Dushanbe (AsiaNews / Agencies) - In late December Iran began transporting by air 75 tons of electronic equipment to Tajikistan to complement the hydroelectric dam Sangtuda-2, about 100 kilometers south of Dushanbe, which will produce 220 megawatts of electricity a year. But Uzbekistan continues to oppose the project, for fear that it will reduce the water flow of the river Vakhsh, essential for agriculture.
In 2010, about 2 thousand trains loaded with construction materials bound for Tajikistan were stopped at the border of Uzbekistan, including at least 20 trains sent by Iran to build the dam, which is being built by the Iranian company Sangob. Now Tehran has sent the material by air, and Tashkent has also warned that if the blockade continues, Iran could prevent the passage of Uzbek trains.
The Iranian ambassador to Tajikistan, Ali Asghar Sherdust, said that the turbines needed for Sangtuda-2, produced in China, were brought to the port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. Each turbine weighs 140 tonnes and Iran will ship them to Tajikistan by air. It is hoped the dam will be completed and start producing energy by 2011, Tajikistan has invested 40 million dollars in the project in Iran 180 million, apart from the cost of air transport. In return Iran will manage the dam for the first 12 years.
Tajikistan is devoid of oil and gas fields and lacks electricity, which is rationed each winter, but it is rich in watercourses, so is investing in hydropower.
Uzbekistan is rich in energy, but sells at a price. Many rivers that irrigate its valleys flow from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and it fears that the dams that the two countries are building will decrease the flow of water, essential for agriculture. A fact that the two upstream countries deny, noting that they have the right to exploit their natural resources.
The Tajik dam that concerns Uzbekistan the most, however, is the Rogun, which the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov has often described as "an environmental and economic catastrophe for the downstream countries”.
While Iran must ship the equipment by air, Uzbekistan on December 29 granted Tajikistan a postponement to 2016 to pay off its debt to Tashkent, primarily from supply of energy, and reduced the annual payment from 11 to 5.5 million dollars. These are major concessions for impoverished Tajikistan, which receives 95% of its energy supply from Uzbekistan. In recent months Tashkent has threatened to withhold supplies. In comparing the two states Dushanbe risks isolation, because it has little to offer, while there is great interest in the rich deposits of Uzbek gas.
Tajikistan's debts to foreign countries amount to about 1.79 billion, including 378 million to the World Bank, 325 million to the Asian Development Bank and 665 million to China.