Record high temperatures in Central Asia highlight need for climate action
In the summer of 2021, record high temperatures scorched Central Asia. Distressing videos and news showed livestock dying on pastures in the western provinces of Kazakhstan due to water shortages and lack of natural feed. Protests erupted in the northern region of Kyrgyzstan as farmers demanded water to irrigate their crops. Food prices continued to increase in Uzbekistan as the onset of drought led to harvest losses and limited supply of seasonal vegetables. Coupled with the impact of COVID-19 on the agrifood supply chains, these countries are struggling to get back on track for a sustainable socioeconomic recovery.
Agriculture has always played a significant role in the development of North and Central Asian countries. While agriculture’s share of the gross domestic product has decreased over the years, the sector still employs a significant share of the workforce. In these countries, the agricultural value-added has been stagnant in recent years and there has been limited structural transformation within the sector. Despite successes in agriculture product diversification and facilitating trade openness, the sector is still plagued by inefficient water use and outdated machinery and technology. The changing climate conditions – highlighted by the record-high temperatures this past summer – require the sector to adapt, but adaptation has not been quick enough due to structural limitations.
The agriculture sector is not just a victim of challenges related to climate change, but also a perpetrator. Overexploitation of water and water contamination exacerbates the water stress situation in the subregion. This does not bode well for a subregion with increasing demand for water resources as a result of economic development and population growth. Water will increasingly become a source of dispute as the water sources dry up.
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