* Karimov says regional water rows risk military conflict
* Criticises Tajik, Kyrgyz plans for hydropower dams
* UN, EU urge dialogue, say projects should be assessed
By Raushan Nurshayeva
ASTANA, Sept 7 A dispute over Central Asian
water resources risks provoking military conflict in the former
Soviet region, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said on Friday, in
a stinging criticism of plans by neighbouring states to dam
rivers for hydropower projects.
Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous country, depends on
the rivers that rise in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to irrigate
farmland. It has long been opposed to its neighbours' plans to
revive colossal Soviet-era projects to build dams upstream.
"Water resources could become a problem in the future that
could escalate tensions not only in our region, but on every
continent," Karimov told reporters in the Kazakh capital Astana.
"I won't name specific countries, but all of this could
deteriorate to the point where not just serious confrontation,
but even wars could be the result."
Uzbekistan has 8.2 people per hectare of irrigated land, one
of the highest proportions in the world, LaTUK, a Moscow-based
think tank focusing on Central Asia, said in a study published
in its publication 'The Great Game'.
With a population of 29 million, forecast to expand beyond
33 million by 2025, Uzbekistan will need more water. The amount
it receives have already fallen by nearly 20 percent in the last
few years, LaTUK research showed.
"This gradual reduction in water supply is fraught with
immense conflict potential, both in relations among the regional
states and for social stability inside the country," it wrote.
Upstream, the mountainous republics of Tajikistan and
Kyrgyzstan are among the poorest in the former Soviet Union.
Almost entirely dependent on imported power, both countries want
to use their rivers to generate electricity.
Kyrgyzstan launched its Kambarata-2 power station in 2010
and is pursuing Russian investment for the much larger
Kambarata-1 station, an estimated $2.5 billion project due for
competion by 2021.
Karimov was particularly scathing of Tajikistan's flagship
Rogun dam, a $2.2 billion project frozen pending completion of a
World Bank assessment. At 335 metres, Rogun would be the highest
man-made dam in the world.
"They're going for the Guinness world record, it would seem,
but we're talking here about the lives of millions of people who
cannot live without water," Karimov said.
"These projects were devised in the 70s and 80s, when we
were all living in the Soviet Union and suffering from
megalomania, but times change," said Karimov. "Hydropower
structures today should be built on a different basis entirely."
Tajik government officials were not available for comment.
'WE CANNOT REMAIN SILENT'
Water management has been a controversial issue in Central
Asia for centuries. The diversion of rivers to cultivate cotton
in Soviet times was responsible for the depletion of the Aral
Sea, which straddles the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Karimov was visiting Astana to drum up support from Kazakh
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, another veteran Central Asian
leader who, in 2010, expressed support for the resurrecting of a
Soviet scheme to divert Siberia's rivers southward.
"Kazakhs and Uzbeks have lived for many centuries along the
lower reaches of the Syr-Darya river," Karimov said, referring
to one of the region's biggest rivers. "For that reason, we
cannot remain silent."
Nazarbayev was more restrained. "We send brotherly greetings
to our neighbours upriver (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), a
reminder that we downriver - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan - are feeling the water shortage ... We hope to
resolve these issues together."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement
dated Sept. 5, urged Central Asian countries to negotiate on
water management and said the World Bank report on Rogun would
provide "informed guidance" for a decision on the Tajik project.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief,
said in a separate statement on Sept. 4 that any major
infrastructure project should be undertaken only if supported by
credible, independent studies.
Kyrgyz presidential adviser Farid Niyazov told Reuters the
country was prepared to sign up to "the relevant agreements".
"Projects will undergo the most meticulous studies and
thorough checks for security. It's in our interests too," he
told Reuters on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Almaty, Roman
Kozhevnikov in Dushanbe and Olga Dzyubenko in Bishkek; Writing
by Robin Paxton; Editing by Louise Ireland)