A new perspective on an old water challenge – Kazakhstan

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Aizat, a water professional in Kazakhstan, faces an unusual challenge – how to manage water resources for a landlocked country located in an arid zone.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, Kazakhstan is forecast to face significant shortfalls up to 50% of its water needs by 2040. River water resources are declining, mainly due to climate change and human activity.

“Our region is most susceptible to negative changes. Kazakhstan urgently needs decisive action.”

With that in mind, Aizat attended the annual online presentation of the United Nations World Water Development Report hosted by Central Asian Regional Network for Capacity Building in Water Resources Management (CAR@WAN).

Each year, the Network organizes an online discussion of the contents of the report, which is published by UN Water and UNESCO, to identify challenges and opportunities that can be applied to the Central Asian regional context.

Aizat’s team is engaged in ground monitoring and analysis of the hydrological characteristics of surface runoff, so she found this year’s report theme “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible” particularly useful.

Aizat was introduced to the concept of the “water footprint” – a calculation of the volume of ‘blue water’ (fresh surface water and groundwater combined) that is withdrawn and not returned to groundwater or surface water systems because the water evaporated or was incorporated into a product. Currently, her team’s water balance calculations do not factor in deadweight losses.

While Aizat does not have the data to calculate water footprint for her region, she understands its value and the long term commitment to achieving this result, and is taking steps to implement the data collection tools to gather information.

Aizat’s main takeaway is that a holistic approach is required – especially with Kazakhstan’s shared water resources with neighbouring countries (and the associated conflicts) as well managing upstream and downstream activities for better water allocation.