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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Implications of climate change, land use, and adaptation interventions on water resources and agricultural production in the transboundary Amu Darya River Basin

PI: Zafar Gafurov (, International Water Management Institute
U.S. Partner: John Bolten, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Project Dates: December 2016 - May 2020

Project Overview:

The transboundary Amu Darya and Syr Darya river basins draining to the Aral Sea in Central Asia witnessed widespread land use and land cover changes (LULCC) during 20th century as a result of political reforms of agrarian systems to enhance economic opportunities for a growing population. These developments produced drastic change in the hydrological regime of these two river basins, causing widespread ecosystem degradation (Shira Babow, 2012). The need to sustain competing water uses at the local, national, and transboundary levels, including on upstream hydropower generation and downstream irrigation requirements under climate change, make the current situation more contentious (FCG, 2012). Realizing the need to balance and sustain competing water uses, national governments in Central Asia and international agencies are supporting numerous mitigation and adaptation interventions to improve overall water use efficiency in basins draining to the Aral Sea. However, successful interventions must be based on comprehensive understanding of the interactions in agro-hydrological systems at multiple scales covering sufficiently long time periods, and they must account for forecasted climate change impacts. So far, there are no openly available models and tools with detailed descriptions of such spatio-temporal changes and interactions of agro-hydrologic systems in the Amu Darya River Basin that can used to inform evidence-based decision-making by national research organizations and donor agencies. Even if studies on these topics were undertaken in the past, their availability is restricted. This project proposes to promote a greater understanding of past land use and land cover changes in the Amu Darya Basin, expected changes in the future, and basin-scale climate change impacts and adaptation interventions for water resources, using openly available long-term Earth observation datasets and a semi-distributed hydrological model (SWAT) detailing the agro-hydro-climatological system. The tools and models will act as vital management instruments for national water agencies and multilateral activities to assist in planning future interventions at basin or local scales.

This proposal aligns with USAID’s Regional Development Cooperation Strategy (RCDS) for the Central Asian region (2015-2019), specifically with regard to Development Objective DO 2: “Enhanced regional cooperation on shared energy and water resources.” This project will assess water resource availability in the Amu Darya Basin, looking at past, present, and future land-use and climate-change scenarios at the basin scale, covering all the riparian countries. The project will provide comprehensive, unbiased water resources scenarios for the basin at multiple scales for the riparian countries, thus serving as a conduit to help resolve prevalent sources of conflicts and promote integrated water resources management and greater regional cooperation on water issues. One of the main outcomes of this project is to provide local organizations in riparian countries involved in watershed management and planning with openly available, readily updatable model tools and map projections that can be used for designing and implementing intervention measures.

Within the scope of this project, close partnership and collaboration will be established between the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Karakalpak branch office of the Scientific Research Institute of Irrigation and Water Problems–Uzbekistan, Balkh University (Afghanistan), and the Institute of Water Problems, Hydropower Engineering, and Ecology of the Academy of Sciences–Republic of Tajikistan. In association with the U.S. partner based at NASA, IWMI will actively pursue knowledge transfer avenues on use of the expected project outputs, such as land-use change projections, water availability under climate-change scenarios, and use of the SWAT model by a wide stakeholder network covering national, regional, and international organizations. Best practices and lesson learned from a similar project in the Lower Mekong Basin undertaken by the U.S. partner will be incorporated into this Amu Darya Basin project. This project provides a structured opportunity to boost the application and knowledge transfer of freely available remote sensing data sets and hydrological models to the riparian countries to design, test, and share improved water management methods. These state-of-the-art tools, models, and insights will be used to bridge the existing technical knowledge gap among partners in the Amu Darya Basin and foster an environment for identifying solutions to address competing uses and anticipated environmental risks and conflicts.

Overall Summary of Activities:

The project was implemented from January 2017 to May 2020 and the scope of work comprised primarily establishing partnerships, data collection from research sites, review of literature and data to gather insights and gain a comprehensive understanding of water resources management in the region, establishing a database and review of water use issues in the region from primary and secondary data, an evaluation of existing water management practices in the region, and applying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and earth observation (EO) based models, methodologies and tools to study the management and use of water resources in the region. The project was led by IWMI in research partnership with: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA; Karakalpak branch of of Scientific Research Institute of Irrigation and Water Problems (KSRIIWP), Uzbekistan; Balkh University, Afghanistan; and, Institute of Water Problems, Hydropower Engineering, and Ecology of the Academy of Sciences, Republic of Tajikistan (GU TajikNIIGiM).

