According to an article in today’s NZZOnline [german] by Almaty based German journalist Marcus Bensmann, Tajikistan’s Rogun dam project causes considerable tension in the region. It’s a very interesting piece on a medially underrepresented, but nonetheless interesting and important region. A short translated summary of Bensmanns article:
The dam project was to be built in the 1990s but came to a grinding halt when the Soviet Union fell and civil war erupted in Tajikistan. However, in 2004 the Russian Federation invested 2 billion Swiss Francs (About 1.5 billion Euro), a third of Tajikistan’s BIP, to finance the resuming of the construction works and expand the local aluminium industry.
Dams in Central Asia have had a longstanding peculiar history and do have ugly effects on both natural and political environment today. In Soviet times, two dams were responsible for the regulation of Central Asian rivers Syr Darja and Amu Darja: Toktogul in Kyrgyzstan and Nurek in Tajikistan mainly allowed for the waters to be redirected to the major cotton industries in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The excessive use of water was mainly responsible for the vanishing of the Aral Sea. The water was exchanged in a swap deal with petrol gas and oil.
This redistribution system fell apart in 1991 and former allies stopped cooperating as before. What follows sounds like classical tit-for-tat-game: The oil delivering countries expected continious unconditioned water supplies, while asking world marked prices for their crude and gas. On the other side, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan acquired the habit of releasing waters from their dams in winter time to generate electric energy. This again very untimely floods the downstream countries, where the soil becomes inundated and marshy. As a retaliation the petrol countries refuse to deliver gas and electricity to the northern neighbours, whose inhabitants end up in sitting in unheated homes, without electricity for weeks.
The Rogun dam seems to be Tajikistan’s strategy to get out of this unfortunate game. The dam would have considerable effects on the neighbouring country. Uzbekistan keenly opposed the project, Russia finally withdrew from 2004’s deal. Tajikistan is lacking international investors. The initial attempt to coerce its citizens into buying shares were stopped by the World Bank. Nevertheless, Bensmann states, Tajikistan’s government seems very determined to pursue this way out of its ressource problem. The relationships with neighbour Uzbekistan grow more and more tense. Uzbek scientists warned that another dam in the region would drain the Aral Sea for good.