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Ghoomta Aina 

Tamilakhon Khaydarova. 


The Qosh Tepa Canal: its Impact on Afghanistan and Central Asia.


The research paper highlights the crucial role of the Amu Darya River, as a key water source in Central Asia in providing it for agriculture and drinking purposes while also maintaining the ecosystem of the regions.The article also emphasizes the importance to consider geopolitical factors in the creation of the large-scale projects like Qosh Tepa Canal, because it will help to ensure management of water resources and minimize any negative implications.The article studies all the concerns about the absence of water sharing agreements and potential conflicts among countries that located on the Amu Darya River basin. It also supports the view that Afghan people have full rights to use the river water resources.In addition, the paper highlights the challenges associated with the construction and its impact on both Afghanistan and Central Asian region. Finally, the paper proposes some possible solutions.



One of the main sources of life, which also has a significant impact on the environmental, economic, hydrological and energy situation of any country, is water. However, the availability and further use of water resources has always been a problem that exacerbates the possibility of long-term problems arising not only at the environmental level, but also at the political one, which in turn affects the social and economic stability of the state.

The ocean holds about 97 percent of the Earth’s water; the remaining three percent is distributed in many different places, including glaciers and ice, below the ground, in rivers and lakes, and in the atmosphere.[1]

Improper use and distribution of water resources can lead to water shortages for most of the population. In this situation, water scarcity will not only mean a reduction in drinking water, but will also affect agriculture and energy production, leading to economic instability and social unrest. For this reason, many international experts believe that water can be both a reason for cooperation and the formation of conflicts; therefore, water use can in many cases be classified as a potential threat to the aggravation of relations between states. River basins that cross the borders of several states can contribute to the formation of these misunderstandings. This problem is not a product of the XXth century. One of the historical examples is the war that took place in 2500 BC between the Sumerian states of Lagash and Umma in the Tigris-Euphrates basin. Both cities sought to control the rivers and canals that provided water to irrigate fertile fields. Lack of water and competition for irrigated land created a tense situation between the two states. The conflict escalated when Lagash began building irrigation systems to divert water from the Ummah. This led to armed clashes, with the armies of both cities fighting for control of the water resources and surrounding lands.

One of the largest rivers in Central Asia, with a rich history and high geopolitical and geoeconomical significance for country-users is Amu Darya. The river is formed by the confluence of the Vakhsh and Panj (Pyandzh) rivers (at which point it becomes known as the Amu Darya) and flows west-northwest. In its upper course the Amu Darya forms part of Afghanistan’s northern border with TajikistanUzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. It then flows across the desert of eastern Turkmenistan and in its lower course forms part of the boundary between Uzbekistan to the northeast and Turkmenistan to the southwest.[2] River has been home to various cultures, empires and civilizations for many centuries and firstly was traditionally known as Oxus or Jayhun.

The significance of this river is highlighted by the fact that it is one of the main key waterways in Central Asian regions: the river provides water for agriculture and drinking water and plays an important role in regulating water resources as well as maintaining the region’s ecosystem.

However, the Amu Darya River also faces challenges related to environmental and geopolitical factors. Over the past decades, the water level in the Aral Sea has been declining due to water withdrawal from the Amu Darya for agriculture. This has led to serious environmental problems such as the destruction of fisheries and decreased water quality. And for now, a new element of the problem directly affecting Central Asia is the construction of the Qosh Tepa Canal, which began in early 2022.



For much of the 20th century, Afghanistan relied on the water resources of the Amu Darya River, one of the largest waterways in Central Asia, to supply its agricultural needs. This river, rises in the Badakhshan Mountains the northern spurs of the Hindu Kush, provided the water for irrigation of fertile fields and pastures necessary for growing grain crops, vegetables and livestock. However, in the late 1970s, Afghanistan faced serious water supply problems due to political and military events.

Prior to the outbreak of the war, the former Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the former Kingdom of Afghanistan, in an effort to further expand and strengthen economic cooperation between both countries, taking into account the interest of both countries in the integrated use of water resources of the border section of the Amu Darya River,[3] signed bilateral agreements (1958 and 1961), an important condition of which was the obligation of the parties not to construct water facilities on the river without the consent of the other party. The subsequent entry of USSR troops into Afghanistan in December 1979, as well as the internal instability of the country, led to the fact that Afghanistan for a long period did not have the opportunity to take advantage of the river’s water resources. This had a negative impact on the Afghanistan northern provinces’ agriculture and economy, as many farmers were crippled by the lack of water to irrigate their fields and feed their livestock.

