The Aral sea basin programs


First Aral Sea Basin Program

World community recognized the environmental crisis in the Aral Sea Basin as the largest environmental disaster of the last century resulting in severe socio-economic consequences for the population of the subregion inhabited by over 50 million people. In 1994, the Heads of the Central Asian States adopted the first “Aral Sea Basin Program” (ASBP-1). Due to the water-management focus of the ASBP-1 and certain issues with cross-sectoral coordination, it soon became obvious that there is a need for a new approach to planning and implementation of these activities in the region.

Main objective of the IFAS thereunder was to raise funds from the five Central Asian States and the international donor community to finance the Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP).

Development of the first Program was initiated in 1992, with the active participation of the World Bank, UNDP and UNEP. The main goals of the Program, which was launched in 1994, included:

  • stabilizing the environment in the Aral Sea Basin
  • restoring the affected environment of the Aral Sea Region
  • improving management of water and land resources in the Basin
  • creating management structures at all levels for planning and implementation of the Program.

All work under the ASBP-1 was divided in two stages. The preparatory stage was allocated 3 to 5 years, and about USD 30 million. The second stage – the stage of implementation – was allocated 10 to 15 years, with the overall cost of work estimated at about USD 500-750 million. The program included eight components based on a concept of projects, some of which were already quite well elaborated.

Having completed most of the work under the initial preparatory stage, in the first half of 1997, the five Central Asian States and the major international organizations which funded this program undertook a joint survey of the status of the ASBP-1, including its organizational and management framework. The meeting produced the following recommendations for the second phase of the Program: (I) in order to obtain the unconditional support of the Central Asian States, put the main emphasis on implementation of fast output projects; (II)  highlight the most demonstrative practical results of projects; (III)  develop coherent policies and action programs focusing on water and natural resources management at the level of the states and the entire region, with the goal to reduce the amount of water intake from the Amudarya and Syrdarya Rivers by 15 percent; (IV) improve work with the civil society and the public, and create favorable conditions supporting the policy improvements in this area.

The paragraphs below offer a brief description of works under the main projects and activities.

Regional strategy for water resources management

The preparatory stage was successfully completed. The National and Regional Reports prepared with the assistance from the World Bank and with the active participation of experts and consultants, UNDP, USAID and WARMAP were presented. Based on the results of these reports, key stakeholders decided to move to the second phase of the Program. The IFAS Board approved the Terms of Reference for the second stage of the program. Implementation of the second stage of the program began in 1998 in form of the project on water and environmental management. Three draft Agreements to improve the management of transboundary waters were prepared and sent to the member-states.

Ensuring the stability of dams and reservoirs

The project was funded from the Trust Fund of the Government of Switzerland and equity financing of the Central Asian States. It completed assessment of safety and stability of 10 dams, two in each of the five countries in the region, and developed appropriate investment plans. By means of pilot projects, monitoring and early warning systems were modernized on selected dams.

Hydrometeorological Services

Under the supervision of Swiss experts, the National and Regional Groups undertook an assessment of needs of the National Hydrometeorological Services (NMHS). The detailed assessment reports have been sent out to all the countries in the region and the donors. Based on these reports, it was proposed to equip 25 transboundary waters monitoring stations with hydrological equipment to process and transfer data to the NMHS. The Swiss government funded equipment of experimental meteorological and hydrological stations in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The UK and U.S. governments funded the purchase of equipment for the NMHS in Uzbekistan to receive and process satellite data.

Regional Environmental Information System

A series of activities was implemented under the guidance of the TACIS-WARMAP experts. The project established two regional and five national centers hosting databases on the environment and water resources. This resulted in online publishing of the five updated reports reflecting the current environmental situation.

Water quality management

Numerous detailed reports were produced on the use of water resources, their quality assessment and management practices, development of pilot projects, proposals for improving the legal framework, standards and regulations, options and issues in strategic planning, pollution prevention, water quality management. The research was funded mainly by the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


Drainage system in Uzbekistan

The MAWR RU developed the Irrigation and Drainage Sector Development Strategy and supervised preparation of the feasibility report and the feasibility study of this project. The team of experts presented alternative options of improving the drainage water disposal system and the baseline scenario, as well as evaluations thereof, and completed the environmental assessment of the Project.

Restoration of wetlands

In close cooperation with local experts, international consultants undertook a series of preliminary studies, the results of which laid grounds to prepare a coherent strategy for restoration of biological diversity, and contained an assessment of prospects of the Pilot Project to restore the biological diversity of the Lake Sudochye worth USD 3.9 million. The project was included in the GEF-funded WEMP project, and its implementation was successfully completed in mid-2002.

