Turkmenistan/sector assessment

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This article is based on the Executive Summary of the "Assessment of the Water Sector in Turkmenistan Report" produced by UNDP Country Office in Turkmenistan in February 2010 (attached below).


Executive Summary

As per a request from the Government of Turkmenistan to EU for launching a National Policy Dialogue on IWRM and ongoing consultations between EU and UNDP with the Ministry of Water Resources of Turkmenistan (MWR), it has been recognised that national level interventions are required to address water governance issues and capacity development for further management of the water sector. This paper is the first reaction to this request. In order to provide a comprehensive picture of the water management system and its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, a detailed review/analysis has been commissioned by the Country Office of UNDP in Turkmenistan supported by the UNDP Water Governance Facility located at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). The main task of the study was to assess the enabling environment in Turkmenistan in relation to managing water resources, institutional setup, coordination mechanisms in place and capacity building activities required, as well as to make an evaluation of the concurrent platform and conditions for introducing IWRM measures at the national and/or pilot level.

The current paper is built in a way to support not only a critical analysis of the current situation in the water sector, but also to highlight the most needed interventions in the water sector feasible to improve the enabling environment and institutional basis of water management in Turkmenistan.

Objectives of the Study

The main objectives of the study included an assessment of Turkmenistan’s enabling environment, institutional setup including division of responsibilities/functions and coordination mechanisms among ministries and other governmental authorities, and current practices for managing water resources of the country covering also a similar assessment of any existing international water resources management agreements relevant to the Turkmen river basins, development of recommendations for improvements, and the development of an IWRM project at the national and pilot levels.

Water Resources and Water Management Objects

The climate of Turkmenistan is continental and extremely dry. This is due to the peculiarities of atmospheric circulation, the intra-continental location of the country, nature of the underlying surface, and the presence of mountain ranges in the South-East and South. A more detailed description of the climate of Turkmenistan is included in Section 3.1.

There is practically no surface runoff on the territory of Turkmenistan. The episodic runoff occurs in a few places formed by takyrs and takyr-like soils after rains of more than 3-5 mm. This local runoff together with reserves of groundwater form water resources of the desert of Turkmenistan. As the local runoff is related only to the plots with weakly permeable soils, and its volume is small, reserves of groundwater are limited, the own water resources are insufficient for desert development activities. Water formed on the adjacent to desert territories is widely used for desert irrigation. Water complex of Turkmenistan is an integral sector and supports not only irrigation needs of agriculture but also the requirements of other sectors of economy. Irrigation canals and reservoirs are the sources of water for municipal, domestic, and drinking water supply in rural areas, they also secure watering levels for pastures. Besides, other water use types are supported, namely: commercial fisheries, energy generation, transport, recreation and sport fishing, navigation, landscaping within residential areas, others. The main water consuming sector of Turkmenistan is irrigation (over 92% in the long-term). The other water uses are the following: domestic and drinking water supply, power generation, industry, watering of pastures, other uses. More details are presented in Section 3.2.

There are five major sources of water resources in Turkmenistan, notably: the main transboundary rivers (the Amu Darya, Atrek, Murgab, and Tedjen), the small rivers of the North-Western slope of the Kopetdag mountain range, freshwater aquifers, return and drainage waters from irrigation, and some small natural lakes. Water management objects include the KKC, artificial reservoirs and lakes, irrigation mains/canals, collector-drainage network, artificial drainage lakes and the “Altyn Asyr” lake. A detailed structure of water distribution through this water management infrastructure is presented in Figure 4 on page 16.

The water sector of Turkmenistan is one of the main sectors to be affected by the climate change. “The First National Report on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” (Ashgabat, 2006) reads that Turkmenistan in situated in such a region where negative effects of the global climate change are expected to be the largest. Expected raise in air temperature and gradual reduction of the rivers’ flow will negatively influence the most socially important sectors of the Turkmen economy, notably: health care, water sector, agriculture including irrigated farming, coastal activities at the Caspian Sea. This is why, the future IWRM interventions in Turkmenistan are expected to be placed in perspective of the global climate change adaptation measures.