Reduced access to water resources has also led to environmental problems such as deteriorating soil quality and declining biodiversity in the region. These negative impacts have affected not only the agricultural sector, but also the lives of local residents who depend on these resources for food and to feed their families. These treaties themselves lost their force after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

However, Afghanistan is located on the Amu River basin and part of the river’s water originates from Afghan soil, Afghanistan has the right to use the water from the Amu River. But Afghanistan has not been given the opportunity to use the Amu River’s water because of the continuous conflicts. In March 2022, construction of the Qosh Tepa canal began after the new Taliban interim government came to power. According to provincial manager of the National Development Company Farid Azim, the construction of this development project was planned long before that, under the government of the late Sardar Mohammad Dawood Khan.[4]

Based on the results, it is known that the first stage of the canal construction was almost completed in March 2023. Considering the seriousness and initial results of the project, Afghanistan can be called a new participant in the use of the water resources of the Amu Darya.

The length of the new canal should be 285 km, width – 100 meters, depth – 8.5 meters. The canal originates from the Amu Darya in Kaldar County, Balkh province. The water in the canal will be taken from the same river. The channel’s capacity will be 650 cubic meters per second. At the moment, 108 km have already been built.[5]


Impact on Afghanistan.

The Qosh Tepa project in Afghanistan might have some positive aspects, such as improving to some degree the country’s economy, might contribute to increasing the overall employment rates and reducing the percentage of poverty.

The economic growth. The Taliban expects the project to turn 550,000 hectares of desert into much-needed farmland.[6] An increased percentage of water reserves for irrigation will help expand agricultural activities, producing higher yields. In other words, the implementation of this project is valuable for Afghanistan because it will help them become more self-sufficient and less independent of the assistance of neighboring countries.

Job opportunities. The construction and operation of the canal will create additional employment opportunities for Afghanistan’s population. The result can be noted when checking the statistics – during the construction of the canal itself, a lot of labor was included, which helped reduce the unemployment rate. In addition, the expansion of agricultural activities after canal construction will also contribute to additional work opportunities in the agricultural sector for an even larger population.

Poverty reduction. Increasing agricultural productivity, facilitated by the Qosh Tepa Canal, will have a significant positive impact on poverty reduction. By virtue of fertility gained through the canal, farmers will be able to cultivate more land, increase yields and earn higher incomes. Positive changes will help to boost strengthening of the fight against poverty in the country.

Still, despite numerous benefits that Qosh Tepa Canal has for Afghanistan’s development as a nation, it also poses some challenges and risks connected to environmental sustainability, relations with neighboring countries and the displacement of local communities.

Environmental Concerns. There is a high probability that the canal construction will have negative consequences in that there may be a shortage of water for Central Asian republics and Afghanistan itself even in the short run, affecting ecosystem, agricultural and industrial sectors and water consumption by population. It may also contribute to the occurrence of drought in the vast region. To avoid the problem, it is necessary to take the appropriate steps to ensure the most efficient use of water and its correct distribution.

Relations with Central Asian region. The construction of the Qosh Tepa Canal in the Amu Darya River basin was a unilateral and uncoordinated decision on the part of Afghanistan, and of course did not cause a positive reaction from the Central Asian states. Although international law states that no one can cancel or limit any state in the use of transboundary water resources, it is worth noting that in order to maintain friendly relations between states when using transboundary water resources, it is necessary to take into account the opinions of states that also have the right to use them. At the moment, the difficulty is that the countries of Central Asia have not had any agreements on water sharing with Afghanistan. Moreover, Afghanistan has not signed the UN Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (adopted in 1992)[7], which leads to risks of deterioration in relations between the countries.


Impact on Central Asian region. 

For arid Afghanistan, the construction of the Qosh Tepa canal on the Amu Darya River could be a salvation, but at the same time a threat to water shortages in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, with the most disastrous effects on Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, located downstream, writes CabarAsia.[8] The division of water resources, geopolitical implications and competition for resources are causing concern and anxiety among Central Asian countries.

