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Electricity Shortages in Tajikistan: Climate Change or Poor Management?

In the summer of 2020 Tajik authorities made an announcement about the probability of decrease on the availability of electricity. This article will attempt to understand the reasons why the water rapidly decreased in the river that eventually caused shrinkage in the Nurek Dam. 

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At the end of July 2020, the official site of the Government of Tajikistan published an announcement about the probability of decrease on the availability of electricity. In the publication, the authorities asked the citizens for adequate understanding regarding the decision on restriction and called for appropriate usage of the energy[1].The verdict was made due to the low-water mark in the Nurek reservoir that decreased by 17 meters as compared to the previous year [2019]. According to the observation, “in the fall of 2019 and winter 2020, there was too little snow falling. The water flow in the Panj River was 2000 cubic meters less and 800 cubic meters less in the Vakhsh river which is 50% less than previous years. In the statement, it specified that climate change is the cause of the low-water mark in the reservoir”.[2] The news brought a concern for the Tajik population [especially in the rural areas] that the struggles with electricity shortage might have happened again in the wintertime.     

For almost two decades, rural residents of Tajikistan [which is 70% of the population] have been suffering from energy supply constraints in the winter[3]. Similarly, it was a problem for the state as well, because one of the primary resources of Tajikistan is hydroelectric power plants (HPP). The power deficit existed from November to February due to the energy export during the summer to neighboring countries. According to energy experts: “The peak time for electricity generation is in July and from 1991 to 2018, the watermark in the Nurek Dam has never dropped less than 900 meters [retaining point is 910]. By September the dam should have increased its water level by 27 meters”.[4] This level of water shrinkage has happened for the first time and Tajikistan immediately decreased supplying electricity to neighboring countries Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.[5] Such decisions can be damaging to the economy because a country needs exports to bring foreign exchange. Moreover, Tajikistan is part of the Central Asia-South Asia power project (CASA-1000), it will be challenging to exchange the energy resources within the members of this project if it fails to fulfill the requirements.  

Energy independence is one of the three strategic goals of the Tajik government.[6] The “Nurek Operation Unit” is one of the most powerful HPPs in the country so far,[7] located on the Vakhsh River, Khatlon region, Tajikistan. According to the World Bank, the Nurek HPP’s generation capacity reaches up to 3000 megawatts (MW). The total installed generation capacity of Tajikistan is 6,100 MW which makes Nurek Dam produce 50% of the total annual energy requirements of the country.[8] Furthermore, the upstream of Nurek HPP is another large scale project for a new “Rogun” water power plant and its production capacity should give the country full energy independence. 

The availability of water is crucial to produce a sufficient amount of energy to supply 24/7 each household and to extend the energy export for economic efficiency. Therefore, this article will attempt to understand the reasons why the water rapidly decreased in the river that eventually caused shrinkage in the Nurek Dam. 

Changes in one month

On this note, on September 2nd, there was a new statement that the level of the water in the Nurek Dam has increased. According to technical parameters, the norm for the water level should be 910 meters. Currently, the mark has reached 909 meters and 69 centimeters,[9] which is a satisfactory number.

The Nurek Dam. Photo: ritmeurasia.org

The flow of water on the Vakhsh River is 869 cubic meters per second (m3/sec), which is 346 cubic meters less than the same indicator of 2019.[10]  In this case, the indicator of the flow of water in 2019 was 1215 cubic meters. Although, in July of 2020, the water in the Vakhsh river was 800 cubic meters less than the volume being discharged in previous years.[11] The variability of the water flow is very unusual because in July the water flow in the Vakhsh river was 50% less than previous years and then quickly increased by September to 869 cubic meters. 

Also, in the interview with the Current Time, the head of the Glaciology Department of the Hydro-meteorological Center in Tajikistan- Ramazon Rahmonov, stated that “the center observed that the snow line was recorded above 2600 meters above sea level this year. Surely, the low-water mark is due to climate change as there was little snowfall”.[12] However, neither Ramazon Rahmonov nor the news website did not provide information on what is the norm for snow lines. 