Legal Frameworks

The legal framework of water resource management includes a number of International Agreements/Declarations both on the environmental issues and transboundary rivers; national legal framework which is formed by the Constitution, laws, decrees of Halk Maslakhaty and its Chairman, Decrees and resolutions of the President, resolutions and decisions of Mejlis, Cabinet of Ministers, as well as decisions and acts of Ministries and other national level authorities of state executive power, resolutions of local administrations; other legislation and regulations. One of the key pieces of legislation is the New Water Code of Turkmenistan in force since Nov 1, 2004. The Code legally confirmed the current set up of the government power and re-distribution of functions and responsibilities in the field of management and conservation of water resources. A detailed review of both the Code and supporting legislation, regulations, standards, and norms are included in Section 4.2.2 on page 22.

There are a number of gaps of the current legal framework and opportunities have been identified as a result of this study. There is a common understanding in Turkmenistan of the utmost importance of modern legal and regulatory frameworks for water resource management and conservation. Detailed presentation of these is presented in Section 4.3 (page 26), and a brief summary of the main issues – in the table below.

Institutional Structures and Main Functions

There are a number of institutional structures set up in CA to manage scarce water resources of the region. These included international bodies, i.e. the Interstate Coordination Water Commission (ICWC), the Interstate Fund for the Aral Sea (IFAS), the Interstate Commission on Sustainable Development (ICSD), the Centre of Preventive Diplomacy, etc., as well as a number of government agencies in Turkmenistan.

IFAS is a high-level body, which carries out activities based on decisions of the Leaders of the participating countries, regulations of IFAS, Secretariat of IFAS, the Agreement on the statute of IFAS and its subsidiary organisations. The key functions of IFAS include (i) funding and crediting of joint interstate environmental and scientific programmes, funding of joint fundamental and applied research, setting up and operation of interstate environmental monitoring networks and corresponding data/information storage systems, resource mobilisation for joint actions, as well as participation in implementation of international activities on the Aral Sea and improvement of environmental status of the Aral Sea basin.

The main aim of ICWC establishment was to strengthen the principle of collective leadership in decision-making process on general issues of regional interstate water management, use and protection and in implementing joint programs related to water resources of Central Asia. The specific role of ICWC was acknowledged under the aegis of IFAS and thus showed the deep understanding of the importance of joint management in using and protecting water resources, in developing all the countries and the region as a whole, as well as concerns about sustainable supply of their people with water and ensuring of adequate environmental conditions.

Overall coordination of sustainable development activities is carried out by ICSD. The main goal of ICSD – coordination and supervision of cooperation in the field of environment protection and sustainable development programmes in Central Asia.

The water sector in Turkmenistan is represented by a complex governance system comprising a number of ministries and institutions; very often these authorities share joint responsibilities and functions. In addition to the complicated management structure, national capacity remains a major concern at all levels. Furthermore, there is a lack of interaction and coordination among the ministries and institutions of the water sector. The key specialised governmental ministries responsible for water resource management and protection are the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR, on the right) and the Ministry of Nature Protection (MNP), as well as their subordinate offices in the regions. The main functions of these agencies, as well as some others are represented in Figure 5 on page 32.

Present Systems of Monitoring and Information Management

Currently, a series of governmental authorities are responsible for and carrying out regular monitoring of water resources in Turkmenistan:

  • The National Committee on Hydrometeorology,
  • The Water Management Department “Amu Darya” of the ICWC,
  • The Ministry of Water Resources (MWR),
  • The Centre of Environmental Monitoring (CEM) of the Ministry of Nature Protection (MNP),
  • The Sanitary-Epidemiological Service of the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry,
  • The State Concern TurkmenGeologiya.

Details on monitoring programmes and the current capacities of the laboratories above are presented in Section 5.3.1. Each laboratory involved in monitoring keep logbooks of samples taken and (where applicabe) analysis carried out. A single copy of the logbooks is maintained, registered and stored. All calculations required is performed manually. Computer equipment is rare and is mostly used by administrations and accountancy departments. All data processing in laboratories is also done manually because computer equipment and software are not available. Data and information are stored as hard copies only.

It should be mentioned that there is a serious need to increase capacity of the existing laboratories of nearly all agencies to turn them able to carry out monitoring in accordance with modern requirements. Such exercises need to include a wide suite of educational/training activities, as well as participation in various international inter-comparison and inter-calibration exercises.

