10/12/2007, 00.00
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Dushanbe fears another cold winter

In a water-rich but energy-poor country, electricity is rationed in winter time. Villages and towns can go without it for days. Now the authorities want to buy it from the neighbours but must negotiate with Uzbekistan which is opposed to new power-generating dams that might reduce water flow in shared rivers.

Dushanbe (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Tajikistan has a great hydroelectric power potential but it reportedly faces severe power shortages. For this reason, it plans to develop its hydroelectric capacity with the assistance of Kyrgyzstan. This in turn is raising concerns in its oil-rich neighbours of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which are highly dependent on water from shared rivers.

This was not always the case. In Soviet times, Tajikistan did not worry about energy since it got if from other Soviet republics. But now that the USSR is no more, nights can be dark and cold when power is rationed.

At the beginning of October, Tajikistan in fact began a winter schedule for electricity distribution, under which households and offices receive electricity for only two periods a day, in the mornings and evenings, totalling six to eight hours. Exceptions are made for the main hospitals, government offices, and "strategically important sites."

With no gas, wood- and coal-burning stoves have made a comeback to heat homes and for cooking. So have long-forgotten oil lamps.

Last winter many villages, even provincial towns, were left without power for days. Power was cut off even in the city centre of the capital, Dushanbe.

Mirzosharif Isomiddinov, the head of the Tajik parliament's Commission on Energy, Industry, and Communication, said that up to 50 per cent of the electricity in Tajikistan is consumed by an aluminium plant, which is crucial for the national economy.

Tajikistan has a potential capacity of 300 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, but can only generate some 17 billion kilowatt-hours annually.

Its decision to build new plants has raised serious concerns in its neighbours, especially Uzbekistan, whose cotton production depends on the Amu Darya or Syr Darya rivers which originate in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan respectively.

One project is the Rogun Dam, an unfinished dam begun in 1976. Were it completed it would stand 335 metres high.

Kyrgyzstan is instead self-sufficient and sells power to its neighbours.

Dushanbe announced on October 4 a deal with Turkmenistan whereby Tajikistan would import 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually from Turkmenistan for the next three years.

Last year the Tajiks signed a similar deal to import electricity from Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan that fell through because the latter did not have the capacity to transmit its neighbours' electrical power. But many are convinced that the Uzbeks deliberately prevented transmission in order to force Tajikistan into talks over its hydropower ambitions.

It will be years before any plants are built in Tajikistan and the country needs power now.

Consequently, whatever the official statements may be, analysts believe that the two countries are secretly negotiating an accord.

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