Sharing of water resources. Without water sharing agreements, the Qosh Tepa Canal requires a significant volume of water from the Amu Darya River, which negatively affects the availability of water for downstream countries and the ability to meet the needs of all recipients. According to the assessment of the chief specialist of Scientific-Information Center of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination of Central Asia (SIC ICWC), Anatoly Sorkin, the construction of the Qosh Tepa canal will lead to the withdrawal of 4-4.5 km³ of water annually and will reduce the total volume of water in the Amu Darya River by 12-13% (from 33 to 28.5 km³). After completion of the canal construction, within some years the average level of water intake in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the middle and lower reaches of the stream will decrease from 80% to 65%.[9] In this case, it is worth noting that the level of water intake in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan may have significant changes for agriculture and the economy of the countries, leading to the need to reduce irrigated land areas and deterioration of conditions in this type of production. These consequences may increase the likelihood of competition for greater access to resources.

Geopolitical consequences. Issues about resource sharing, especially without usage agreements, could cause tension and misunderstandings between Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. Water resources are of strategic importance to these countries, and disputes in this area could exacerbate existing geopolitical tensions.


Possible Solutions.

When addressing this problem, it is worth first of all to comprehensively study the positive and negative aspects for Afghanistan itself and the regions of Central Asia. The optimal solution should be beneficial for both parties, and also should not be negative when considering the consequences on a global scale.

A thorough environmental and social impact assessment of the project must be carried out. This includes studying the impact on ecosystems, watersheds and local communities. The development and implementation of measures to minimize negative impacts and compensate for possible damage should be an important part of the project.

Additionally, it is important to take into account the economic side of the project. A cost-benefit analysis needs to be carried out to ensure that the construction and operation of the Qosh Tepa Canal will be cost-effective and sustainable in the long term.

It is necessary to promote right thinking and education among the population, including youth and adults. This could include encouraging water conservation and initiatives proposed by youth. Educational programs, campaigns and events should raise awareness of the importance of conserving and efficiently using water resources, as well as the impact on the environment.

Further, it is important to ensure broad participation not only from countries bordering Afghanistan, but also from other states. The water problem is of global importance and the cooperation of all stakeholders is necessary to achieve a sustainable solution. International forums, negotiations and agreements should facilitate coordination and joint efforts in solving the problem.


Regional Cooperation and Diplomatic Efforts.

Regional cooperation and diplomatic efforts play a critical role in addressing problems and finding solutions to the Qosh Tepa Canal problem. It is vital to emphasize the importance of cooperation between participating countries to avoid potential conflicts and ensure equitable distribution of water resources. However, not all Central Asian states that have a common border with Afghanistan are taking action regarding the construction of the canal, and do not give their official position.  The most active participant in resolving this issue is Uzbekistan. The President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev on December 20, 2022 emphasized the importance of conducting a dialogue with the interim government of Afghanistan on the basis of international law and the interests of the countries sharing the water resources of the Amu Darya. Also in March 2023, the delegation of Uzbekistan, headed by A. Kamilov, the special representative of the President of the Republic on foreign policy, visited Afghanistan to discuss the construction of the canal.[10]

On September 15, at the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea  Council of Heads of State, the President of Uzbekistan noted that a new participant in the water use process had appeared in the region, and therefore it was proposed to form a joint working group to study all aspects of the construction of the canal and its impact on the water regime of the Amu Darya, as well as consider the issue of involving representatives of Afghanistan in the regional dialogue on the sharing of water resources. Shavkat Mirziyoyev noted: “We believe it is necessary to set up a joint working group to study all aspects of the construction of the Qosh Tepa canal and its impact on the water regime of the Amu Darya with the involvement of research institutes of our countries. We propose to consider the issue of involving representatives of Afghanistan into the regional dialogue on the sharing of water resources.”[11]

On September 20, 2023, at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan once again emphasized that “We need a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, which participates in regional cooperation processes and is open to mutually beneficial partnerships with all neighbors and other countries. Addressing the United Nations from the high podium, the President of Uzbekistan called on the international community to unite in solving the issue of Afghanistan and, under the guidance of the United Nations, develop a coordinated and constructive position on Afghanistan.[12]

Regarding existing international framework, one that can guide this cooperation is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. This convention provides a legal framework for the management and use of transboundary watercourses, emphasizing the principles of fair and reasonable use, cooperation and the prevention of significant harm. Participating countries can use this convention as a basis for negotiations and agreements regarding the Qosh Tepa Canal and the sharing of water resources.

Beyond the international framework, the role of international organizations and stakeholders is critical in promoting dialogue and cooperation between Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. Organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank and regional organizations such as the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) can provide a platform for discussion, technical assistance and support for sustainable water management practices. These organizations can help facilitate negotiations, provide expertise in water management, and contribute to the development of joint projects and initiatives.

