On November 3, Tajik authorities announced that they had completed the main
diversion tunnel of the Rogun Dam project. This means that it is now
technically possible to divert the Vakhsh River from the part of the valley in
which they plan to place the giant dam. Dewatering the construction areas will
allow the authorities to start building the facility.
According to Tajik hydropower experts, there are strong technical reasons for
blocking the river as soon as possible. The lake created behind the temporary
dam when the river is diverted will enable the authorities to accumulate water
next spring and summer. This water can be released in winter so that downstream
hydropower plants (HPPs) convert it into additional electricity, helping the
country to prevent blackouts.
Besides, the lake will stop the sedimentation of the Norak HPP's
reservoir further downstream, which is reportedly close to reaching a critical
level. Any serious breakdown of the Norak facility, which produces about 70% of
the country's electricity output, will have catastrophic consequences for the
Overall, according to the company building the dam, "the diversion of the river
is technically possible now", but, "the decision to block the river flow is
essentially political and has to come from the highest level", that is, from
the country's president.
In deciding when and whether to start diverting the Vakhsh River, President
Emomali Rahmon will have to find a proper balance between domestic and foreign
pressures. Within Tajikistan, there is not only overwhelming support for the
construction of the Rogun Dam, but strong public pressure to start the
construction as soon as possible.
Most Tajiks view the dam as a way out of the energy shortages that have plagued
the country for most of the past decade. The country's aging hydropower plants
generate enough electricity in warmer seasons to meet domestic needs. In
winter, however, energy demands peak while water levels in rivers fall, leading
to energy deficits - currently standing at about 2 billion kWh per year. As a
result, authorities resort to rolling blackouts from the late fall to early
spring, leaving most of the country with only two to four hours of electricity
Power outages are expected to be particularly pronounced this year. Scarce
precipitations last winter and an unusually dry and cold spring kept reservoirs
behind Tajikistan's major hydropower dams half empty for most of the year. As a
result, the authorities began rationing electricity supply to the population
this year one month earlier than in recent years.
Confronted by growing public anger over the chronic energy shortages, President
Rahmon has made the development of Tajikistan's energy sector the main focus of
his government. The 3,600 megawatt Rogun Dam project, which was designed by
Soviet engineers in the 1970s, has been elevated to the status of a "national"
project in Tajikistan.
Unable to secure external investment for the 335-meter dam, which is estimated
to cost up to US$3.6 billion, the Tajik government has financed the initial
phases of the project from state budget funds. The country spent $420 million
in 2009-2011, and is planning to spend another $223 million on the project next
The major opposition to the project has come from Tajikistan's downstream
neighbor, Uzbekistan. Tashkent fears that the reservoir behind the Rogun Dam
will require increased water withdrawals from the Vakhsh River, thus affecting
the flow of water that Uzbekistan needs to irrigate its cotton fields.
The Uzbek authorities have also claimed that the giant power station will have
adverse environmental impacts. Ironically, Uzbekistan's fierce opposition to
the Rogun project has helped to turn it into a symbol of national pride for
most Tajiks, who now see Tashkent's objections as an additional motivation for
the completion of the dam.
In an attempt to overcome Tashkent's opposition and persuade international
financial institutions to fund the Rogun projects, Dushanbe requested the World
Bank to conduct two independent studies assessing the dam's economic
feasibility and its potential social and environmental impact. The results of
these studies will be available in the summer of 2012.
Pending these results, the World Bank has requested that the Tajik government
suspend the construction of the dam and the resettlement of people from the
dam's projected flooding zone. A similar message was recently delivered by US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On October 22, speaking at a meeting in
Dushanbe, Clinton insisted that Tajikistan should not build the dam before the
findings of the World Bank-commissioned studies become available. She also
announced that if these studies advise against the project, Tajikistan should
look for alternative ways of producing electricity.
The diversion of the Vakhsh River at this point would draw international
condemnation of the Tajik government. Therefore, it is likely that President
Rahmon will decide to postpone the diversion until after the results of the
feasibility studies become available. It is highly improbable, however, that
any findings from these studies can persuade Tajikistan to abandon the