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Are we heading toward Roghunarok?

Written by on Monday, 8 February 2010
Politics and Society, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan
7 Comments
Photograph of construction at Roghun from Asia-Plus.

Photograph of construction at Roghun from Asia-Plus.

Editor’s note: neweurasia’s Dushanbe describes how a possible Ragnarok is building up between the leaderships of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan over the Roghun dam project.  Check out neweurasia’s ongoing coverage of the dam here.

Tajikistan has rejected the Uzbek proposal to suspend building the Roghun power plant until independent expertise determines its possible impact on environment and water distribution in the region.

In a reply letter to the Uzbek authorities, the Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov says his country will not change its plan to build the plant.  He adds that they believe the new reservoir will help both countries to save and use regional water resources more effectively.

The Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev sent a letter to his Tajik counterpart last week, asking for an independent and international research of the Roghun project. He wrote:

Uzbekistan’s fundamental position on this issue is to move ahead with the construction of Rogun station only after a thorough independent analysis of the project.

According to Mirziyoev, the dam will damage the fragile environmental balance of the region and decrease water flow to the downstream countries. He wrote that if Tajikistan doess not stop building the dam, Uzbekistan reserves the right to appeal to the international community, which he believes will fully support the Uzbek position.

Oqilov responded that the analysis of the project was done by the World Bank and the Uzbek ministries a few years ago. There was also an analysis done by the German Lahmeyer Group under the auspices of the Russian Rusal Corporation, originally one of the project members.

According to Oqilov, his country called upon its neighbors to participate in a Roghun consortium under the auspices of the UN two years ago, but Uzbekistan failed to respond, either to the invitation then or the new one now.  Oqilov wrote:

The Roghun reservoir will not be against interests of Uzbekistan, but vice versa.  It will help Uzbekistan to expand its cotton plantations through regulated water flow as all other Tajik dams have been done so far.

Uzbekistan is afraid that by building the Roghun power plant, Tajikistan will gain a crucial pressure tool.  Specifically, Uzbekistan fears that the dam could damage its vital cotton industry, which depends on water from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

So, Roghun is becoming an odd symbol of conflict between two countries with ancient roots of friendship and good will.   What I worry about is if the anger between the elites eventually spills over into the everyday people.   How much longer before Uzbeks fear that Tajiks want them to be poor and Tajiks fear that Uzbeks want them to die of thirst?

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