Lacking electricity, money, and food, Tajikistan asks the world for help
Dushanbe (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Tajikistan is asking the world for help, with the government on the brink of bankruptcy and facing a shortage of electricity and even staple foods. It is feared that the mountainous country, because of its strategic position, will now become the object of competition among the world powers.
On February 6, the country's central bank urgently asked for help from the international community. "The crisis has had a negative impact on the food supply situation, and has put industry in a very difficult spot". "Over the next few days, the government will submit a list of basic emergency items to international organisation and donor countries, as well as a plan for their use and allocation". The previous day, members of the government had met with international aid agencies, like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The country faces an electricity shortage, and last night the capital of Dushanbe was reduced to just 10 hours of electricity a day (from 5 to 10 a.m. and p.m.), with the exception of "facilities of statewide importance". For months, electricity service in the rest of the country has not exceeded three hours a day, and now it is expected that this will be reduced even further. There are also low levels of water in the reservoirs that supply the hydroelectric plants.
The situation has worsened since Uzbekistan suspended electricity supplies on February 6, apparently because of Tajikistan's growing debt, although Turkmenistan has agreed to double its own supplies of electricity. Tajikistan's foreign debt has grown for years, reaching 1.2 billion dollars in January, equal to a third of the country's entire gross domestic product. Of this, Tajikistan owes 217 million dollars to China and 63.6 million to Uzbekistan. For years, inflation has exceeded 10%, and in recent months the cost of staple foods has tripled, in part because of the worldwide rise in prices. For a few years, Tajikistan has also had trouble with its cotton crops, an important resource, and it is estimated that altogether the farmers owe 500 million dollars.
Zlatan Milisic, the director for the World Food Programme in Tajikistan, says "We are seeing more and more people who are eating just one meal a day".
The country is poor in natural resources, and receives almost everything from abroad. No less than two thirds of the citizens live below the poverty level, and the state-imposed electricity price limits are among the lowest in the world.
The coldest winter in at least 50 years, with temperatures below -22 degrees centigrade in Dushanbe, has worsened the situation. For the first time, electricity supplies have even been lowered at the Tajik Aluminum Plant, one of the main sources of the country's wealth.
Moreover, its central position, between China and Afghanistan and not far from the Middle East and Russia, gives Tajikistan strategic importance. Very recently, Moscow pressured Dushanbe not to allow the building of an aerial base for Indian military jets. India wants a military presence at the base in Ayni, 15 kilometres from the capital, and a medical centre in Farkhor, near the Afghan border. The position is important both for relations with neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan, and for the control of energy sources. But Russia opposes the military development of its powerful neighbour.
Analysts are asking who - above all between Russia, China, and the United States - will benefit the most from Dushanbe's hardship. Russia boasts a traditional domination in the region, and has already invested a great deal in the country, in spite of the recent disagreements. But China is the greater foreign lender. Meanwhile, it is important for the United States to have a presence in central Asia, and the U.S. is also interested in the development of hydroelectric power in Tajikistan, which has the potential to make the country self-sufficient and even able to sell electricity to other countries.