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

New Power Crisis Hits Tajikistan

The latest electricity crisis in Tajikistan is the work of Uzbekistan, which is blocking supplies for political reasons, according to an economist in Dushanbe.
Reporter Anton Rodin interviewed people left shivering by the blackouts, which are affecting the entire country including the capital Dushanbe. Some were at least grateful that this winter was not nearly as harsh as last year’s.

Until the beginning of the year, the Uzbeks were allowing electricity that Tajikistan bought from Turkmenistan to cross their national grid. That transit arrangement suddenly came to an end on January 1, ostensibly because of an accident at an Uzbek substation.

Meanwhile, all of Tajikistan’s hydroelectric power stations are operating at full generating capacity, even though lack of rain last year has left reservoir levels dangerously low.

Economist Ashurboy Saliev believes Uzbekistan is using the breakdown as an excuse to starve the Tajiks of power and pressure them not to fund final work on the Rogun dam, a major hydroelectric power project. The Uzbeks fear that once this giant dam is operating, the need to keep the reservoir full it will reduce the water flow down the Amu Darya, a crucial source of irrigation for their agriculture.

Saliev says it is no coincidence that the closedown came just as the Tajik government assigned 150 US dollars for the Rogun dam project, three times last year’s amount.

“It really is [a move] to influence Tajikistan in some manner,” he said.

If the Uzbek policy is blackmail, it could prove counterproductive - Tajikistan is currently generating as much power as it can, thus inevitably placing a strain on reservoir levels.

“Right now, the energy system is working on our own resources,” said Bahrom Azimov , deputy chairman in the new management team at the national power company Barq-i Tojik. He said the Nurek, Kairakkum, Sangtuda, and Vakhsh river hydropower plants were all going strong, and suggested the country would get through this period.

Political scientist Rashidghani Abdullo says that if Tajikistan is left with no option to run its hydropower generators at full speed through the rest of the winter, the logical conclusion of running all that water through the turbines is that there will not be enough left in the rivers downstream in summer, and Uzbekistan could find itself short of water in the growing season.

“Tajikistan is quite simply forced to use whatever options it has available, and they are fairly limited,” he said.

Abdullo argues that there should be a common agreement between all the countries which lie along Central Asia’s major rivers. He calls for a “rational policy” of mutual compensation, where in winter the countries lying downstream, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, would supply oil, gas and coal to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where the rivers originate. In summer, the Uzbeks and Kazaks would be compensated by receiving adequate river flows and electricity from the two smaller states.

More IWPR's Global Voices

Amid Pandemic, Cuban State Curbs Its Entrepreneurs
The crackdown on street vendors selling basic goods means people have to join long queues in government-run shops.
Cuba's Elderly Work Through the Pandemic
Cuba Slow to Act Over Domestic Abuse