Institute of Economic and Cultural Geography Research Research projects
Local self-government of irrigation systems in the Talas Region (Kyrgyzstan)

Local self-government of irrigation systems in the Talas Region (Kyrgyzstan)

Led by:  PD Dr. Matthias Schmidt
Team:  Dipl.-Geogr. Berit Böckel
Year:  2018
Funding:  Self-financed, financial support by the Graduiertenakademie
Duration:  2013 - 2018
Is Finished:  yes


Irrigation systems in the Talas Region (Kyrgyzstan)The handling of natural resources, their sustainable use, and conflicts over distribution are important and current fields of research, especially in Central Asian countries. The economic and social upheavals following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as well as influences of globalization and global climate change, have resulted in serious challenges, particularly in this region. Since the independence of the Kyrgyz Republic, not only have governmental institutions but also the use of land and resources triggered massive restructuring processes. A current trend in resource management has to be stated, the departure from centralized management resulting in discharging responsibilities to the local user.

Use, management, and distribution of water and the construction, maintenance, and upkeep of irrigation systems were previously regulated during the Soviet era, following the top-down principle. Local appropriators were, in most cases, largely excluded from participating in these processes. The current departure from this hierarchical principle of state administration in Kyrgyzstan, and also in other Central Asian states, shows efforts in which particular so-called common-property resources are successfully organized, managed and jointly used by local appropriators without state interference. However, the use of water resources can create or reinforce inequalities and lead to an increase in competitive behaviour of the appropriators themselves. The distribution of irrigation water is, in most cases, affected by a number of factors, such as geographical proximity to rivers or irrigation channels, social position within the community, gender, and a household’s financial requirements. In Kyrgyzstan, the present governmental control is insufficient, in regards to the maintenance and operation of irrigation systems and for ensuring equitable water distribution. This often leads to the disintegration of irrigation infrastructure and increased competition for irrigation water.

The dissertation aims to investigate whether the management of water resources, in terms of the commons, would be a useful strategy to reduce local tensions in the distribution of irrigation water in two villages in the Talas Province of Western Kyrgyzstan. What conditions must be satisfied or what obstacles exist will be investigated using a qualitative research design. In addition to an analysis of the physical infrastructure and the water administration, another focus is on the interdependencies between political and social conditions, institutions and actors.