Results of SWOT Analysis of Institutional Setup in Water Sector

It should be mentioned that there a number of facts testifying to the current interest of the managing authorities to improve the legal/regulatory frameworks and systems in place, i.e. monitoring systems, systems for storing and processing of data and information, modern reporting and public web-based information systems. Representatives of all agencies visited by the consultant stressed the urgent need to address the present practicies of water management in order to drastically improve the effectiveness of decision-making. The SWOT analysis carried out within this study concentrated on the two key aspects being (i) enabling environment, structures, management and coordination procedures and (ii) technical supporting systems, i.e. monitoring systems, reporting/information flow and data exchange. Detailed presentation of the SWOT analysis results is included in Sections 5.4.1 (page 39) and 5.4.2 (page 40) of this report.

Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Review

A majority of the existing water supply systems were built in the 1950-1980s. According to some expert estimates the establishment of water supply systems, generally, was directed at the development of new water sources, increase of capacity of pumping stations and water treatment/purification facilities, capacity of the main water distribution canals, etc. Such aspects as the optimisation/reduction of water use, installation of water gauging devices/meters, as well as a number of others practices currently widely used were not properly addressed nor introduced in the operational management and long-term development plans. As a consequence, within 10-15 years of independence the quality of water supply services drastically decreased. Currently, it is still a challenge to provide water with required quality and in the needed volume down to individual consumers.

Sewarage systems in Turkmenistan are available only in bigger cities. Due to the fact that rural population receive water from street pumps, the absence of sanitation facilities did not affect the state of residential areas. However, wide use of unprotected dug pits by the rural population and discharge of domestic sewage into natural cavities are the main limiting factors to prevent outbursts of a series of deseases. The volume of sewage water received by the sewarage sysems is just about 35% of that of water provided through the existing centralised water supply systems. Similarly to the water supply systems, the state of the existing sewarage sysems is very poor. This is why the development of proper sanitation facilities is a matter of the highest priority.

Sustainable access of population, in particular, of the rural population to safe drinking water is officially declared as a priority state policy. This policy is implemented through the development of centralised systems of sewerage and water supply. A number of laws and regulations are related to the WSS sector in Turkmenistan including the New Water Code (2004).

Participation of private sector entities in WSS sector in Turkmenistan is weak. To a certain extent this could be explained by the still persisting soviet mentality, but there also other internal and external causes. Involvement of the private sector is limited to participation in tenders for construction of new and reconstruction of existing residential premises. Tariffs are set by the government/state and, therefore, dependent organisations. By default, these tariffs are much lower than actual costs involved. This is done deliberately to ease the financial pressure on population. Since such an approach makes WSS systems financially unsustainable a priori, there is no much interest from the private sector unless additional financial mechanisms and economic instruments are developed and introduced.

The needed platform for participation of a wider public in the decision-making process in relation to environment management and protection exists in Turkmenistan in terms of both national mechanisms and international Conventions/Declarations, which Turkmenistan has joined. Some efforts have been made to develop such mechanisms at the scale of demonstrational and pilot projects implemented in their majority by international organisations and donors. There is still a lack of understanding at higher political levels of the importance to involve key stakeholders at the grassroots level into the current projects and activities.

Financing of WSS (both maintenance and construction of new systems) is mainly provided from the following sources: payment for services provided, state and local budgets, loans, grants, technical assistance of IFIs and organisaitons. In Turkmenistan annually considerable funds are disbursed for new large-scale projects on centralised water supply and sanitation. Operational costs of WSS sector are covered/subsidised by the state in terms of services provided to the Turkmen population. At the same time, some recent assessments carried out by the World Bank showed quite high readiness of the population to pay for high-quality services in the field of water supply and sanitation.

The recommendations developed for the improvement of the current state of urban water supply in Turkmenistan include a series of measures from accurate inventories and surveys through development and implementation of pilot and demonstrational projects to stakeholder participation and creating a friendly environment for domestic and international donors (see Section 6.2.1, page 45).

Since there was a special interest expressed by the client of this assignment, a more detailed analysis has been carried out of the challenges and recommendations for the rural water supply and sanitation sector. In order to structure the issues identified they have been split into 4 thematic areas, namely: Enabling environment; Organisational and technical aspects; Financial mechanisms and economic instruments; and Public participation, stakeholder involvement, and training.

