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Water is the source of a great deal of tension between the states of Central Asia. Th e causes of the dispute over the use and distribution of this scarce resource are complicated and the result of old Soviet policies.

Th e climate of Central Asia, especially its southern part, is so dry that agricultural cultivation can only take place with an effi cient irrigation system. Th e fi rst watering systems in this region date back nearly 5,000 years. In the Bronze Age, Central Asian watering systems achieved a high level of technical sophistication, becoming, at that time, one of the best in the world. Th e key to this arid region’s irrigation has been two rivers: the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. Th e longest river in Central Asia is the Syr Darya (around 3,019 kilometres). It arises from a connection of two rivers, the Kara Darya and the Naryn. Th e source of the latter is also where the Syr Darya begins to fl ow, from the glaciers of the Tian Shan Mountains, near the Kyrgyz-Chinese border. Th e river fl ows through the central part of Kyrgyzstan making its way through Uzbekistan and northern Tajikistan (covering a portion of the Fergana Valley) to further reach Kazakhstan and the eastern part of the Kyzyl Kum desert, where it fi nally reaches the shores of the Aral Sea. Th e waters of the Syr Darya are mostly used to hydrate cotton fi elds. Th e second largest river of Central Asia is the Amu Darya. Its length is around 2,540 kilometres and it originates from the intersection of two rivers: the Panj and the Vakhsh. Th e Panj River creates the natural border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and the combined waters of the Amu Darya form the border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Th e Amu Darya further reaches Turkmenistan and goes through Uzbek Khwarezm and Karakalpakstan (a semi-autonomous region in Uzbekistan), fi nally reaching the delta through which it empties into the Aral Sea.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, covered with high mountains from which these large rivers rise, collect water resources and are called the countries of the upper stream. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, on the other hand, are called the countries of the lower stream.

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