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The value of cooperation under climate change in Central Asia’s Syr Darya River: Using integrated water-energy-food-ecosystems nexus tools to inform policy

Cooperation in the water-energy-food-ecosystems nexus among countries sharing the Syr Darya River Basin can lead to increased water availability, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and higher GDP and added agricultural value, which could improve livelihoods.

Modelling tools like the ones used here that capture the connections between water, agriculture, energy and the macroeconomy lead to better-informed decision-making in investments and policies.


Huber-Lee, A., Wagner, C., Kemp-Benedict, E., Veysey, J,. & Joyce, B. (2023). The value of cooperation under climate change in Central Asia's Syr Darya River: Using integrated water-energy-food-ecosystems nexus tools to inform policy. USAID.

The Syr Darya river is framed by bushes and trees beneath a dark, stormy sky in Kazakhstan

Photo: Petrichuk / Getty Images

Since 1960, the total area of the Aral Sea decreased ninefold due to rapid development of agriculture, and the construction of numerous multi-purpose reservoirs and irrigation canals, among other factors. This radically changed the timing and water flow to the sea via the Syr Darya and Amu Darya River Basins. Climate change and its impacts in the region on dry periods and rainfall patterns add additional layers of stress and uncertainty to this situation.

Fostering cooperation at the nexus of water, energy, food and ecosystems planning among Central Asia’s five countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) is an effective approach to mitigate the threats this situation poses to the watershed’s economy and ecosystems.

Central Asian (CA) countries lose US$4.5 billion annually in three categories: agricultural losses, inefficient electricity trade, and lack of access to finance. Thus, cooperation based on well-informed decision-making can bring environmental and economic benefits to the region.

Within the framework of the USAID’s Regional Water and Vulnerable Environment Activity, SEI researchers used integrated modelling of the Syr Darya region to understand the intricate interplay between water, food, energy, and ecosystems, and their impacts on the macroeconomy. This can support better decision-making, promoting stability, economic prosperity and the ecosystem’s well-being.

SEI authors

Profile picture of Annette Huber-Lee
Annette Huber-Lee

Senior Scientist


Women in red shirt smiling in portrait
Charlotte Wagner



Eric Kemp-Benedict
Eric Kemp-Benedict

SEI Affiliated Researcher


2018 portrait of jason veysey
Jason Veysey

Energy Modeling Program Director and Senior Scientist


Profile picture of Brian Joyce
Brian Joyce

Senior Scientist


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