The Enabling environment component included a series of issues related to the legal and regulatory frameworks in Turkmenistan and reforming of the governance system. Recommendations included a series of activities to improve the current development planning of RWSS sector, for instance, development of strategies and polices at all levels including detailed monitoring and evaluation plans, establishing inter-ministry coordination mechanisms, development of modern standards and norms, as well as a number of acitivites to promote proper development of the sector. All realted issues identified were grouped under the Enabling Environment Theme presented in Figure 7 (page 48).

The second component, Organisational Measures Theme, is focused on activities of organisational and/or technical nature. Such activities have a more “down to the ground” character and often require implementation of certain projects like strengthenning of capacity of existing laboratories, application of modern technological solutions, installation of water gauging equipment, etc. The corresponding measures are presented in Figure 7 under the Organisational Measures Theme.

The third component, The Financial Mechanisms and Economic Instruments Theme, is concentrated on certain aspects of converting a currently heavily subsidised system into a self-sustaining one. It is understood by the author that implementation of the proposed measures should be implemented with a great level of care, since there are many legal and other types of boundaries to operate within, however, gradual introduction of specific applicable for Turkmenistan mechanisms and instruments will lead to a better organisation and functioning of the water supply and sanitation system as such. The proposed measures are grouped together under the Financial/Economic Mechanisms/Instruments Theme.

The final component, the last but not least, is related to the public participation, stakeholder involvement and training. It is widely recognised in Turkmenistan that awareness and educational activities are required at all levels. Good understanding of the main principles as well as a need for changing the current systems will not only intensify the reforms being undertaken, but will lead to the eventual behaviour change in water use as a whole. Implementation of the majority of activities identified required involvement of rural population and communities at grassroots level.

Review of Demonstrational and Pilot Activities in Central Asia

This section of the report contains details on a number of international activities (Section 7, page 49):


There are a number of conclusions to be drawn as a result of the current assessment of the water sector of Turkmenistan. Despite considerable amount of water resources formed in the Central Asia region, their distribution is very uneven from both geographical and temporal point of view. Such fact shows the importance of a joint effective management and fair distribution of the available water resources amongst the Central Asian countries, since availability of water for population, industry and, mainly, for agriculture is one of the key factors limiting further development of the regional economies. In order to streamline the joint management practices in the region implementing the IWRM concept as the basic approach has been recognised by all countries and supported at the highest political level.

In Turkmenistan implementation of IWRM is critical for further development of the country. Considerable efforts have been made in the recent years to modernise the existing infrastructure and improve the enabling environment, still a lot has yet to be implemented. Functions of water resource management are divided between a number of government agencies, however, priorities and objectives of these authorities are sometimes different. This fact makes a closer cooperation between them quite complicated. An institutional reform is though required.

At present, there are a number of international agreements in relation to water resources in Central Asia, however, the main emphasis is put onto water allocation mechanisms rather than on the development of integrated management approaches. Water quality related issues are still not properly dealt with within these agreements.

Development and implementation of public awareness campaigns on IWRM is needed to reach out to as much stakeholder groups as possible.

In order to integrate the WSS sector into an overall IWRM scheme it is recommended to develop a clear strategy for the development of small-scale water supply and sanitation systems in rural areas, to design and implement a series of pilot activities with introduction of modern technologies and practices of water treatment, to set up of effective drinking water quality monitoring systems, to design targeted and focused educational and training campaigns, to support legislatively and financially the participation of private sector and the establishment of Public-Private Partnerships in the field of water supply and sanitation.

The current assessment resulted in a series of recommendations for further interventions feasible for reforming the water sector. Detailed interventions proposed are included in Table 9 on page 60. The table includes also a series of outcomes/impacts to be achieved by the proposed interventions. In addition, Appendix A contains a series of activities of these interventions in a form of an “idea pipeline” based on emerging funding opportunities. The same ideas have also been put as the basis for an IWRM project proposal for Turkmenistan, which is available at UNDP Turkmenistan office as a separate document.


See also



ICWC - Interstate Commission for Water Coordination

Central Asia

External Resources


 TM Water Sector Assessment Fin Draft.pdf

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