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

Homemade Hydro Power Lights Up Tajikistan

Villagers have come up with a unique solution to the country's energy crisis.
By Anora Sarkorova
Tajikistan's eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region had until recently largely escaped the energy crisis gripping the rest of the country. But on the night of February 5 the lights went off following an accident at the local power station that flooded the turbine room and shut down vital equipment. It's not yet clear how long it will take to fix the damage though officials have promised some service by mid-March.

In the meantime, electricity is restricted to three hours a day in the region's administrative centre Khorog. Schools, factories and construction projects have shut down and bread shortages have been reported. Residents are coping with freezing winter temperatures by chopping down trees to burn as fuel and sending children to stay with relatives with wood burning stoves.

"We have no other choice," said local resident Muzaffar Kadamov. "We have to keep warm any way we can."

But these problems aren't unique to Gorno-Badakhshan.

It has been a bad winter all across Tajikistan with power production dropping and demand increasing, forcing supply companies to impose tough restrictions on electricity usage. Even the capital Dushanbe has been affected with residents claiming supplies are now more limited there than during the civil war days.

Meanwhile, prices go up every year on the recommendation of the World Bank and the IMF which are attempting to encourage Tajikistan's power generation industry to be more cost-effective.

Such hardships have forced Tajiks living in rural communities to take matters into their own hands. Some villagers in isolated and mountainous regions have built mini-hydroelectric stations which can provide electricity for an entire village.

Ustokadam Saodatkadamov built one out of used car parts and it now provides electricity to 30 homes in the Shugnan region's Bachid village in Gorno-Badakhshan.

Abdolbek Nazarshoev, a resident of Khuf in the Rushan region of Gorno-Badakhshan, has also built his own hydroelectric station for around 1,300-1,500 US dollars. He harnessed water from a nearby canal and diverted it through a turbine which powers an engine that produces electricity for the village.

He says the station has already paid for itself, though needs careful monitoring to make sure it doesn't break down.

"We don't have problems with light anymore," said Nazarshoev. "Imagine how hard it is to have a wedding or funeral in winter. It's impossible to do this without electricity, but now everything is in order here. We reached an agreement with our neighbours, and every night one of us watches over the station, checks the state of the units and whether the river has frozen over."

Lukmon Akhmedov, from Unji in the Bobojongafurov region of the Sogd region, spent more than 1,000 dollars on his hydroelectric station, which powers the village hospital, among other things.

It has been so successful that he has been asked to build others by residents in neighbouring villages, who will cover his expenses and receive electricity free of charge in return.

Local tax inspectors have already taken note of this new industry springing up with some saying the entrepreneurs are using the country's water resources illegally and should therefore be liable for tax.

Legal expert Gulchekhra Mamadshoeva disagrees. "A citizen who builds a small hydroelectric station and does not receive income from it should not pay taxes," she said. "Furthermore, he does not pay the state for electricity, as the state energy company has nothing to do with this."

Tajik government tax authorities confirm that hydroelectric station owners who give away the electricity they produce rather than sell it don't have to worry about paying taxes. However, they advise entrepreneurs to watch out for unscrupulous inspectors who insist on payments.

The government realises that DIY hydroelectricity stations aren't a permanent solution to the country's energy problems. So, with the help of foreign investors, it is embarking on a construction programme to beef up capacity, and last summer approved a plan to build 71 small hydroelectric stations around the country by 2020. That's a major improvement on the 30 small, medium-sized and two large stations in operation today.

Abdullo Kurbonov from the ministry for energy and industry believes the future development of the industry and the way out of the current crisis lies in these small hydroelectric stations. Though they are vulnerable to natural disasters, he says they will satisfy the demands of remote and mountainous regions not yet connected to the country's energy system and replace the need for the homemade solutions.

Anora Sarkorova and Takhmina Ubaidulloeva are IWPR contributors in Tajikistan.

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