Eva Kleingeld is currently doing a 6-month internship with GWP as part of her Master studies at Leiden University, The Netherlands. Her subject is Russian and Eurasian Studies, with a thesis on Hydro-politics and security in Central Asia. She will spend part of her internship with a GWP partner organization in Central Asia doing field studies.
Central Asia became the cotton producing center of the Soviet Union once the Bolsheviks seized power, however, in Pre-Soviet times, people of the region already had a quite impressive and integrated system to manage and distribute their water resources.
There is not very much known about how the water was regulated in pre-Soviet Central Asia, but Von Middendorf (1882) gave a detailed description of the water management process in the Kokand khanate, which was located in the Ferghana Valley. There existed an extensive network of canals in the Ferghana Valley and in order to govern the use of these canals, there was an extensive set of rules and practices in place. The system of water rights was based on Sharia and according to Islamic traditions, water belonged to the whole community.
Water management functioned on local level, the so-called volost. The waters in the Kokand khanate were hierarchically governed. A local water master, the mirab, was responsible for the allocation and distribution of water resources and the construction and maintenance of canals. The mirab was elected by the farmers who were also responsible of paying his salary. They gave him a percentage of the crops they harvested and this payment was known as Kipsen; if the harvest was poor, the Kipsen was less. A comptroller figure, a village elder known as ariq aqsaqal, oversaw the mirab activities. The mirab was assisted by the ariq amin, who was responsible for the smaller canals. The so-called ketman was responsible for the allocation of water on the level of the village. Ketman were divided into smaller units, where they were responsible for the allocation of water of a few streets or a few families. The water management was thus executed by all stakeholders.
A lesson can be learned from this water management structure. Nowadays we are so much concerned with the management of our water resources on national level, while on local level the society is also needed to govern the resources. Involvement of all stakeholders in water management is of great importance. Sometimes looking to the past might be a way of improving the future.