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Uzbekistan Worried About Tajik Power Plant's Effect On 'Frail' Environment

The Amudarya delta in Uzbekistan, which Tashkent believes could be adversely affected by the Roghun hydropower project.
The Amudarya delta in Uzbekistan, which Tashkent believes could be adversely affected by the Roghun hydropower project.
By Farangis Najibullah
Uzbekistan's Prime Minister has sent a letter to his Tajik counterpart warning Dushanbe of potential damage by the Roghun power plant to Central Asia's "frail environmental balance.”

In the letter published in Uzbekistan's Russian-language "Pravda Vostoka" newspaper today, Shavkat Mirziyaev said that in a region facing water shortages and prone to earthquakes, the giant power plant project could bring catastrophic consequences.

The letter is the highest-level public warning yet from Uzbekistan over the project. It comes as Tajikistan is set to complete the first two units of the hydroelectric plant, which Dushanbe hopes will solve its crippling energy crisis.

Mirziyaev called on Dushanbe to conduct a thorough review of the Soviet-era project, designed "some 40 years ago” based on "outdated” technical expertise.

The Uzbek prime minister said Central Asia is already facing environmental problems in the aftermath of what he called the Aral Sea "catastrophe.” The inland sea has shrunk considerably over the past four decades after the Amudarya and other rivers that fed the sea were diverted by Soviet-era irrigation projects.

Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev
Mirziyaev said Tajikistan has to examine the possible impact of the Roghun plant on Amudarya water volumes, "as the very survival of millions of people” depends on it. He also pointed out that the Roghun power plant is located in an area with a track record of "several major earthquakes of up to magnitude 10.0.”

He compared threats posed by Soviet-era hydropower plants in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to the 2009 accident in Russia's Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant, which killed 75 people and caused vast environmental damage to its surroundings.

The Uzbek prime minister threatened to take the matter further to the international community and environmental organizations if Tajikistan ignores the warning.

Political Issue for Uzbekistan?

Officials in Dushanbe have yet to respond to the Uzbek prime minister's letter.

However, Yarash Pulovod, the head of Tajikistan's Water and Irrigation Institute, said Tajikistan had already conducted a painstaking scientific study of the situation around the Roghun project, "taking into consideration environmental, seismology, water and other issues.”

"For Uzbekistan, it is a political issue,” he said.

Sobit Nematulloev, a prominent Tajik seismologist, dismissed Tashkent's warning as "baseless.”

"We have been studying the issue for years. Experts have investigated and approved it,” Nematulloev said. “They have only concluded that the situation has to be monitored all the time. [Uzbekistan's] allegation about earthquake track records is a lie.

“There was a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in Hoit district once. We can't stop building the plant because there was one 6.0 earthquake in the area.”

One of the first stockholders in the Roghun hydropower station holds up his stock certificate.
Uzbekistan has long been opposed to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan's major power plant projects, fearing they would leave Uzbekistan facing water shortages and ecological threats.

Long-Standing Feud

Tashkent has in the past complained to the UN and other international bodies as well as Russia over its neighbors' hydropower plants ambitions and their possible impact on Uzbekistan. Amid Uzbek pressure, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced during his trip to Tashkent last year that Russia – then Roghun's major investor -- would not participate in energy projects in Central Asia unless the concerns of all states in the region were considered.

Medvedev's announcement caused angry reactions in Dushanbe, with Foreign Minister Hamrohkhon Zarifi swiftly announcing that Tajikistan would go ahead with its projects despite objections by other countries.

Uzbekistan, a key gas producer, has in the past repeatedly cut off winter gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and southern Kazakhstan, often without prior notice. The country left a regional power grid in December, further deepening energy shortages in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

During winter, Tajikistan depends on imports of 1.2 billion kilowatts of electricity from Turkmenistan delivered through Uzbek territory. Tashkent's withdrawal from the regional grid has cut off Tajikistan from its vital energy supplier.

