Panos Pictures / Prospekt
After incorporating the five Central Asian republics into its empire in 1917, the Soviet government began transforming the Amu and Syr Darya rivers, which run across the entire region, into a web of irrigation canals that brought cotton production to the area on a massive scale. Such large quantities of water were diverted that the Aral Sea, once the world's fourth largest inland sea, began to disappear. When Moscow's rule ended in 1991, five new Central Asian nations appeared, burdened with plunging economies, artificial borders, and a growing environmental crisis.
The water that nourishes the whole region comes from melting glaciers and snow in the mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. During Soviet times, decisions about sharing of resources were made by the central government in Moscow. Now, the countries are constantly disputing how the region's dams should be used - the downstream countries want the water to be stored in reservoirs in winter and released for irrigation in summer, but the upstream countries want to release it in winter to create electricity. This is a reservoir above nurek dam in Tajikistan. The line along the shore indicates a low water level. The overall water supply will continue to diminish in the future.