Restoration of the Northern Aral Sea

The work started with identification and assessment efforts under the project “Regulation of the Syrdarya River flow and the water level in the northern part of the Aral Sea” (Stage I), which had an overall budget of USD 65 million. This project was the first major investment project within the general Program for the economic development in the Kazakhstan part of the Syrdarya River Basin, devised in accordance with the main lines of action of the ASBP. The Project provided for six components: restoration of the Northern Aral Sea, improvement of hydrological monitoring of Syrdarya River, restoration of Shardara Dam, restoration of aquatic biological resources; monitoring and evaluation; institutional development. The main objectives of the project were to: (I) develop the agriculture (including livestock industry) and fisheries in the Kazakhstan part of the Syrdarya Basin; (II) preserve the Northern Aral Sea and improve the environment in the delta of Syrdarya and in the Aral Sea Region.

Environmental studies in the Aral Sea Basin

With the financial support from international donors, the Program undertook a number of environmental studies on the Aral Sea shrinkage impact.

Syrdarya River Flow Regulation and Delta Development Project

The project was implemented as a component of the umbrella Project on Regulation of the Syrdarya River Flow and Preservation of the Northern Aral Sea. Preliminary stages were funded by the Government of Italy.


Clean water supply, sanitation and health – Uzbekistan

The work started with identification and assessment efforts under the Project to improve water supply, sanitation and health of people in Karakalpakstan and the Khorezm province, the overall budget of the project amounted to USD 120 million. The project started in 1998. Funding was provided by the World Bank (USD 75 million), the Government of Germany (USD 9.4 million), and the Kuwait Fund (USD 19.8 million). The main components of the project included: (I) improvements in water supply; (II) improvements in sanitation, health and hygiene; (III) provision of technical assistance; (IV) project management, design and supervision.

Clean water supply, sanitation and health – Turkmenistan

The identification and evaluation efforts under the project focused on the town of Dashoguz. The overall cost of the project was USD 30.3 million.

Clean water supply, sanitation and health – Kazakhstan

The identification and evaluation efforts under the project focused on the towns of Aralsk and Kazalinsk in Kyzylorda province, funded by the World Bank (USD 7.7 million) in 1998 and the follow-up project funded by the Government of Germany (USD 7.7 million) and the Kuwait Fund (USD 11.5 million).

Integrated water and land management project in the upper watershed

Reports describing the main issues and proposals for pilot projects in the runoff formation zone were developed and distributed to the Central Asian States and international donors.

Operational management of water resources

The scope of the project included equipment of channel Dustlik in Uzbekistan with instrumentation. The purchase and installation of equipment and training of local staff was financed by the Government of Canada (CIDA). The monitoring equipment was installed on the River Chirchik (Karasu), funded by the U.S. government. The French government has funded the pilot project at the upper reach of the Southern Golodnostepsky canal.

Capacity Development

Local staff was trained in methods and rules of procurement, disbursement of loans, and management. The Government of the Netherlands funded the equipment of the ICAS and IFAS offices. The funding from the UNDP was used for the capacity development project in regional organizations. The main objective of the project was to build the capacity of ICAS and its institutions (ICSD and ICWC).

Water and Environment Management Project (WEMP)

The largest regional project was the GEF-funded Water and Environment Management Project (WEMP), funded by the governments of the Netherlands and Sweden. The total project budget comprised USD 21.5 million, including USD 9.3 million from the GEF, USD 4.1 million from the five Central Asian States, USD 2.8 million from the Government of the Netherlands, USD 1.4 million from the EU/TACIS, USD 1 million from the Swedish International Development Agency.

The project consisted of six components:

Component A: National and Regional Water and Soil Salt Management.

The component supported development of sustainable regional and national sustainable water management and distribution strategies and scenarios with the account of the environmental needs in the basins of Amudarya and Syrdarya Rivers, and assisted the decision makers in five countries to formulate medium and long-term agreements on water resources management.

Component B: Public Awareness.

The component included developing a public awareness campaign in the five states, development of a communications strategy on water saving and education of the population to instill careful attitude to water.

Component C: Dam Safety and Reservoir Management.

The component supported safety assessment of selected dams in the five countries. It also supported the upgrading of monitoring and warning systems at nine dams, and training in dam safety monitoring and assessment, preparation of detailed designs for priority rehabilitation measures.

