February 2008 (IRIN) - Tajikistan is bracing for a
compound humanitarian emergency due to prolonged power
outages, an unusually long period of extremely cold weather,
and resultant emerging food insecurity, according to
“We’ve had the harshest winter for three decades. It has frozen inlet streams going into reservoirs which generate electricity. At the same time there has been an increase in the consumption of power as a result of the cold weather,” Michael Jones, UN resident coordinator in Tajikistan, said.
“It is a compound emergency, it is multifaceted,” Jones told IRIN on 11 February.
For most of January temperatures in the capital, Dushanbe, have averaged minus 15 degrees during the day and dropped to as low as minus 25 at night, according to the UN Development Programme Disaster Risk Management Programme (UNDP DRMP) Tajikistan.
“The turbines [at hydro-power plants] cannot generate electricity for Dushanbe and other parts of the country,” Jones explained. “This has been causing power shortages now for a prolonged period of time.” According to the UN Economic Commission for Europe, hydroelectric generation accounts for 76 percent of total energy output in the country.
Sharifkhon Samiev, head of Barqi Tojik, the state-controlled power monopoly, said on 7 February that the country’s energy sector was facing an emergency situation. As a result, Barqi Tojik had introduced electricity-rationing across the country.
“Tajikistan is on the verge of a real humanitarian disaster. The government cannot cope with the crisis without international aid,” Tursun Kabirov, a local analyst, said.
Hospitals, orphanages most vulnerable
“The areas that we are most concerned about are the hospitals, the orphanages and other facilities where we have vulnerable groups,” Jones said.
“We know now that we are going to have prolonged shortages [of energy] for at least 25 days - and by shortages I mean maybe two hours of electricity per day, three to four hours perhaps in other locations,” the UN official said.
Hospitals are experiencing sub-zero temperatures, with vulnerable premature babies requiring incubators most at risk, officials and experts said.
In terms of heating, urban areas appear to be most at risk: “The problem [of energy and heating] seems to be confined primarily to the urban areas. Here, in multi-storey apartments we have people totally dependent on electricity and natural gas [for heating and cooking], whereas in the countryside we have people who are accustomed to going without electricity; they have alternative forms of fuel,” Jones said.
According to a survey on the impact of energy shortages on households conducted between late January and early February by the REACT network (comprising relevant government ministries, UN agencies and major non-governmental organisations), 88 percent of households in Dushanbe said electricity was their main source for heating.
The Soviet-era heating systems for large blocks of flats have largely broken down and the overall energy system has been further affected by Uzbekistan’s recent suspension of gas supplies.
Power shortages have caused food prices to rise and households, particularly in rural areas, to spend more resources on fuel. The combined effect means households have less disposable income for food, Jones said.
The REACT survey said about 35 percent of Dushanbe’s population was having trouble buying food and other basic necessities, while the figure for other areas was 63-78 percent.
The total number of vulnerable people - defined as children in orphanges, premature babies in maternity hospitals, patients in hospitals and people who cannot afford more than one meal a day - is about 500,000, according to Jones. This is a report from IRIN, the Integrated Regional Information Network. Although a part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, IRIN’s news service is editorially independent. Its reports do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations and its various agencies. For more stories from IRIN, please see www.irinnews.org