Tajikistan’s Dam(n) Trust?

Via The Foreign Policy Association, an interesting look at Tajikistan’s considerable freshwater reserves and how they impact (may be impacted) by developments in Central Asia.  As the article notes

“…In contrast to its’ neighboring countries with vast oil and gas resources, Tajikistan has the actual most important resource in the world, large reserves of fresh water. Some of this water is now being used for a single dam, the Nurek, which provides the country’s electricity. Unfortunately, the dam is not enough and that is where the problems begin.

Tajikistan is heavily in debt and needs other countries to fund its hydropower projects. China, Iran, and Russia have promised to build a number of huge and expensive dam projects, but it is slow going. The dams must be able to withstand earthquakes. Even more troublesome is regional politics. Uzbekistan is located downstream and is heavily dependent on Tajik water for cotton and other agricultural products. The Uzbeks fear that Tajikistan will control its water supply, starving Uzbekistan’s cotton fields. Furthermore, Uzbekistan’s administration simply does not want Tajikistan to have any more power than it already does. Uzbekistan turned off gas to Tajikistan in the middle of the last year’s brutal winter and wants to continue the unbalanced relationship. It does not want to be as vulnerable as it is now to Kyrgyzstan, which also controls Uzbek access to water and has turned off the tap in the past.

The issue at base here is trust. Dam projects cost billions of dollars and can take 5-10 years to be operational. Outside investors do not trust Tajikistan. It is incredibly poor and the government is not trusted by the people. Domestic and regional unrest is possible, so the projects have been moving along at a snail’s pace, wary of any disturbance.

The meager amount of regional cooperation is seriously hampering Tajikistan’s development. The Soviet Union created the five Central Asian states, which fostered ethnic particularism, leading to uneven development along the brand new ethnic lines. In other words, the five Central Asian states developed in opposition to each other. Regional political connections are weak. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan just recently had their first bilateral diplomatic exchange in seven years. It will take a long time to learn new political habits. The region could be led by Kazakhstan, the most stable and wealthy country. But the Uzbeks have stood firmly in the way. Bluntly put, the current Uzbek administration, by which I mean the individual personality of Islam Karimov, needs to die or be ousted before the region can cooperate politically.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 at 6:55 am and is filed under China, Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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