From existing data and independent research, it is possible to analyze that climate change cannot be the only factor of the following issue. Since climate change is about rising temperature and the warmer climate gets, it affects the retreats of glaciers. The rapid melt of glaciers results in the rise of water in the rivers. However, the level of water in the rivers and the reservoir decreased in July. One of the reasons is poor management: misuse of water resources in agriculture, industries, energy, and daily consumption. To understand why we must first wrap up how climate change impacts Tajikistan.

Rapid melting glaciers are supposed to fill the rivers

In the Central Asian region, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan count as hydro-rich states, and Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan are carbon-based fuel-rich states. Therefore, the Tajik and Kyrgyz glaciers are the primary source for the rivers and agriculture in the region. Due to the rapid speed of global warming, the average temperature in southern Tajikistan has increased by 10*C over the last 65 years. During this period, the length of the Pamir and Gissaro-Alai Glaciers has decreased by 25% and have lost half of their ice volume.[13] The rapid melting of snowpacks has been monitored: at the altitudes of 3000-3500 m above sea level [the norm was 1050-2000 m above sea level].[14] As runoff increases from melting glaciers, there will be more water in the rivers. 

The chart shows the process of degradation of glaciers. Photo: https://zoinet.org/

So then, more water comes down to dams and creates a disturbance to electricity generation in upstream hydropower plants. Perhaps, more water can motivate the country to turn it into cash by producing more electricity and exporting it. If not, due to hot temperatures and drought the demand for the water in agriculture will rise. In the valleys of Tajikistan, the temperature has already reached +40*C and in the mountainous areas up to +37*C. The rapid rise in temperature will create more rain and a decrease in the amount of snowfall.[15] As an outcome, in the beginning, the rapid melt of glaciers will create an illusion for the rise of waters in the rivers. 

Climate change will create challenges to predict future weather conditions

Further, the increase in rain and less icing will decrease the volume of water in the rivers. Similarly, if rainfall and runoff variability continue there is increased potential for conflict with downstream countries. 

The upstream states may decide to hold back water supplies to hedge against the possibility of a drought in future years. Since climate change will reduce the predictability of future weather patterns, there is a need for an exchange system on resources. Consequently, the lack of balanced integration and disunion may lead to a water crisis that causes internal and external conflicts. 

Security is the top priority for any sovereign state. Therefore, water availability is essential for political stability in the region. As experts predicted, by 2050 in Tajikistan, thousands of small glaciers will disappear.[16] The extreme weather will affect the frequent floods that damage crops, livelihoods, and communities. Aside, resulting in the rise of labor migrants [17], natural disasters can cause an increase in environmental migrants as well, who are forced to leave their communities due to environmental changes.

By providing this data, one might already wonder that the current melting glaciers are supposed to fill reservoirs and rivers? However in July of 2020, the water in the basin of the Panj River was 2 thousand cubic meters less, and in the Vakhsh river was 800 cubic meters less compared to the previous years.[18] Possibly these large amounts of water which comes down to the reservoir are mismanaged and there are multiple factors if to take a closer look.

Droughts, rising population, undeveloped irrigation systems

Tajikistan has semi-arid weather and is vulnerable to climate change. “More droughts have been seen for the past years. Consequently, the water from melting glaciers comes to the fields at the right time, during the driest and hottest season of the year [summer]”.[19] Also, it is important to consider the rising population of Tajikistan [9.5 million people], and the majority [almost 70%] live in rural areas. 

The map of the rural and urban population of Tajikistan. Photo: https://www.worldometers.info/demographics/tajikistan-demographics/

The main income of this majority of the population is agriculture. An undeveloped degradation process of the soil cover, as well as plowing methods and irrigation rates, can consume more water than it is supposed to do.[20] The majority of the irrigation systems were built during the Soviet times and they are not effective anymore to maintain measured needed water. Moreover, mismanagement of water could be seen in industries, energy, and everyday consumption. 

Following the Asia Plus news: “49% of the Tajik population do not have access to clean water, and the rest, 51% use the clean water carelessly. For instance, misusage on washing carpets [very common nationwide], cars, watering the garden, and the public taps are always open”.[21] Installing automatic devices that shut off public pipes would be efficient to save the water. In finding, the large amount of careless water consumption in farming, industries, and the growing population creates challenges that can lead to struggles for effective water management.