The project's main objectives included analyses of climate change dynamics, land use and land cover change, and their effects on various irrigation practices in the Amu Darya river basin. An important component of the project was to examine past land use and land cover changes, expected changes in future, climate change impacts and adaptation interventions of basic scale water resources using openly available time-series earth observation data and semi-distributed hydrological model (SWAT) detailing agro-hydro-climatological system. Additionally, within the framework of the project, the project team assessed the impact of past, as well as ongoing and planned, interventions on socioeconomic conditions in the areas of Amu Darya river basin located in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Activities undertaken by the project team during the the three years included:
  • Collection of data from both upstream and downstream partner organizations in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan to be used as input for modeling. The partner organizations were actively involved and contributed with valuable information, data, and technical assistance. The data provided by partners was processed, cleaned and prepared for input to the SWAT model.
  • Collection of remote sensing data and information from open sources and local partners, including satellite data from USGS for the Amu Darya river basin, and establishment of a database for further analyses of land cover and development of irrigated area mapping. Moreover, with the assistance of project partners, the team also collected ground truth data in the irrigated zones of the basin. Ground truth data was collected using GPS tools providing geographical locations of different crops and land cover types in irrigated zones of the study area.
  • Development of Google Earth Engine scripting methods for modeling delineation of irrigated areas and spatio-temporal variation of vegetation coverage in the basin. Additionally, the team was able to set a model in ArcGIS model builder to automatize the process of vegetation change analysis.
  • Collection of climate data for the Amu Darya river basin from the Centre of Hydrometeorological Service of Uzbekistan (UZHYDROMET) as well as from the database of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This data was used as input for the SWAT model and Evapotranspiration calculation using available methodologies.
  • Development of digital elevation models for Amu Darya river basin, as well as Syrdarya river basin, which are located partly in the territory of Central Asian countries and Afghanistan. Based on prepared elevation maps, the team extracted slope information and its characteristics for the study area.
  • Analyses on multiannual spatio-temporal variation of vegetation coverage for the period 2000 – 2016 was conducted using available MODIS satellite images. This analysis was done through scripting in Java API of Google Earth Engine and integrated with ArcGIS ModelBuilder.
  • Irrigated area change analyses for Amu Darya and Syrdarya river basins were successfully calculated using LandSat satellite images for different years (1993, 2000, 2010 and 2016). Similar to the previous activity, scripting approaches were applied and integrated with ArcGIS. Additionally, ArcMap tool for Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) calculation using satellite images were developed. This tool also allowed the team to delineate the point of interest in the study area.
  • Historical climate variables (input data for the SWAT model) were retrieved from Global Weather Data for SWAT (, which provides daily Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR) data (precipitation, wind, relative humidity, and solar) in SWAT file format for a given location and time period. This data was used to set up the model for the study area. Additionally, climate data from meteostations were also obtained from UZHYDROMET.
  • The team also collected available soil type data from various sources to use as soil input data for SWAT model. Soil type maps developed by FAO were analyzed for accuracy to meet the requirements of SWAT model. Moreover, soil maps for the territories of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan were obtained in paper format from Tajik Soil Science Research
  • GIS and RS/EO based geodatabase and mapping tools for a region in Kashkadarya province, Uzbekistan (which is part of the Amu Darya river basin) was completed. The primary goal of the geodatabase creation was to convert raw data into graphics and maps (using GIS and RS/EO mapping tools) for visual interpretation so that they user-friendly and can serve as a decision-support tool. It consists of various input data (land use, hydrologic data, climatological, infrastructure, basin characteristics, etc.), which were obtained from the domains of several government and non-government organizations. It shows the spatial and temporal distribution of water and land resources. The geodatabase also includes maps and tools on irrigation infrastructure (e.g., pump stations, irrigation canals, drainage network, etc.), irrigated areas by sources of irrigation, WUA boundaries, soil type and soil salinity, ground water table and its quality, digital elevation model, slope and aspect, irrigated land use change (for years 1977, 2000, 2015), and crop classification for 2016.
  • The team also conducted a systematic literature review on socioeconomic conditions in the various sites of the Amu Darya river basin, which involved establishing a strategy for scanning and identifying relevant literature (i.e., search parameters, inclusion/exclusion criteria, coding, etc.), performing review and analysis of relevant open source databases, examining data and information collected through fieldwork and surveys, and drafting a well-thought out, organized report with analytical findings and recommendations for next steps.
  • The project employed SWAT model to evaluate hydrological behavior of the Aral Sea basin and to provide remote sensing products, tools and information for the stakeholders in the region. This was one of the first attempts to run the SWAT model for entire Aral Sea basin. This model was developed using remotely sensed land use maps and soil data including climatic parameters. Outputs of the SWAT model will help better understand the use and management of water resources and serve as decision-support tool.
  • One of the main efforts in the project focused on the publication of research papers based on project findings. The team completed a paper titled "Modifying Hargreaves-Samani Equation for Estimating Reference Evapotranspiration in dryland regions of Amudarya River Basin," which was accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed, open-access Journal of Agricultural Sciences (Vol.9, No.10) in October, 2018. The team is currently in the process of editing and finalizing another paper on the topic of spatio-temporal variation of vegetation coverage in Aral Sea Basin and plan to submit this paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal in the coming months.
  • The project team carried out several capacity building activities at Tashkent Institute of Irrigation and Agricultural Mechanization Engineers (TIIAME) involving students and researchers from TIIAME and UZHYDROMET, in which team members provided lectures and training sessions based on the findings from project activities. One of the major events was a two-week international summer school (Summer 2018) organized in collaboration with CAREC for students and researchers from Central Asian universities, in which team members provided lectures and training sessions based on the findings from project activities. These activities have been well received by participants, and following their success, the project team has been invited back to conduct more of these events. More information about these events (e.g., agenda, participant list, summaries, etc.) were shared in previous reports.
  • The project team also participated in numerous conferences, policy dialogues, seminars and exchange meetings to share and disseminate project outputs and discuss project findings in collaboration with ongoing PEER projects and other development projects in the region. 
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