WORLD BANK OFFER ENERGIZES ROGUN HYDROPOWER PROJECT
16, 2010, Konstantin Parshin
A World Bank
offer to underwrite an environmental feasibility study for the proposed Rogun hydropower project could mark a decisive moment in
the Central Asian stateís efforts to become an electricity exporter.
The World Bank
estimates it will take three months to select a contractor to conduct the
impact study, which could then take 18 months to complete, Motu
Konishi, the Bankís regional director for Central Asia, announced on
March 10. "If the Rogun project proves its
financial and environmental sustainability, the World Bank will provide the
financial aid and support to the government of Tajikistan for the establishment of a consortium that will build this plant.
The Tajik government and the World Bank will sign an appropriate memorandum on
this issue," Konishi said.
Although a lot
can happen in 18 months, the reaction in Dushanbe to the
World Bank announcement has been buoyant. "The World Bankís statement is
very weighty. It means that something will get off the ground; Tajikistan will receive new opportunities and - very probably - international
support in continuing the construction of Rogun,"
Prof. Sabit Negmatullaev,
director of Geophysical Services at the Tajik Academy of Sciences told EurasiaNet.
announcement is a very promising development, echoed Goulsara
Pulatova, regional director of the UN International
Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in Central Asia. "Such a
large-scale project requires concerted actions from all interested parties. And
the new environmental assessment will help determine the most appropriate way
to implement the project," she told EurasiaNet.
Development Bank (ADB) has come out strongly in support of Rogun
since Konishiís visit. On March 15, President Imomali Rahmon met with Juan
Miranda, ADB director general for Central and Western Asia.
According to Rahmonís press service, Miranda stated that the "ADB
supports Tajikistanís energy policy, the basis of which is the construction of the Rogun hydropower plant." The ADB also expressed its
readiness to help "the Tajik government in carrying out technical-economic
and socio-environmental expertise of the Rogun
[project]," local news agencies reported on March 16.
Construction at Rogun began in the 1970s, was halted by the breakup of the
former Soviet Union and the Tajik civil war, commenced again with Russian
investment in the mid-2000s, and stopped again in 2007 amid disagreements
between Moscow and Dushanbe. Since then, Rahmon has
been seeking new investors to restart the project, the completion of which
would allow Tajikistan to become a net exporter of power.
Tajik efforts to
keep Rogunís construction on course have generated
intense opposition from downstream nations in Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan. Tashkent has long opposed the construction on the grounds it could cut water
supplies and give Dushanbe undue political leverage. Tashkent has
repeatedly demanded an independent party examine the potential impact of the Rogun reservoirís projected 12.5 billion cubic meters of
water stored in Tajikistanís mountains. Uzbek officials have yet to publicly respond to the
World Bankís Rogun announcement.
in Dushanbe wondered whether the World Bankís financing of the study would
encourage Moscow to once again become involved in the project. In recent years, Moscow has proven a
wildcard on the Rogun issue. In January 2009, Russian
President Dmitry Medvedev
surprised Dushanbe by telling Central Asiaís upstream and downstream countries to agree together on such large
projects. At the time, analysts suggested Medvedev
was trying to earn points with Tashkent, but it led Rahmon to declare a
Rahmonís development tactics have
generated some domestic discontent in recent months. In January, the Tajik
government launched a campaign to sell Rogun shares
to the public, but officials quickly came under criticism for reportedly
employing strong-arm tactics to ensure the offeringís success. For example,
government employees were reportedly forced to purchase shares, and university
students were told they could not pass exams if they could not prove ownership
of shares. The Tajik Finance Ministry recently announced that it had collected
about $176 million from sales and private donations. Most estimates say the
total cost of the 3,600-megawatt project varies from $2 billion to $4 billion.
As envisioned, it would be the tallest hydropower dam in the world, at 330
Buoyed by the
World Bankís initial support for Rogun, some
officials in Dushanbe believe that the Rogun project may have
gained critical momentum. Sayfullo Safarov, the deputy director of the presidentís Strategic Research Center, told
the Asia-Plus news agency on March 10: "If any technical claims are made
to Tajikistan on the results of the [World Bank] examination, it is necessary to
remove them, but not to stop Rogun construction."