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Countries disagree on dam’s impact
By Shakar Saadi and Dilafruz Nabiyeva
DUSHANBE - For years Tajikistan has said the Rogun hydropower plant would not affect Uzbekistan’s water supply. But water-starved Uzbekistan rejects that claim.
The debate was rekindled October 18 when Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrohon Zarifi disputed the Uzbek contention that Tajikistan would fill the Rogun reservoir in eight years, leaving Uzbekistan bone-dry.
“In accordance with technical calculations, the reservoir will be filled over 17 years,” he said, noting it will follow water usage quotas set out in earlier agreements on Aral Sea use.
Zarifi charged that Uzbekistan has dozens of reservoirs totalling 50 times the capacity of Rogun that are drying up the Aral Sea.
“Tajikistan is using less than its 12% quota, and after Rogun starts up, that figure should drop,” he said. “Tajikistan is requesting an international analysis of rational water resource and reservoir usage for the region.”
Tajiks say water supply won't be affected; Uzbeks doubt that assurance
Tajik Land Reclamation and Water Resources Minister Rahmat Bobokalonov agreed, saying that Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan “will receive as much water as the limit provides for them.”
But Uzbekistan is not buying these assurances, and Uzbek Agriculture Ministry official Vahijan Ahmajonov called Tajikistan’s claim that it will fill the reservoir over 17 years “completely absurd.”
“After the Rogun hydroelectric plant is completed, (hydrological requirements mean) this reservoir must be filled in seven to eight years,” Ahmajonov said. “This means that there will be an irreversible drain on the Vakhsh River during the growing season, particularly in June-August.”
Ahmajonov cited German company Lahmeyer International’s 2006 feasibility study for Rogun, which predicted a similar timeline for filling the reservoir.
“The downstream countries in the river basin will suffer from an even more severe water shortage,” Ahmajonov said.
“The Aral zone is fed water from two major rivers: the Amu Darya and Syr Darya.
“Any reduction of these river’s tributaries is a cardinal violation of the region’s ecological balance,” Uzbek President Islam Karimov said September 20 at a UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals.
Rogun will degrade the region’s environment, Uzbek Parliament Vice-Speaker Borii Alihanov warned. Even worse, if the Rogun dam were to break it would create a major disaster.
“A wave 245-280m high in the (subsequent) Nurek Hydropower Plant zone and 6-7m high in (its final destination of) Karakalpakstan could destroy the entire hydroelectric system, flooding an area of 1.3-1.5m ha with more than 700 populated areas in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where roughly 5m people live,” he warned.
“The construction of Rogun Reservoir,” said Alihanov, “will reduce the amount of arable land and the harvests.”
Tajik hydroelectric engineer and secretary of the International Commission on Large Dams Hamijon Aripov dismissed such predictions.
“Uzbekistan is not confident that the world’s best experts will follow its lead and declare that Rogun, which was designed by Gidroproekt, one of the world’s best hydraulic engineering schools, is really (that) dangerous.”
Tajikistan will use its quota of water to fill the reservoir, Aripov said, meaning that Uzbekistan no longer could use Tajik-quota water as well as its own.
“Uzbekistan, ... needs to get used to living off its own resources,” said Aripov.
Rogun dispute is largely political, some say
“The Rogun problem is a largely a political issue,” Uzbek political analyst Hatam Mahkamov said. “Uzbekistan is concerned about water shortages, which can have very unpredictable consequences. Water scarcity makes it impossible to grow anything in the lower Amu Darya basin. This will lead to social, economic and political unrest.”
“For Tajikistan’s government, Rogun is first and foremost a lever (for pressuring) Uzbekistan,” Mahkamov said. “In order to resolve these difficult situations, reliable international organisations, experts and political analysts need to be involved.”
The water shortage in Central Asia is man-made, Tajik industrial scientist Talbak Salimov said. Between the 1980s and 2010, the cultivated area doubled, reaching more than 8m ha, and water usage increased from 63 to 117 cu km, Salimov said. As a result, inflow to the Aral has dropped by 9-12 cu km.
Rogun will provide more reliable irrigation for 3m ha in the Amu Darya basin and will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of millions of tonnes, Salimov said.
Salimov claims that in the 1980s, in order to produce cheap electricity, improve its own water supply, “Uzbekistan itself initiated and developed Rogun’s construction in then Soviet Tajikistan to meet its own demands. (Uzbekistan) would never design a hydroelectric installation to be a threat to itself.”
Afghanistan is involved in the project, Tajik MP Shodi Shabdolov said. Afghanistan has a quota of 8 cu km of the Amu Darya’s water, he said, and Tajikistan needs to take that into account.
In order to increase Uzbekistan’s water supply, engineers possibly could divert Siberian rivers to Central Asia, “but only if water usage for irrigation is rational and if new irrigation technologies are introduced,” Salimov said.
Meanwhile, Tajikistan is coping with its familiar autumn and winter energy shortages that Rogun was meant to fix. Again it has limited the power supply everywhere except the national and oblast capitals.
Tajikistan continues to talk with Uzbekistan about transmission through Uzbekistan of Turkmen electricity that Tajikistan wants to use, Barki Tochik spokesman Nozirjon Edgori said.
“Bilateral negotiations have never broken off since Tajikistan and Uzbekistan left the region’s uniform electricity grid,” he said.