Adaptability and alternative solutions

Provided data and assumptions help to be more educated about the threats of climate change to the Central Asian region. Therefore, actions should be taken to develop different adaptable and resilient methods for better adjustment to extreme weather conditions. Updated land reforms should be implemented to protect farmers from future droughts. Also, raising awareness could potentially help to be more efficient and thoughtful on the usage of water and electricity. Fixing irrigation systems will prevent water insecurities that harm the region’s stability. Effective research and a good investment in plowing methods, pipes, and good management in the Dams could potentially prevent future climate obstacles.

The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.

[1] Обращение Правительства Республики Таджикистан к народу страны: July 28, 2020 http://prezident.tj/ru/node/23466

[2] Ibid

[3] Sarvinoz Ruhullo, “Второй агрегат Рогунской ГЭС запущен. Энерголимит канет в Лету?” September 10, 2020 https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30156078.html

[4] Khaidar Shodiev, “Ждать ли Таджикистану зимой лимита на электроэнергию” August 4, 2020 https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/economic/20200804/zhdat-li-tadzhikistanu-zimoi-limita-na-elektroenergiyu

[5] Alisher Zarifi, “Таджикистан сократил экспорт электроэнергии в Афганистан и Узбекистан”. July 28, 2020. https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30750900.html

[6] Radio Ozodi, “Эмомали Рахмон запустил второй агрегат Рогунской ГЭС”. September 09,2019. https://rus.ozodi.org/a/30153872.html

[7] Sputnik News, “Сколько ГЭС в Таджикистане”. August 4, 2018 https://tj.sputniknews.ru/infographics/20180804/1026367719/tajikistan-ges-gidroelektrostaciya.html

[8] World Bank, Concept Environmental and Social Review Summary (Concept Stage) 22 May, 2020


[9] Avesta Информационное Агентство, “Уровень Воды в Нурекском Водохранилище Достиг Максимальной Отметки”. September 2, 2020 http://avesta.tj/2020/09/02/uroven-vody-v-nurekskom-vodohranilishhe-dostig-maksimalnoj-otmetki/

[10] Sputnik News, “Уровень воды в Нурекском водохранилище вырос до максимума”.  2 September, 2020 https://sptnkne.ws/D86e

[11] Обращение Правительства Республики Таджикистан к народу. 28 July, 2020.  http://prezident.tj/ru/node/23466

[12] Current Time Asia News, “В Таджикистане ограничат подачу электричества из-за маловодья”. July 29, 2020  https://www.currenttime.tv/a/30755586.html

[13] Partoev, K. (2016, Jan.). “Основные черты изменения климата в Таджикистане”. Охрана Природы-“Хифзи Табиат”, 1 (12) (Издание “Офсет”),. (p. 14-16)

[14] Rasulzoda, Kh. (2020, May). “Причина образования селевых потоков”. Человек и природа-“Инсон ва табиат”,. №8-9, (109) (Издание Mega Print)  www.environment.tj   p. 15

[15] Охрана Природы-“Хифзи Табиат”, (2019, Nov/Dec). Наблюдаемое изменение климата в Республике Таджикистан. №3 (3-23).  (Издание “Орбита”), p 8-9

[16] Partoev, K. (2016, Jan.). “Основные черты изменения климата в Таджикистане”. Охрана Природы-“Хифзи Табиат”, 1 (12) (Издание “Офсет”),. (p. 14-16)

[17] Khamza Sharifzoda, Climate Change: An Omitted Security Threat in Central Asia. 22 July, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/climate-change-an-omitted-security-threat-in-central-asia/

[18] Обращение Правительства Республики Таджикистан к народу страны:  28 July, 2020 http://prezident.tj/ru/node/23466

[19] Abdualimov, K., Pirov, A., Rahmonov, R. (2020, Marсh/April). “История изучения ледников Таджикистана”. Охрана Природы-“Хифзи Табиат”, №1 (pp. 3-31). (Издание “Орбита”), p.21-22

[20] Ibid

[21] Elshod Hasanov, “Как отучить таджикистанцев мыть машины и ковры во дворах?” 27 June, 2020. https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/society/20200627/kak-otuchit-tadzhikistantsev-mit-mashini-i-kovri-vo-dvorah 

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