News FocusTransboundary Rivers

For China and Kazakhstan, No Meeting of the Minds on Water

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Science  27 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6093, pp. 405-407
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6093.405

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Kazakhstan blames China for the ebbing vitality of the Ili River. Since the mid-1980s, rain and snow have increased at the river's headwaters in the Tian Shan mountains in western China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Chinese data show. Yet in the past several years, the Ili's flow has declined precipitously, engineers say. They conclude that Xinjiang is drawing more heavily for irrigation, industrial use, and drinking water. Although China is a party to many international treaties, it has avoided those that would restrict its use of transboundary waters, resource experts say. Transboundary watersheds have been fraught with squabbles. Some concern pollution but most are about water flow. Tensions are now running high on China's western flank.