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Toktogul dam, Kyrgyzistan

A historical transboundary water management dispute between Central Asian countries; a dam built in the Naryn River in the late 1970s flooded 26,000 ha of land and archeological sites. Further dams are planned.


The Toktogul Dam in Kyrgyzstan was built on the Naryn River (a northern tributary of the Syr Darya) during the 1970s as a centre piece of the Soviet Union’s efforts to conquer nature in its drive to modernise central Asia; the dam was finished in 1973, the reservoir created in 1976,  and served to control the inter-annual variability of water resources and to ensure that there would always be sufficient water for irrigation. The reservoir flooded more than 26 thousand hectares of land in the Kementub Valley, of which 21.2 thousand hectares of agricultural land, 26 communities including large settlement Toktogul were displaced and the main road through the region was re-routed. Archaeologists excavated sites dating back as far as the 8th century AD before they were lost. According to Eelke Kraak, researcher at University of Oxford , “For Soviet planners, dams were symbols of development and modernisation. The Soviet Union’s hydraulic mission was to conquer nature by transforming free flowing rivers into an economic resource. In absence of democracy, dams were also an important source of legitimacy for the Soviet Union. On average, the region has enough water to grow sufficient crops to feed its own population and earn foreign currency through exports. The problem, rather, is a huge geographic, seasonal and inter-annual variability in water availability. In response, between 1950 and 1990, the Soviet Union built hundreds of dams, canals and artificial lakes. Uzbekistan’s Hunger Steppe was transformed from an uninhabited desert into a cotton factory of 300,000 hectares. The Kara Kum Canal, when completed in 1988, transferred 12.9 cubic kilometres of water – almost 15% of the Amu Darya River – to irrigate parts of the Kara Kum Desert.” [1] The Toktogul dam became fully operational in the late 1980s. It is one component of a cascade of five hydroelectric stations downstream, which all together produce 90% of Kyrgyzstan’s power. As the dam regulates transboundary water flows, it has caused several frictions among Central Asian countries.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Toktogul dam, Kyrgyzistan
Country:Kyrgyz Republic
State or province:Jalal-Abad Province
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Toktogul Dam is a hydroelectric and irrigation dam on the Naryn River in the Jalal-Abad Province of Kyrgyzstan. It is concrete gravity dam with height of 215 metres (705 ft) and length of 292.5 metres (960 ft). It is a part of the Naryn-Syr Darya cascade. It is named after Toktogul Satilganov.

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Project area:26,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:35,000 displaced
Start of the conflict:1976
Company names or state enterprises:Electric Power Plants (EPP) from Kyrgyz Republic
Relevant government actors:Government of Kyrgyzstan
International and Finance InstitutionsAsian Development Bank (ADB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:UNISON (Civic Environmental Foundation)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local government/political parties
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage)
Other Environmental impactsLack of water inflow in Aral Sea
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Migration/displacement
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:This is an historical case of water management dispute. Few records are available on people's mobilization at the time of displacement and how the issue was addressed in the '70s.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Wooden, Amanda E. "Kyrgyzstan's dark ages: framing and the 2010 hydroelectric revolution." Central Asian Survey 33.4 (2014): 463-481.
[click to view]

Shiriyazdanov, Sh. (1971). Токтогульский гигант строиться: очерк истории строительства ГЭС [Toktogul giant is being constructed: historical sketch of power plant construction] (in Russian)

Amanda Wooden, J. Féaux de la Croix, D. Gullette, The great future of the country: Dams and hydroelectricity discourses in Kyrgyzstan, in Eric Freedman and Mark Neuzil, eds. Environmental Crises in Central Asia, Routledge, 2016

[1] China dialogue, 01.03.2012. Central Asia’s dam debacle. by Eelke Kraak
[click to view]

[2] ADB - TA-8434 (KGZ) Power Sector Rehabilitation Project, Rehabilitation HPP Toktogul Phase 2
[click to view]

Azernews, 7 September 2015 - Central Asia to experience water crisis in 35 years
[click to view]

Asia Times, JANUARY 25, 201 - Kyrgyz hydro projects hit rocks as Russia rethinks economic plans for Central Asia
[click to view]

Wikipedia - Environmental issues in Kyrgyzstan
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Wikipedia - Toktogul_Dam
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The Diplomat, January 20, 2016 - Investors Needed for Kyrgyz Hydropower Projects
[click to view]

ADB - ADB Funds the Completion of Toktogul Hydropower Plant Rehabilitation

9 September 2016
[click to view]

Irrigation in the countries of the former Soviet Union in figures. FAO. 1997. p. 128. ISBN 978-92-5-104071-3.
[click to view]

Other comments:Some observers have remarked on the difference between the strong civil society opposition to the Kumtor gold mine (owned by a Canadian company) and the internal acquiescence to the dams in the Naryn River (built by Russians, and now by the Asian Development Bank). The conflict here is with neighbouring states.
Meta information
Contributor:Daniela Del Bene, ICTA - UAB
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2457
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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