Uzbek Leaders Complain About Pollution Amid Water Row
30, 2010, Konstantin
between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are sinking over Dushanbeís plans to construct the giant Rogun hydroelectric power plant. And of late, Tashkent has
started directing some of its ire at a massive Tajik aluminum smelter,
portraying it as an environmental nightmare.
have based their vigorous opposition to Rogun on
claims that its construction would be ecologically unsound and seismically
unsafe. Some independent experts, meanwhile, contend that Tashkentís chief
fear is that Rogun might greatly diminish the amount
of water available to Uzbekistan for its irrigation needs.
Officials in Dushanbe reject Uzbekistanís protests as absurd, emphasizing that it is their sovereign right
to go ahead with building the plant, which would enable Tajikistan to become a major electricity exporter.
Of late, Uzbek
media outlets have carried a bevy of reports on Tajikistanís "environment-unfriendly" industrial sector. Other
reports have pressed a claim that Tajik authorities intend to use water as an
instrument of coercion in their dealings with regional neighbors.
Over the past
month, Uzbek authorities have also sought to turn the Tajik aluminum plant, or
Talco, into an issue. Talco, situated not far from the Uzbek border near the
Tajik town of Tursonzoda, is one of the biggest industrial enterprises in Central Asia, and it is the
chief source of foreign-currency revenue for the Tajik government.
Much of Tashkentís
opposition has been expressed in the form of public protests. Late March, for
example, saw several rallies in Uzbekistan against Talco, including one in southern Surkhandarya Province, and another at Termez State University. According to a report distributed by the Regnum news agency, the Termez event was an "unsanctioned rally." But in
a country where President Islam Karimovís
administration has free speech in a full nelson, many regional experts doubt
that the protests would be allowed to proceed without government approval.
most disappointing is that the Tajik government and the management of the
aluminum plant absolutely do not care either about the population of Uzbekistanís border districts, or their [own] people living near the Tajik
aluminum plant, the waste of which affects human health," a protest
representative said, Regnum reported on March 25. Talco "inevitably steps
up the negative impact on nature and the state of the health of
On March 29,
protesting the plantís negative ecological effects, about 200 Uzbek citizens
picketed a passing trainload of Tajiks, returning
home from Russia.
are dismissive of Tashkentís complaints. "Rumors about harmful emissions from the Tajik
aluminum company have no real grounds," Dushanbeís
Asia Plus news agency quoted Khursandqul Zikirov, the chairman of the Tajik Committee for
Environmental Protection, as saying on April 19. Zikirov
added that his agency closely monitors Uzbek metallurgical plants and cement
factories operating near the Tajik border. "The analysis has shown that
the negative impact of wastes from [Uzbek] industrial enterprises on the
environment in northern Tajikistan exceeds the standard limit by one-third," he said.
In recent weeks,
sensational rumors have swirled around on the Internet about Talcoís supposed
intent to start uranium enrichment operations. An anonymous posting on the news
portal Centrasia.ru on April 20 claimed that
"Tajik and Iranian specialists jointly carry out rehabilitation and
construction works, preparing to launch a new uranium enrichment facility [at
Talco]." Talco representatives immediately denied the rumors.
was [spun] by Uzbek ecologists against the plant; but the real purpose is to
apply extreme political and social pressure on Tajikistan; and, in reality,
this is related to Tajikistanís plans on finishing the construction of Rogun," Mekhroj Sharipov, a political analyst, told Tajikistanís Avesta news agency on April 20.
Helping to stoke
mutual animosity, Amonullo Khukumatullo,
a spokesman for Tajik Railways, told journalists on April 21 that Tashkent issued a
secret decree on January 1 that instructed Uzbek officials to deliberately
impede the transit of Tajik cargos across Uzbek territory. He did not explain
how he had found out about the alleged Uzbek decree.