Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Common Energy Plan for Central Asia Still Far Off

As the World Bank calls for an integrated approach to sharing Central Asia’s water and energy resources, NBCentralAsia experts say the five states still lack a common vision on how to harmonise their differing interests.

On March 11, the World Bank issued a statement calling for a new Regional Energy Development Framework which would take into account all current and future energy resources in Central Asia and look at ways of balancing the requirement of upstream states Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to conserve water to generate hydroelectricity in winter against the need to ensure adequate water flows to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakstan over the summer, while maximising their energy production and export capacities.

NBCentral Asia analysts say it is not going to be easy to design a common strategy given that each of the five states still shows little will to comprehend the sometimes opposing interests of the others.

“The key problem in drawing up such a common concept is the diverging interests of all the Central Asian states,” said Viktor Ivonin, an economic analyst in the Uzbek capital Tashkent.

Resources for energy production are distributed unevenly among regional states. Mountainous Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan possess close to 80 per cent of the region’s water resources, whereas Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, located downstream, have less water but substantial oil and gas deposits.

The Uzbeks export their natural gas to Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They also supply their own electricity to the Tajiks as well as providing them with transit for Kyrgyz and Turkmen electricity.

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan try to store up water for the winter when they use it for electricity generation, but these same water resources also flow to their downstream neighbours which need irrigation over the growing season. Both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, whose economies are heavily dependent on exports of cotton – a thirsty crop – often run short of water.

In addition, there are frequent disputes over the price and supply of oil and gas resources in the region. This often leaves Uzbekistan, the major exporter of gas to its regional neighbours, at odds with the Kyrgyz and Tajiks. It has suspended gas supplies to them on several occasions after their debts mounted up, and in response they reduced water flows down the main arterial rivers.

In January, the Uzbeks also halted the transit of Turkmen electricity to Tajikistan via their national grid.

The World Bank proposal for a common energy-sector strategy comes as Central Asian states discuss whether new hydroelectricity projects should be made conditional on international impact studies conducted under the aegis of the United Nations.

The Uzbeks are insisting on the need for such studies, as they fear that Kyrgyz and Tajik plans for the Kambarata and Rogun schemes, respectively, will leave their agricultural sector short of water. The Uzbek position received backing from Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov when he visited Tashkent in February 2009.

Dushanbe reacted in no uncertain terms. Deputy energy minister Pulod Muhiddinov said, “Tajikistan will finish building the Rogun [hydroelectric dam and reservoir] no matter who opposes it.”

Kyrgyzstan’s position, expressed by Prime Minister Igor Chudinov at the World Water Forum on March 16, is that a feasibility study for the Kambarata scheme already exists, dating from the Soviet period when the project was conceived.

Experts agree that a common strategy as outlined by the World Bank is essential if they are to resolve chronic energy problems in the region, but regional states would need to adopt a more collaborative approach before this would be possible.

Vladimir Paramonov, a political analyst from Tashkent, would like to see a comprehensive survey of all current cross-border agreements involving water and energy, but he doubts this would be possible with a broader understanding among the five states on regional integration.

“If they don’t agree what integration should mean, they aren’t going to reach an understanding [on energy],” he added.

Ravshan Nazarov, another analyst from Uzbekistan, says Central Asian states should abandon an egotistic view based on their own energy industries and interests, and instead start talking to one another. After that, they might be able to devise joint strategies.

“These countries need to understand that only through common efforts can they overcome their difficulties,” he said.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service has resumed, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)