Hydrodiplomacy in Rapid Action: Early Insights from the Sardoba Dam Disaster in Central Asia


On 1 May 2020, following days of inclement weather, a dam wall at the Sardoba reservoir in Uzbekistan collapsed. An estimated half billion cubic metres of water poured through a breach onto villages and cotton fields, causing the evacuation of more than 110 000 people and affecting more than 35 000 hectares of land in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In spite of the COVID-19 crisis, and despite a history of water mismanagement and regional tensions in the Syr Darya river basin, both countries managed not only to cooperate over the immediate recovery, but also to strengthen good neighborly relations, taking further steps towards joint management of the shared basin. They thus effectively turned water from a potential source of conflict into an opportunity for cooperation and peace. A first important milestone was reached on 2 July 2020 with the signing of a joint roadmap for transboundary water management. The Sardoba dam disaster could become a watershed in reshaping the transboundary water dynamics in Central Asia, which are central to the COVID-19 response and recovery. Indeed, strengthened regional water cooperation could become a driver of sustainable socio-economic recovery in a profoundly changed world economy, fostering peace and security. This note* discusses early insights focusing on transboundary, regional and global levels.

*Strategic Foresight Discussion Notes of the Global Observatory for Water and Peace (GOWP) are informal think pieces prepared by staff and partners of the Geneva Water Hub with contributions from the GOWP network and external partners to encourage forward-looking discussions and exchanges of ideas. As an objective is to get the findings out quickly, they do not follow procedures that are appropriate to formal printed texts. Findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this work do not necessarily reflect the views of the financial and technical partners of the GOWP and of the Geneva Water Hub.

(photo: kun.uz)