Tajikistan warns neighbours drought may be coming

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajikistan, which sits on Central Asia’s main water source, warned its citizens and neighbours in the region on Tuesday of a potential drought this year and urged them to stock up on food.

Amu Darya, the biggest river in ex-Soviet Central Asia, originates in mountainous Tajikistan, the region’s poorest country, which uses its tributaries to generate electric power and irrigate farmland.

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, located downstream, have repeatedly complained they do not receive their fair share of the river’s resources, because Tajikistan is filling up its reservoirs to ensure there is enough for the winter.

“Snowless winter and early spring this year are harbingers of a potential drought,” President Imomali Rakhmon told a government meeting on Tuesday. This could threaten food security, he said, ordering the cabinet to make sure there were enough food stocks for the 8.5 million population.

A drought could worsen the already strained ties between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the region’s most populous nation which depends heavily on agriculture.

During the Soviet period, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, also rich in water resources, received energy supplies in winter in exchange for providing their neighbours Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan with water in the summer.

Since the 1990s, the system has fallen apart and Dushanbe and Bishkek have little incentive to let the water flow during the hot months when they need less power.

The potential water crisis also comes at the time when economies across the region are struggling with the effect of low oil prices, which pushed their key partner Russia into recession, and a slowdown in China.

Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth