Tajikistan is not a country where cold winters are rare. Despite the two previous wintertime’s being unusually lacking in severity it appears the Tajik authorities have been caught cold by the early onset of plunging temperatures in the former Soviet Central Asian republic.
Power outages are not unusual in a state whose energy consumption is prodigious thanks to the need for summertime power-guzzling air-conditioning and extra winter warmth, when temperatures can drop in alpine regions as low as minus 27 Celsius. Despite such year-round demand being far from revelatory to Tajikistan’s decision-makers nationwide energy-rationing has been implemented in most areas of the country except the capital Dushanbe, and the independently-supplied Gorno-Badakhshan region. In many areas the lights are on for as little as 25% of the day but even in the capital an increasingly unreliable supply has prompted residents to seek less-conventional forms of generating warmth.
An over-reliance on energy imports from neighbouring Uzbekistan has placed into sharp focus Tajikistan’s inability to generate its own power – especially since supplies of Uzbek natural gas and electricity have long-since ceased. In a country where dissention against the ruling autocratic regime of Emomali Rahmon remains a dangerous course of action, Dushanbe’s winter of discontent has prompted its mayor to order his deputies to be more visible and available, although a dedicated helpline that is never answered could be described as nothing more than a rather inefficient but ironic form of lip-service.
Despite the importance of bathhouses and bakeries to Tajik society both inevitably reside at the extreme ends of necessity. It is therefore baffling that each has been identified by Mayor Ubaidulloev as non-essential users of electricity – both have subsequently been ordered to cease operation. The limited few Dushanbe households fortunate to have access to hot water have been commanded to only use it for heating; it is unclear how this could be enforced although a knock on the door from the hot-water police can never be completely ruled out.
The October 2016 power outage didn’t though discriminate between urban and rural communities – an event which saw the whole country plunged into darkness. A critical fault at the Nurek hydroelectric facility exemplified the precarious nature of Tajikistan’s energy security and the country’s dependence on its ongoing, efficacious operation – at least until the Rogun mega-dam project, the country’s largest infrastructure project to date, is fully on stream. Construction of the leviathan project somewhat coincidentally started only a day after the nationwide outage – perhaps to persuade any lingering doubters of its necessity and for Tajikistan to finally control its own energy-generating destiny. Will though its $3.9 billion price tag allow for an auxiliary ‘plan b’ – something that was so obviously missing during the Nurek malfunction? With all hopes being pinned on a behemoth capital project designed to consign inconsistencies of energy supply and generation to the past, it is hard to envisage a backup system being sanctioned that could insinuate Rogun won’t be as infallible as the promotional literature suggests.
Source material courtesy of oilprice.com (27th December 2016) and eurasianet.org