% and 95% of the glacial area over large parts of Central Asia will be lost as a result of melting by 2100.
The reduction of water flow from such a change in glacial area is at present poorly understood, but is likely to be dramatic, particularly in hot, dry summers. Large reductions in water flow will have severe consequences for the ecological functioning of rivers as well as the water, energy and food security of all Central Asian countries.
Measurement of glaciers in Central Asia started in the 1930’s. Since that time, approximately one third of the glacial area, of those monitored, has been lost as a result of melting. Because glacial melting provides a large proportion of the water flow in the major Central Asian rivers, the loss of much of the glacial area as a result of global warming will have severe consequences for ecological functioning of water bodies (e.g. rivers, lakes and Aral Sea), as well as water, energy and food security in the region.
Additional threats posed by glacial melting include an increase in glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), landslides and mudslides. Indeed, it is well recognized within Central Asia, that glacial melting poses one of the greatest security threats to the entire region. For example, the Kyrgyzstan president announced on the 28th July 2009, in his inauguration speech, that one of the priorities of the future for Kyrgyzstan is adapting to climate change impacts, especially with regards to glacial melting.
Without the supply from glacial melting, irrigated agriculture in future hot, dry summers will largely collapse in many parts of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This will greatly jeopardise general security in the region.
The Fergana Valley provides a present-day example of how water shortages can create conflict between communities. The effects of glacial melting will have a multiplier effect on such conflicts, but to date the ramifications of glacial melting across all sectors have not been explicitly studied.