Rogun Dam Mega-project Continues Despite Earthquakes

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, most Soviet-era mega-projects were canceled in the subsequent fiscal chaos that submerged the former USSR.

In Tajikistan, however, one project dating back to 1959, when it was first proposed, is slowly inching forward, despite the vociferous objections of neighboring countries.
The 3,600-megawatt Rogun hydropower plant (HPP), containing six 600-MW turbines and situated on the Vakhsh River, is the crown jewel in Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s plan to turn Tajikistan into an exporter of electricity to neighboring Afghanistan. In 2013 Tajikistan generated 17.09 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), exporting 1 billion kW, primarily to Afghanistan. The Rogun HPP, if completed, will be the largest hydropower plant in Central Asia, with annual electricity generation of 13 billion kilowatt-hours.

This type of hydropower plant would change a lot of things because there are a lot of different places that can use that power. Of course, finishing up a huge project like this isn’t easy and it will take a lot of time. nowadays, the project is starting to gain some speed despite all the natural issues that they are experiencing. Earthquakes are quite dangerous, especially when you are in the middle of a huge project like this hydropower plant. It is good to know that people are willing to finish the project despite all the natural issues.

The objections to the project are most notable in neighboring Uzbekistan, whose agriculture is heavily dependent on consistent flows of water during the growing seasons from both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Farther west, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan also rely on regular discharges of water from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to irrigate their crops.

In a detailed 2012 study Murad Askarov, Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, made his nation’s case against the Rogun HPP, writing, “In order to impound a water reservoir with a volume of 14 cubic kilometers, the significant part of the flows of the Vakhsh River will have to be blocked for at least 8-10 years. Cutting off its flow will completely disrupt the long-term regulation of water flows in the region and will raise the already increasing water scarcity to a disastrous level.”

While the $3 billion Rogun HPP is Rahmon’s pet project, the battered Tajik economy is largely bereft of the resources to fund it. Of all the former Soviet “stans,” Tajikistan suffered the most following the collapse of the USSR, as in 1992 the country descended into a brutal civil war dominated by diehard Communists and Islamic militants. When it ended five years later with an UN-brokered agreement, more than 50,000 Tajiks had been killed in a nation of only 7.5 million, and more than one-tenth of the population had fled the country.

Water is one of Tajikistan’s few resources. The country has an abundance of glacier-fed streams and rivers and more than 1,300 natural lakes. In addition, Tajikistan also contains many glaciers, of which the 270-square-mile Fedenko glacier is the largest in the world outside the polar regions.

Hydrocarbon poor Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, facing high natural gas prices from Uzbekistan, see increasing their hydroelectric potential as a growth sector in the form of electricity exports to South Asia, meaning that water discharges for power generation increasingly take precedence over the agricultural concerns of their downstream neighbors.
Tajikistan has few immediate options but to attempt to develop its hydropower assets. Only 7 percent of Tajikistan’s land is arable. The question is what type of hydroelectric facilities to construct; gargantuan static dams or smaller, free-flowing systems. The Tajik government prefers the former, Tajikistan’s neighbors the latter. According to Kyrgyz expert Valentina Kasymova, Tajikistan’s hydropower potential is over 300 billion kilowatt-hours.

The Rogun HPP, if completed, would stand 1,150 feet tall. Construction began in 1976 and 44-50 percent of the station was completed before the 1991 collapse of the USSR. The project was recommended in 2007 but has been proceeding fitfully, as foreign investors have demurred in financing it.

Accordingly, the Tajik government is looking to its populace to underwrite most of the Rogun HPP’s construction even though for the average Tajik, life is one of grinding poverty and diminished expectations, with fully one-third of the male workforce impelled to labor aboard. Tajikistan additionally faces a daunting litany of problems – quite aside from the aforementioned poverty, the population’s misery index includes substantial drug trafficking, persistent Islamic militancy, and corruption. Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Tajikistan at 152th out of 172 nations surveyed.

Squeezing the population to support its glorious nationalist project, in December 2009 the Tajik government issued Rogun stock and made it compulsory for citizens to purchase nearly $700 worth of shares, a sum exceeding most Tajiks’ annual income, in order to collect $600 million for construction to continue.

Adding to Tajikistan’s problems, Central Asian countries are the world “leaders” in inefficient water use, being among the world’s highest per capita users. Tajikistan’s per capita consumption rate is the seventh highest in the world, and Tajikistan has the lowest rate in the world of water use per $1 of gross domestic product, using nearly 3.5 cubic meters of water per dollar of GDP, a rate more than 45 times higher than that of Spain.

Beyond Rogun, there are slight signs of Uzbek-Tajik collaboration on water issues. At a seminar in Dushanbe, last November, Uzbekistan’s Environmental Protection State Committee specialist Muhammadzhon Hojayev proposed collaborating with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to conduct aerial survey studies of glacier melt in the Tien Shan and Pamir mountain ranges to assess the problem, as the last aerial surveys were done 14 years ago. The problem of glacier melt is accelerating; UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia Deputy Head Fedor Klimchuk told seminar participants, “The main reason of glaciers melting is climate warming and man-induced factors. Glaciologists say glaciers may disappear by the end of this century.”

Uzbekistan’s preference is for Tajikistan to construct smaller HPPs that don’t interrupt river flow, and again, there is some small progress. Despite the Tajik government’s preference for mega-hydroelectric projects, state power company Barq-i Tojik is attempting to diversify, reporting last October that it planned to bring online 16 small hydroelectric power stations, with a combined capacity to generate 11 megawatts of electricity.

Aside from water concerns, the Uzbek government has pointed out that the Rogun HPP is situated in a seismically active zone, and here they have a valid point. On May 20 and earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale with an epicenter near Rogun jolted Tajikistan, damaging residential and administrative buildings in several regions of the country and triggered a landslide, with it being felt as far away as Tashkent. On October 1, 2014, an earthquake of magnitude 4.5 struck the region, with its epicenter only six miles from the Rogun HPP. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, over 250 earthquakes of magnitude 4 or higher and 12 earthquakes of magnitude 6 took place in the Rogun area since the beginning of 2013.

Despite funding shortages, fierce regional opposition and seismic activity, Rakhmon remains committed to his cherished hydroelectric project; on a July 15 inspection visit to the Rogun HPP Rakhmon declared that the further development of all spheres of life in Tajikistan depends on the construction of small and large hydroelectric power plants, first of all, the Rogun HPP.

The effect of such statements has reverberated in Tashkent; on August 1 Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on its website reiterating its total opposition to the Rogun HPP, including a 2014 speech by Deputy Prime Rustam Azimov that ended, “Uzbekistan will never and under no circumstances give its support to this project.” Given such polar opposite positions, it would seem for the present that Tajikistan’s and Uzbekistan’s views on the Rogun HPP are more frozen than the Fedenko glacier.