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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.

Summary of Recent Activities:

In the first quarter of 2019, the team conducted a number of meetings, either in person or online, with project partners in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan to exchange data and information, discuss ongoing tasks and research activities, and to collaborate on outputs within the framework of the project. The data collected by partners were processed, cleaned and prepared by the project team for input to the SWAT model and for calibration. A dry, test run and calibration of SWAT model using collected data was performed by our modelling expert and initial results were produced. The project team identified gaps and issues that need to be addressed in terms of data and methodology before performing a final run of the SWAT model, which is planned to be completed in May 2019.

Work also continued on drafting a paper on the topic of spatio-temporal variation of vegetation coverage in Aral Sea Basin. The project team conducted a systematic literature review of other papers which used remote sensing techniques to study vegetation coverage in other parts of the world. They will continue to edit and write this paper, and plan to submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed journal in the coming months.

During this period, the team also completed collection of data on socioeconomic conditions in the sites of the Amu Darya river basin located in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The team is also in the process of conducting a systematic literature review and analyzing data on socioeconomic conditions in various sites of the Amu Darya river basin, and drafting a coherent report with analytical findings and recommendations for next steps. Additionally, they participated in several exchange meetings to share project outputs and discuss project findings in collaboration with ongoing PEER projects and other development projects in the region. Discussions about project activities and outputs took place in meetings with various international organizations, including USAID Mission, ADB, World Bank, ECDEVCO, EU, GIZ, and Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Landscapes Research (ZALF).

Moving forward, the team continues to build on their work over the last two years of project implementation and have planned further activities and outputs for the coming year. The team plans to prepare policy briefs (with relevant data) based on project findings for relevant decision makers. During the reporting period, work continued on refining our methodologies, models and tools for application of GIS/RS to analyze water flows in the Amudarya river basin and climate change and analysis of satellite images. These tools will help to inform decision makers and will be useful for the basin management authorities. The team hopes that relevant decision makers use these developed models, tools and maps to identify gaps and needs, to improve water management practices, and to support evidence-based policymaking. All produced models and tool will be shared via the project website and capacity building activities, which is under progress. Moreover, developed models and tools will also be shared with government organizations, NGOS, scientific organizations, and university students in the region.

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