Crossroads Asia

Uzbekistan Still Hates the Rogun Dam Project

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Crossroads Asia

Uzbekistan Still Hates the Rogun Dam Project

“Uzbekistan never, and under no circumstances, will provide support to this project.”

Tajikistan’s minister of energy and water resources, Usmonali Usmonzoda, reportedly said in late July that Uzbekistan no longer had objections to the planned Rogun hydropower project upriver in Tajikistan, but that has proven too good to be true. The dam project features prominently in the tense Uzbek-Tajik relationship. If built as planned, the dam will be the tallest in the world at 335 meters (1,099 feet) and have a capacity of 3200 MW. Situated on the Vakhsh River, a tributary of the Amu Darya, the dam will most certainly impact the volume of water flowing downstream.

On August 1, Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an unequivocal statement reaffirming the country’s objections to the Rogun project. The ministry reprinted a 5,000-word statement made by Deputy Prime Rustam Azimov last summer. The statement was issued at a meeting of Central Asian government representatives reviewing the World Bank’s draft assessment of the Rogun project.

Uzbekistan’s economy, built largely on cotton that requires a huge amount of water irrigated from the Amu Darya, depends on a steady flow from the river. Tajikistan halted construction in 2012 so the World Bank could assess the feasibility and impact of the dam. The project received a green light in July 2014 when the World Bank’s assessment team said the highest dam proposed for the Rogun site would fit within international safety norms. Uzbekistan vehemently declared its opposition.

The Uzbek statement outlined what they say are inconsistencies in the expert assessments of the dam project. While the World Bank is optimistic about the project and Tajikistan hopes to it will end its critical energy shortages as well as enable the country to become a major regional energy exporter, Uzbekistan says the dam would be environmentally and economically damaging.

The World Bank experts who assessed the project were, the Uzbeks say, “guided by the desire to push forward at any cost the project, designed during the Soviet gigantomania era, and ignoring the interests of people and the states in the middle and lower reaches of the Amudarya.” The last line of the statement leaves little room for misinterpretation: “Uzbekistan never, and under no circumstances, will provide support to this project.”

Conservative estimates say the Rogun project–which was first proposed in 1959–will cost over $2.2 billion. The higher end of the estimates is somewhere between $5 and $6 billion.

Usmonzoda, in the same statement that alluded to the vanishing of Uzbek opposition, announced that the first two units of the Rogun dam had been delivered. Asia-Plus quoted the minister as saying that the capacity of the first two units would be enough to provide the country with electricity year round and that the units will be up and running in the next few years.

Tajikistan, which exports electricity to Kyrgyzstan in the summer, deals with shortages of electricity in the winter. Eurasianet reports that in the winter electricity is rationed to about 8-10 hours a day, split between morning and evening. Both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (as well as a significant host of international powers such as the United States) hope the two will, in the near future, be able to export electricity consistently to South Asia–which has severe shortages of its own.

The CASA-1000 project, which the Tajik Ministry of Finance recently said would be completed by 2019, would transport electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although hailed as landmark success for diplomacy, analysts are skeptical that Central Asia can provide the power that Afghanistan and Pakistan need. Tajikistan is banking on Rogun. Uzbekistan’s opposition, while firm, hasn’t slowed the project. Meanwhile, relations between the neighbors are unlikely to improve any time soon–and as the Rogun project progresses, any hope for better ties dwindles.