Hazards from Sarez Lake, an issue still unsolved in Central Asia, Tajikistan

Lake Sarez, deep in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan, was created 100 years ago when a strong earthquake triggered a massive landslide that, in turn, became a huge dam along the Murghob River, now called the Usoi Dam or Sarez Lake.


In the early 20th century exactly in the winter of 1911, a huge rockslide in the Pamir Mountains of southeastern Tajikistan completely blocked the Murgab River creating a huge "natural" dam creating a big hazard doiwnstream. That river tributary reaches to Amy Darya River Basin. Before that disaster, there was a village named Usoi and then the Landslide entirely buried that village.  Now in most literatures, it is known as a Usoi Dam. That landslide has a total volume estimated at approximately 2 km3, with a maximum height above the original valley floor of 500-700m. By passing time a lake quickly formed behind the Usoi dam, rising at a rate of around 75m/yr during the first few years. 

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Basic Data
NameHazards from Sarez Lake, an issue still unsolved in Central Asia, Tajikistan
ProvinceGorno Badakhshan Autonomy Oblast
SiteTajikistan, Pamir, Rushan district, Bartang valley
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Specific CommoditiesWater
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsAfter that terrible strong tremor felt in the Bartang river at deep midnight (at 23:15) on February 6, 1911 immediately, the scientific circles of what would be the Soviet Union after 1917 (Tajikistan was part of SU) began exploring the stability of the new dam and a probability of a catastrophic flood from the growing lake. It is worth noting that forecasts - both favourable and terrifying – were made not only by scientists and experts but also by people with little in common with the problem. Hereby we name some important figures that had done some work in this area, among the early investigators of Lake Sarez are the names of P. Zaimkin, G. A. Schpilko, D.D. Bukinich, I. A. Preobrazhenski, V. S. Kolesnikov, O. K. Lange, V. A. Afanasiev, V. I. Razek and many others.

According to UN/ISDR findings, there are two options exist with regard to the Lake Sarez issue. Firstly – the newly formed dam is unstable and a catastrophic flood from the lake is a probability involving all the imaginable consequences. The second one – the Usoy dam is a natural stable structured and the lake will stay quite a long time similarly to other conformable lakes: Yashilkul Lake in the Pamirs, Iskanderkul Lake in Central Tajikistan and many others. However, there rarely trigger a massive landslide. For instance, "on August 22, 1987, a huge rock fell into the lake 12 kilometres from the Usoi Dam," Mamadloikov says. "The 18-million-cubic-meter rock fell into three pieces, creating a wave of 16-17 meters all sides of the lake. The level rose 3 to 4 meters [at the location] where the geological station stands.

There usually seminars and conference are organized by Tajikistan's Committee for Emergency Situations and Civil Defense and the UN Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). The objects of these events to draw the international scientists donors and agencies to contribute something in order to address the issue or prevent the threat that still presented the main hazards for four neighbouring

countries – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan (5 million people under this dangerous disaster). Hence, Tajikistan's budget does not allow the government to provide the major investment required to completely eliminate the threat caused by Lake Sarez. That is likely to leave Tajik authorities, residents, and interest groups looking to the international community for the kind of financial support that might help avert a disaster in the shadow of Tajikistan's Pamir Mountains.

Special equipment for monitoring the situation around Lake Sarez in eastern Tajikistan is now being installed by a World Bank project working on risk mitigation in the area, a step to ensure early warning for the vulnerable population in the region.

"This equipment is for monitoring the situation around Lake Sarez, the dam and the Bartang valley, including seismic activity, landslides, water, wind speed and so on," Rustam Bobojonov, a coordinator for the World Bank's Lake Sarez risk mitigation project, told IRIN from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on Thursday.

His comments followed the recent procurement of a special satellite monitoring and early warning system worth some US $1.5 million, now being installed in the area.

The Lake Sarez risk mitigation project, worth more than US $4 million, aims to help alert and prepare vulnerable people in case of a disaster associated with flooding from the lake, as well as other frequent natural hazards such as mudslides, rock falls, avalanches and seasonal floods

Recently there was news that Open Joint-Stock Company (OJSC) Orienbonk, which is one of Tajikistan’s largest commercial banks, has an agreement with Heaven Springs Dynasty Harvest (HSDH) Group of Hong Kong on launching a joint venture on processing and selling water of Lake Sarez. But still Open Joint-Stock Company (OJSC) Orienbonk officially is not certifying that they are in cooperation of harvesting water for drinking usage from Sarez lake.

