The prospect of water shortage for agricultural irrigation is a worry in parts of Central Asia. Yet water management practices in the region need an overhaul. Agricultural lands are irrigated using surface water. Given current concerns over water scarcity and unpredictable fluctuation in water resources, the risk of periodic lack of surface water for irrigation in the near future seems to be inevitable. But there is a resource, whose potential appears to be untapped yet. It is groundwater. It can be particularly useful for rural populations that rely on farming for their livelihoods and do not have access to sufficient water resources for irrigation.
There is evidence suggesting availability of groundwater in large parts of Central Asia. In particular Uzbekistan's renewable groundwater resources are estimated at 18.5 km3 and extraction is at 5.43 km3, of which 42% for household use, 25% for agriculture, and the rest for other uses. As the figures show, there is potential for increasing groundwater use for agricultural purposes.
True, this solution is not without disadvantages of its own, such as the risks of negative impact on sustainability, quality of water tables and availability of energy for pumping groundwater. Overuse can have an adverse effect. But if groundwater is used in a sustainable and targeted way, it can contribute to tackling the problem of water shortage for agricultural use in rural areas.
In Uzbekistan, groundwater is still used mainly for drinking and industrial purposes. However, the potential for agricultural uses is quite high.
IWMI, an international water think-tank, works in Central Asia, and in Uzbekistan in particular, to help to resolve such water-related issues through putting research into action and fostering knowledge-sharing between local scientists and their counterparts from other countries and international organizations.
In keeping with its goals, the IWMI office in Tashkent organized a meeting on India's experience of using groundwater for agriculture at the Uzbek Research Institute of Hydrogeology on 22 April 2013.
Dr Tushaar Shah, a senior research fellow with IWMI, who was visiting Uzbekistan, met Uzbek scientists to share and discuss the results of his case study on groundwater use for agriculture in India. Among those present were also Dr Arslon Mavlonov, deputy chair of the Committee of Geology of Uzbekistan, and Dr Botir Abdullaev, director of the Research Institute of Hydrogeology. Dr Shah's presentation was received well and raised the participants' interest in the potential agricultural uses of groundwater in Uzbekistan.
Overall the event helped to raise awareness of Uzbek researchers about the potential use of groundwater for farming in rural areas where there is lack of water. India's experience could help to solve similar problems in other Central Asian countries too.