Component D: Transboundary Water Flow Monitoring.

The component supported capacity building through the purchase and installation of water flow and water quality monitoring equipment at 25 trans-boundary water monitoring stations.

Component E: Wetlands Restoration.

The component supported restoration of Lake Sudochye, which is a nesting site for the endangered species of migratory birds.


Second Aral Sea Basin Program

The Aral Sea Basin Program (ASBP-2) was approved by the IFAS Board on August 28, 2003. Earlier, on October 6, 2002, in Dushanbe, the Heads of the IFAS founder-states decided to develop a new program, taking into account the progress of the first phase of the ASBP-1, and agreed on its main lines of action. In accordance with the decision, the Presidents of Central Asian States requested the Executive Committee of IFAS together with the ICWC and the ICSD, in consultation with the governments of the founder-states, to develop a “Program of specific actions to improve the environmental and socio-economic situation in the Aral Sea Basin for the period of 2003-2010 (ASBP-2)”. The resulting program included 14 priority lines of action, combined into 4 blocks: water management, socio-economic development, ecology and environmental monitoring.

ASBP-2 became the key instrument defining the main priorities in improving the environmental and socio-economic situation in the region for the period of 2003-2009. It was developed based on multilateral partnership and proposals received from all the stakeholders in  the Central Asian States.

During the implementation of the “Program of specific actions to improve the environmental and socio-economic situation in the Aral Sea Basin for the period of 2003-2010 (ASBP-2)”, and of the projects under this program by the IFAS founder-states, the overall investment amounted to about USD 2 million, while donor assistance did not exceed 1% of the total.


Third Aral Sea Basin Program

In the period of 2009-2012, following the Resolution of the Heads of States of 28 April 2009, the Executive Committee of the IFAS (EC IFAS), with the participation of the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC), the Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), in cooperation with national experts from Central Asian countries and donors, prepared a draft of the ASBP-3, which was supported by the international donor organizations (Joint Statement of Donors, Ashgabat, July 20, 2010) and approved by the Decision of the Board of IFAS on May 15, 2012. The program works in four directions: (I) Integrated Use of Water Resources; (II) Environmental protection; (III) the Socio-Economic Development; (IV) Improving institutional and legal instruments.

Direction I – Integrated Use of Water Resources – includes projects aimed at addressing the problems associated with transboundary water resources management, improvement of irrigated lands, establishing monitoring systems and databases, modeling, basin plans development, and ensuring the safety of water facilities.

Direction II – Environmental protection. The second group of projects addresses the problems associated with the environmental protection and improvement of the environment, including biodiversity conservation, and natural disasters risks reduction.

Direction III – Socio-Economic Development. The third group of projects addresses socioeconomic issues, including a focus on improving living conditions, ensuring sustainable development, increasing employment, and improving water and power supply systems, education and public health.

Direction IV – Improving institutional and legal instruments. This direction includes projects aimed at addressing the issues associated with institutional development, improving regulatory frameworks and institutional structures, strengthening the capacity of regional IFAS bodies. Moreover, the projects will contribute to the strengthening of regional cooperation, the development of strategies for sustainable development, training and retraining of personnel responsible for the water resources management, and increasing public awareness.

EC IFAS asked member countries to prepare project proposals in accordance with the Framework document. In response, EC IFAS received a total of 335 project proposals including 149 proposals for Direction 1; 100 for Direction 2; 71 for Direction 3; and 15 for Direction 4. The proposals were clustered and 47 projects were identified.

ASBP-3 includes:

  • regional projects that will be financed mainly by international donors;
  • projects funded from national budgets;
  • national projects funded by international donors.

The main objective of ASBP-3 is to improve the living conditions of the people in the region by applying the principles of integrated water resources management, to develop a mutually acceptable mechanism for a multi-purpose use of water resources and to protect the environment in Central Asia taking into account the interests of all the states in the region.

It should be noted that the above Directions complement each other in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that by implementing proposed projects across these different directions, an overall synergy is achieved. The inextricable connection and dependence of the overall result from the effective implementation of the proposed projects in all four directions is also worth emphasizing.


The Aral Sea crisis affects the interests of all Central Asian countries. It has become a subject of concern for the world community. The Aral Sea crisis has led not only to enormous economic damage, but also to the destruction of the entire human environment.