To put an end to its long-standing energy crisis, the Tajik government decided to complete at least two units of the Roghun power plant with domestic funds. President Emomali Rahmon has called on ordinary Tajiks as well as businesses to buy Roghun shares to raise part of the $1.4 billion authorities say is needed to complete those units. Capable of generating 3.6 billion kilowatts of electricity a year, Roghun would be the most powerful hydropower plant in Central Asia, and at 335 meters, the world's highest dam.

Tajikistan hopes it will also help fulfill the country's dream of becoming a major energy exporter.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yasser from: Europe
February 03, 2010 19:51
Why can't these neighbours find common language?

by: Roxanne
February 03, 2010 19:59
After years of cutting energy supplies to Tajikistan, it comes as a surprise that Uzbek politicians should have the nerve not only to disapprove of the Tajik and Kyrgiz energy projects, but to threaten and complain in regards to them.

Yet again, the problems Uzbekistan will face as a result is understandable. Sadly, at this point not many Tajiks and Kyrgiz will show much empathy. Compromise seems hard to come to.

by: Bukhari from: Bukhara
February 04, 2010 04:24
Dear Yasser,
Central Asians are very good neighbours, they share one Muslim persified culture, they can talk Turki and Farsi both (in Uzb-n and Taj-n), they are by/multylanguague nations. They have this culture of mutual tolerance for the centuries, but this time and case is special due to the Karimov's madness idea of superiority of Uzb-n over others... which doestn't work any more!

by: Andijani from: andijan
February 04, 2010 10:04
Literally our bastard president is biggest threat to the whole region of central asia. everything from terrorism, human right abuses, to energy and economical crisis he is the only man responsible for all this and the cause of mischief and unstability in the region . Our humble people in particular are suffering from his blood stained hands, our respected neighbours also are directly suffering from his insanity. we are beggining to realise there is only one way solution remaining its the only just way and may god help us fight him and grant us everlasting peace and prosperity and grant us former our glory.

by: Steve from: China
February 05, 2010 13:50
Central Asia is not the same at all,Kazakhtan and Kyrgyztan have less Persian influence and more Russian influence and their Islam belief is not devout as those people in Uzbekistan. Uzbeks are so strong in their traditionl and many Central Asia countries also have a significant proportional of Uzbeks. Tajik has a Large proportional of Uzbeks and Uzbeks are Turks like Kazaks but Tajiks are Persians. I don't think Central Asia can form a union because there is just no common basis among those people. The Conflict
is always there.

by: RJ from: Washington DC
February 07, 2010 20:11
Dear Farangis Najibullah,
Thank you for this article. It would be very useful for your readers to post an article on the response letter of Tajikistan's Prime Minister to his Uzbek counterpart on Roghun HPP, which is posted in Tajik by your Tajik section's colleagues. Thanks.

by: Baha MCC from: Omaha, NE
February 20, 2010 23:53
Despite all the conflicts that they had before, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan need to have an agreement in order to solve this issue. Disagreement might lead Uzbekistan to make a decision about some force attacks which has very dangerous hazard and economic influences for both sides, especially for Tajkistan. It is obvious that Tajik and Uzbek people are very close to each other due to their same nationality in the previous history. Although Tajik's and Uzbek's population is divided into two countries after Turkestan was broken up, most of them still have relationships between because of their relatives or even siblings who live in the neighbor's land. It's comprehensible that Tajikistan puts up all its efforts in order to improve the economic condition of the country and to avoid its poorness by constructing Rogun's dam but also it's time to consider not lose political relations with border's countries which hopefully still exist ; with Uzbekistan. In my opinion, the best way to run away of neighbor's disagreements, Tajikistan should present a world proof of being safe Rogun's Dam for the countries around it and its are in the future.

by: Bestwishes from: Morocco
February 26, 2010 05:38
Why Uzbekistan is against to Tajik hydropower station? before Uzbekistan sleeped when Tajiks were staying in one place,but now when Tajiks moveing,Uzbekistan waked up... I think its wrong from Uzbeks sides, lets create agreements between this two countries. Its impossibele to be in war and have misunderstanding forever!