According to PR Newswire, the agreement was made for jointly developing projects on Atmospheric Water Generation (AWG) and “business of lake Sarez.”

PR Newswire noted that Tajikistan takes one of the leading positions in the Central Asian region as well as throughout the world on the reserves of water resources, where Tajikistan owns 65% of them in the Central Asian region and Sarez Lake is the world's highest and largest barrier lake located in Rushan District of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) of Tajikistan.

Mr. Dato' Sri Baima Aose has reportedly met with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan to discuss cooperation.

The representative of Orienbonk say they cannot comment on reports posted on Heaven Springs Dynasty Harvest Group’s official website, but they deny reports that the bank allegedly concluded an agreement with Heaven Springs Dynasty Harvest Group on establishing a company for processing and selling water as absolutely unfounded.

Meanwhile, Heaven Springs Dynasty Harvest Group’s official website says Mr Dato’ Sri Baima Aose in July this year visited Lake Sarez together as a member of the UN delegation

In future, we will see how this projects will act in terms of fulfilment of their plan to use a gigantic source of water fro Sarez lake. The way of realizing their plan needs to take into consideration the hazard and the local benefit from the project of selling the water.

The threat of the Lake Sarez already exist but the launching enterprises on processing and selling water of Lake Sarez is still under the course of negotiations and discussion.

World Bank invested US$4.74 million in 2006 and the central government and UN now seeking a way of rising the fund for
Project Area (in hectares)800,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population5 million people in the banks of the river
Start Date01/05/1950
Relevant government actorsCentral State of the government of Tajikistan.

Tajikistan's Committee for Emergency Situations.

Government GBAO.

Afghanistan government.

United Nations Strategy for Disaster Reduction UN/ISDR
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFOCUS


The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginUNKNOWN
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Soil contamination, Other Environmental impacts
OtherForest, croplands, and garden will be destroyed. Also, natural reserves (Zapovednik ) are threatened by dam failure.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Otherloss of money in bank and valuable documents.
Project StatusUnknown
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Project temporarily suspended
Development of AlternativesThe governmental institutions and the central state are setting up a plant to negotiate we the countries that are suffering from a freshwater deficiency. Governor of GBAO and Tajikistan figured out that the only way of reducing the hazard is to sell the water to dry region for irrigation purpose and to supply the residence with fresh water. In addition, to apply some of the UN sustainable development goals in terms of access to fresh water, reduction risk in under disaster areas and life security, the concerned organization from all scale can take it as a vital issue and fulfil their responsibility.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Due to the lack of financial support the central state is not able to make any suitable approach to tackle this issue. Stakeholders are trying to find out a way managing a plant to offer on the global scale, in order to hook the international agencies to support them. They claim that it is a regional matter and the dangerous region of the neighbor countries should contribute their effort.
Sources and Materials

[3] Tajikistan: Conference Highlights Lake Sarez Risk
[click to view]

[4] Tajikistan / Economy / Orienbonk denies reports about the agreement between it and Chinese company on the sale of water of Lake Sarez as baseless
[click to view]


[2] The UN Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR)

Sarez Lake: the latest achievements and unsolved problems
[click to view]

[1]Sarez Lake problem: ensuring long-term safety - ResearchGate
[click to view]

UN SDR 2000. Usoi Landslide Dam and Lake Sarez. An Assessment of Hazard and Risk in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan.
[click to view]


[5] Tajikistan’s Sarez Dam Spillway Threatens 320 Afghan Villages
[click to view]

Media Links

An Earthquake at Lake Sarez in 2004
[click to view]

[6] António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations in Sarez lake. Bartang, Pamirs
[click to view]


[7] Tajikistan, Pamir HighWay


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Other Documents

Sarez Lake Freshwater of Sarez Lake can supply the Asian region for a long time but has a bit threat to Central Asia. Our task to change this natural hazard to natural the source of life.
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorFayzmamad Davlatbekov, [email protected]/EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB
Last update11/08/2018