The most effective and large-scale project aimed at improving the environmental and socio-economic situation in the Kazakhstan part of the Aral Sea region under the set programs was the national project agreed with all Central Asian countries “Regulation of the Syrdarya riverbed and conservation of the northern part of the Aral Sea”.

Under the project, the Aklak hydroscheme, the Kokaral dam, the Aitek complex of structures, protective dams on the Syrdarya River, repair and restoration work on the Kazaly and Kyzylorda waterworks, as well as the Shardara and Arnasay dams, fishery restoration and others were built, The project cost 85.79 million dollars, of which 64.5 million dollars were allocated by the World Bank in accordance with the Loan Agreement and 21.29 million dollars – from the republican budget as co-financing of the project.

Thanks to the project the water level in the Small Aral Sea in 5 years has risen from 39 to 42.2 meters and the sea approached to Aralsk on distance of 25 kilometers. As a result of the project implementation the channel capacity of the Syrdarya river increased from 350 to 700 m3/sec; the northern part of the Aral Sea was preserved as a geographical and climate-forming site: the dried sea bed was covered with water mirror on an area of 870 km2 (from 2,414 to 3,288 km2); the volume of water in the sea increased by 11.5 km3 (from 15.6 to 27.1 km3); water salinity decreased from 23 to 17 g/l.

Biodiversity has been restored, 14 out of 38 species of previously extinct fish have reappeared. From 70 dried up lakes 30 of them were filled up with water again. More than five thousand people who had previously migrated from these areas have returned to their native land. The ecological, sanitary and hydrometeorological situation in the region has improved. Along with it, water availability of irrigated lands has increased.

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev said on this occasion: “In the history of the world there are few examples when the sea and lakes disappeared from the face of the earth, but there has never been such a case, when the sea returned to its shores. Kazakhstan has taken up the global problem, and so far in this respect, is the first.


Syr Darya Control and Northern Aral Sea Phase-II (SYNAS – 2)

During a visit to Kyzylorda oblast on May 14, 2019 the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan has entrusted the Government of Kazakshtan with the task to take duly measures to implement components of the second phase of the Syr Darya Control and Northern Aral Sea Project (hereafter SYNAS-2).

Due to the fact that the procedures of attraction of loan from the World Bank have taken too long, the Government of Kazakhstan made a decision to start implementation of the fourth component of the first stage of the SYNAS-2 Project by the means of republican budget (without the World Bank loan).

Because four out of six components of SYNAS-2 will be implemented using republican budget, the World Bank based on carried out discussions and consultations presented a new approach for a comprehensive development of the Kazakhstan part of the Syr Darya and North Aral Sea basin. In addition it was proposed to change the title of the project to “North Aral Sea Development and Revitalization Project” (hereafter – Project) with an inclusion of additional components to improve social and economic development of the region.

The second phase of SYNAS-2 will be implemented within the framework of the new Project, which will be financed by the World Bank. Preliminary total cost of the Project will be $190 mil.

As of today, the World Bank has allocated an award to develop feasibility study to the Project for the total amount of $1.5 mil.

The Project constitutes of three components and directed to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Improving the volume and quality of accumulated water in North Aral Sea up to 40 km3;
  • Development of fishery by supporting production and processing of fish products;
  • Improvement of environmental monitoring and water resources management of North Aral Sea;
  • Decreasing transfer of salt sediments from the bottom of the Aral Sea by arranging protective green belts;
  • Eco-tourism development.

On July 15, 2020 there was an agreement signed with Yekom International Consulting Company (hereinafter – the Consultant) to develop Project Feasibility study. Deadline to conclude the award is July 2022.

Currently, the Consultant collecting materials, carrying out surveys and studying them in order to develop Project Feasibility study.

Herewith the final decision on several option to increase the North Aral Sea level will be made during Project Feasibility study development.


Under the chairmanship of Turkmenistan, IFAS in close cooperation with the founding states developed the “Program of Action to Assist the Aral Sea Basin Countries” (ASBP-4), which aims to continue the progress made in previous Aral Sea Basin Programs (ASBP: 1994-1999; ASBP-2; 2003-2010; and ASBP-3; 2011-2015). By the decision of the IFAS Board dated 30 January 2018, the Executive Committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea together with the Interstate Commission for Water Coordination (ICWC) and the Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD) with involvement of national experts and international partners were entrusted to ensure the development of the ASBP-4 in the following directions:

  • Integrated Water Resources Use;
  • Environmental;
  • Social and Economic;
  • Improvement of Institutional and Legal Mechanisms.