another winter of power shortages draws to a close in Tajikistan, the
long-planned Rogun dam is a hot topic among Tajiks. But one countryís blessing is anotherís bane in Central Asia, and the dam project remains a source of
electricity rationing has been in effect in Tajikistan
since January, due to a dispute with neighboring Uzbekistan that blocked the import
of Turkmen power. At the end of February, villagers a mere thirty minutes from
the capital told EurasiaNet they had not had power in
three months. But no matter how bad it got this winter, everyone agreed the
situation was "better than last year." Though electricity imports
resumed on February 27, Tajiks see the Rogun hydropower dam as the best long-term solution to
their perennial power woes.
residents of the eponymous town built around Rogun, 70 miles east of Dushanbe, the planned
3,600-megawatt plant is a source of pride. Despite having little power and no
gas now, they are excited to be involved in constructing Tajikistanís
future. Rogun, they say, will provide ample
electricity for export, and thus provide the hard currency that can help dig Tajikistan out
of its deep economic hole.
on Rogun continues, although at a snailís pace. The
project will need billions in additional investment before the light at the end
of the projectís long tunnel becomes visible. Tajik leaders thought they had
found the needed investment after they signed an agreement in 2004 with the
Russian conglomerate Rusal. But mutual differences
led to the dissolution of that deal.
Aslio Watanov, 71, has
worked on Rogun since its inception. He started by
helping construct the flats that would someday house the thousands of workers
and engineers from around the Soviet Union.
"Geologists came here in 1961. There was not a road or any infrastructure.
They started from scratch. I have worked here 42 years," he said.
hydropower station is very important for Tajikistan. If it is built, we will
have electricity, we will have jobs, it will bring many opportunities," he
said. To point out that many Tajiks are now grappling
with hard times, he pointed out that his own pension amounts to a mere 60 somoni per month (about $16).
the town was designed for 8,000 workers and their families, the project employs
3,000 at the moment, says Faruddin, a young
self-proclaimed patriot, Faruddin gestures to the
muddy valley under his home in Rogun. "We [in Tajikistan]
only have water. Itís our only energy resource to help our economy grow. Almost
60 percent of water in Central Asia comes from Tajikistan," he said over the
steady drone of massive dump trucks lumbering below.
completed dam would be the tallest in the world, at 335 meters high and
1,500 wide. It would take the Vakhsh River
seven to 12 years to fill the 17 billion cubic meter reservoir, say project
basin will drown the hamlet of Sicherogh upstream.
But despite the prospect of losing their homes to the reservoir, hamlet
residents, like Sarboz, see the dam as essential for
the economic salvation of their homeland. "It will give us
electricity," Sarboz said, adding that Sicherogh -- which means "Thirty Lamps" in Tajik
-- had not had power for months. He does not mind moving, he says. But of the
governmentís promises, he is concerned: "The government says it will
provide us with houses. We live five families per house. Will it provide
Tajiks may see Rogun as a
matter of survival, but the project is generating concern and controversy in
the dam would limit the amount of water available for irrigation. The project
began in 1976 when the countries were part of the Soviet
Union and the region was on an integrated electrical grid. After
independence in 1991, financial problems and a civil war in Tajikistan
caused work to stall on the project. Floods washed away foundations.
has never stopped, officials insist. Last year the Tajik government spent $50
million dollars on the project. Dushanbe
will spend approximately $200 million in 2009, according to Abdullo
Kurbonov, head of energy policy at the Energy
Ministry. Final cost estimates range between $2 billion and $6 billion.
hopes for Russian support faded in January when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, visiting Tashkent, gave his tacit
support to the Uzbek position. Medvedev told Uzbek
President Islam Karimov he would only support the
project if all countries in the region agreed. Nevertheless, in late February,
Tajik President Imomali Rahmon
traveled to Moscow with the apparent expectation
would offer some sort of Rogun-construction-assistance
plan. To the profound disappointment of many Tajiks,
however, no concrete Russian offer of assistance was forthcoming.
the same time as Rahmonís Moscow
trip, Karimov appeared to soften his opposition to Rogun, and went so far as to suggest Uzbekistan
could invest in the project. But there was a big caveat to the offer: Tashkent would invest only if an independent assessment
concluded that the project would not seriously alter water flows into Uzbekistan.
International analysts doubt such a study would ever meet Tashkentís criteria.
Rogun project remains open for investors, says Kurbonov. "I welcome everyone who wants to take part
in Tajikistanís hydropower
projects whether it is Uzbekistan
or any other country." Iran,
a cultural cousin to Persian-speaking Tajikistan, has expressed interest
in the project. Others mention neighboring China, which is already building a
smaller hydropower plant here. Pakistan
hope surplus energy will be diverted in their direction.
investment might be hampered by the secrecy surrounding the project, and Tajikistanís
historical lack of transparency. Some government officials are testy about the
there is a broad desire to finish the project among residents of Dushanbe. Even with the
recent resumption of power imports, it is unclear how Tajiks
will light their homes in the coming months. The reservoir at the
2,700-megawatt Nurek hydropower station, vital for
the summer ahead, is "very close to dead level," said an
international official speaking on condition of anonymity. The official
expressed concern that the reservoirís water level will remain so low that it
will be difficult to produce power next season and will contribute to ongoing
the moment, the lights are flickering on in Dushanbe, hastened by a wetter than normal
spring. One might conclude someone has been doing a rain dance. Because after a
month where officials were expecting a sudden, sustained nation-wide blackout,
it looks like Tajikistan
has squeezed through another winter.