Diplomatic efforts should be aimed at promoting dialogue, transparency and confidence-building among participating countries. Regular consultations and diplomatic exchanges can create opportunities for open discussions, exchange of information and search for mutually beneficial solutions. It is essential to develop a sense of shared responsibility and common goals in managing the region’s water resources. By emphasizing the importance of cooperation, using international frameworks, and engaging international organizations and stakeholders, participating countries can work together towards sustainable and equitable management of water resources in the region.



It seems the construction of the Qosh Tepa Canal might hold significance for the population of several provinces of Afghanistan, who are currently facing water shortage difficulties due to undeveloped water infrastructure. This project aims to provide a water supply for agriculture, industries and the local population. At the same time intake of water from Amu Darya may course negative ecological consequences for Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan itself.

However, it is important to acknowledge that building the Qosh Tepa Canal may give rise to geopolitical complexities within the region. The canal passes through countries territories necessitating agreement and cooperation among them for implementation. Given divisions, borders and conflicts in the region achieving this may be challenging. Nevertheless, if all parties involved display a willingness to find common ground through compromise and dialogue the construction of the Qosh Tepa Canal could serve as a model of regional cooperation and diplomatic efforts that transcend political differences while fostering peace and stability. Coordinated settlement of water problems in the Amu Darya basin with the participation of all interested parties will help strengthen stability and security in the vast region of Central and South Asia

To minimize the impact of the Qosh Tepa Canal, on both the Central Asian Region and Afghanistan and its inhabitants it is crucial to prioritize water management practices while actively involving all stakeholders. In order to ensure water management, it is crucial to create and execute strategies that consider the requirements of various sectors, like ecosystem, agriculture, industry and the general public. These strategies should encompass initiatives aimed at preserving water enhancing its efficiency and ensuring agreed distribution, among all users.



  1. Address by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev at a meeting of the Council of Heads of the Founder States of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. [ ]
  2. Amu Darya. [ ]
  3. Convention on the protection and use of transboundary watercourses and international lakes.                                                                            [ ]
  4. How will the Qosh Tepa Canal under construction in Afghanistan affect the Amu Darya? [ ]
  5. Islamic Emirate: Qosh Tepa Canal Will Not Infringe on Neighbors’ Water [ ]
  6. 45 Kilometers of Qosh Tepa Canal Completed: Hanafi [ ]
  7. MoI Establishes Special Unit to Ensure Security of Qosh Tepa Canal [ ]
  8. Mujahid: Afghanistan Has Right to Use Amu River Water [ ]
  9. Navigating water conflict in Central Asia: the Amu Darya River and the Qosh Tepa Canal Project [ ]
  10. Officials: 25% of 1st Phase of Qosh Tepa Canal Construction Completed [ ]
  11. Protocol between the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Royal Government of Afghanistan on joint work on the integrated use of water resources of the Amu Darya River in the border area between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. [ ]
  12. Qosh Tepa will radically change the water balance in Central Asia. [ ]
  13. Qosh Tepa Canal and the future of Taliban-Central Asia relations [ ]
  14. Qosh Tepa Canal [ ]
  15. Stanikzai Warns Pakistan Not to ‘Force Afghans to React’ [ ]
  16. Taliban vow to finish disputed canal at ‘any cost’ [ ]
  17. The delegation of Uzbekistan visited Afghanistan. [ ]
  18. The Grand Afghan Canal: How can Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan prepare for a new threat of water crisis? [ ]
  19. The President of Uzbekistan Speakes at the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly. [ ]
  20. The President of Uzbekistan Outlines the Prospects for Cooperation within the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. []
  21. The Taliban are digging an enormous canal [ ]
  22. Uzbekistan Delegates to Visit Afghanistan, Discuss Qosh Tepa Canal [ ]
  23. Uzbek President Concerned by Construction of Qush Tepa Canal [ ]
  24. Uzbekistan pursues dialogue with Afghanistan on fraught canal project [ ]
  25. Uzbekistan seeks diplomatic solution with Afghanistan on Qosh Tepa Canal [ ]
  26. Water conflict loom in Central Asia [ ]
  27. What Afghanistan’s Qosh Tepa Canal means for Central Asia? [ ]
  28. What difficulties will Uzbekistan face because of the Qosh Tepa Canal under construction in Afghanistan? [ ]
  29. Where is all of the Earth’s water? [ ]















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