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Tajikistan Faces Crippling Electricity Shortages, But Officials In Denial

A girl lights a cooking fire in Tajikistan's Khatlon region.
A girl lights a cooking fire in Tajikistan's Khatlon region.

There has never been a shortage of patients in Murod's private dental clinic on the rural outskirts of the southern Tajik city of Bokhtar.

But Murod fears his clinic will go out of business if the crippling electricity blackouts that began in most parts of Tajikistan in October continue through the winter, as many people expect.

"We get a few hours of electricity in the mornings and evenings, but there is no electricity during business hours," said Murod, who doesn't want to give his full name.

Murod says he uses a small flashlight -- or sometimes the light on his mobile phone -- to look into the mouths of his patients and do some "basic work in emergency cases."

"But there is not much I can do without electric power -- I can't drill, for example, and I have to tell the patients to go into the city [where there is electricity]," he said.

The capital, Dushanbe, and provincial centers such as Bokhtar have so far been exempted from electricity rationing that began -- with no official announcement -- early last month.

But the rest of the country goes into a complete blackout from about 8 a.m. to 5-6 p.m. and then from around 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. -- seven days a week.

The daytime blackout coincides with the opening hours of schools, offices, banks, shops, and many other businesses.

With no electricity at night, Tajiks must make due with batteries.
With no electricity at night, Tajiks must make due with batteries.

One grocery-store owner in the northern province of Sughd said he had "suffered losses as meat and dairy products have gone bad in the fridge without electricity."

"It's 17 degrees today, how can I keep these products without a fridge," said the shop owner, who didn’t want to give his name.

Hospital Fears

The worst hurt, however, are rural hospitals, many patients and medics say. Some medical facilities in rural areas have to use diesel-fueled power generators during the power cuts, but not all village hospitals can afford them.

Patients in the Hospital N4 in the village of Khudoyor Rajabov in the southern district of Vose say they spend the nights in dark, cold hospital rooms.

Doctors say they simply don't know what would happen in case of any emergencies during the night. The hospital doesn't have a motor generator.

"My pregnant daughter-in-law has been admitted to the maternity ward here and she is expected to give birth at any time," Vose resident Bibisoro Ghiyosova said.

Ghiyosova hopes the baby's arrival coincides with those several hours in the morning or evenings when there is electricity in the area.

Back To The Basics

Tajik authorities, however, insist there is no energy rationing in the country.

"Media and social-media reports about...any planned electricity rationing are baseless," said the state-owned Barqi Tojik company that oversees the electricity industry in the Central Asian country.

In response to widespread public complaints, Barqi Tojik said in a statement on October 12 that winter preparation works "might" have caused "interruptions in the electricity power transmission" in some areas.

According to the agency, the "necessary" works include cutting tree branches that touch power lines and repairs at power stations and on transmission lines.

The agency didn't provide any date on when the "works" are expected to be completed.

Many Tajiks had hoped the Roghun hydropower dam would change things.
Many Tajiks had hoped the Roghun hydropower dam would change things.

Tajikistan has experienced many years of energy shortages -- many that even lasted throughout the whole year.

But many Tajiks hoped that "electricity rationing" would end after the Roghun hydropower plant -- one of largest in the world -- became partially operational and started producing electricity in 2018.

Once completed, the Roghun plant is expected to double Tajikistan's electricity-production capacity to 3,600 MW, the equivalent of three nuclear power plants. Tajikistan hopes Roghun will turn the cash-strapped country into a major electricity exporter in the region.

The upstream country also has several other hydropower plants, including Norak and Sangtuda.

The current crisis comes as prices for natural gas, coal, and firewood have skyrocketed in Tajikistan, leaving households with no other affordable options or substitutes to heat their homes or cook their meals.

Turghunboi Tursunov, a resident of the northern district of Jabbor Rasulov, says his family usually relied on coal during electricity shortages in the past. But the price of coal has doubled this year.

Tursunov's household needs 2 tons of coal -- worth about $540 -- if the power cuts continue through the winter.

Tursunov says he wasn't able to raise such money -- a very large amount in a country where public-sector workers make less than $150 a month. "Now we're burning dry animal dung as an alternative," he said.

Many Tajiks say the current situation has forced them to go back to the basics when it comes to energy sources.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondents in Khatlon and Sughd provinces
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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    RFE/RL's Tajik Service

    RFE/RL’s Tajik Service is a trusted source of local news, attracting audiences with compelling reporting on issues not otherwise covered by Tajikistan’s state-run media.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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