The power went out for the fourth time in 3 hours and I leaned back from my computer. The symphony of beeping from computers was quickly stopped as people reached under their desks for back up hard drive power switches.
With the air conditioner now off, the heat from midday was slowly filtering into the office, and even though it had only been a few minuets, I could feel the heat slipping under my dress shirt.
Hussein winked at me and then laid his head on his desk. He was doing accounting today, and had to save ever 4 minuets, he had a timer on his cell phone, so that he didn’t have to continually do the same work over and over.
“Sleep well Hussein,” I heard someone say. He just nodded on his desk. Ramadan was taking a toll on him. He seemed constantly tired, waking up at 3:30 to eat before the sun rose, and staying up late to go to last prayers at 9. He also had noticeably started to loose weight.
Arziza walked into the room, she saw me and smiled, “This is Tajikistan,” she said pointing to the now dark light, “Just when you start to work again, boom.”
“California had this problem too,” I explain. And then talked about the rolling blackouts that California experienced earlier in my life.
Everyone in the office started laughing. “We did this on purpose then,” said Hazsvra, her face showing her massive enjoyment, “we asked Tajikistan government to do this to make you feel at home, so you wouldn’t miss California.”
Yet sadly this isn’t true. Tajikistan has a massive energy problem, which affects more than just the lights in the office I worked in.
During the Soviet Union Tajikistan became the home of a major hydroelectric power plant. It’s a great place for them. With massive mountains that have snow on them for most of the year, and the starting point of two major rivers the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, not to mention Zeravshan, Vanj, Oksu, Gunt, and Yazgulyam (to name a few), all that was needed was the materials, which the Soviet Union was more than willing to provide. They built the power plant called the Nurek dam, the highest in the world. This dam helped power the Ferghana Valley and Tashkent, which were arguably the most productive and factually the most populated areas in Soviet Central Asia, as Kazakhstan was considered separate.
This power plant also helped regulate water flow down the Syr Darya river, which helped with irrigation of fields in the Tajik, Uzbek, Kazakh, and Turkmen SSR’s. Helping in turn, Khrushev’s push to expand the cotton production in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, sadly leading to massive ecological damage.
Yet with the fall of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan’s government became the new owner of the power plant, and also, the controllers of the flow of water from the source of the river Syr Darya.
With the civil war the river was mostly unmanaged, which had no problems at all to production of electrical output, or water for the farming communities in the region. Yet with the close of the Civil War, really in 1999, the management of the dam picked up by the new government.
Then in 2001 America invaded Afghanistan. This would change Tajikistan exports for a long time. Before then a Russian company helped mine and export large amounts of Aluminum, making it the largest export. This was then followed by cotton, which has been on the US black list since Tajikistan became an independent country, then fruit. But with the American led invasion of Afghanistan, electricity was suddenly in great demand. With Iran next door, facing its own power problems, and Pakistan not able to fully supply its own and all of Afghanistan’s power, and power being one of the areas destroyed by years of civil war, and the bombing campaign, the international players turned their eyes north.
Tajikistan’s president may be many things, but stupid he is not. He saw a way to earn good will with the international community and at the same time get much needed money (ostensibly for his government and country, in reality for him and those who supported his rise to power). So he began to regulate the dams. Now Electricity became the second largest export, most of it to Uzbek capital of Tashkent in the north, and Afghanistan in the south.
They would hold water back in the springtime, when it is needed for farming, but when weather dictates less need for power. Saving it for winter, when lack of natural gas makes electric heating and darkness make electric lights a necessity. Farmers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan became upset. And the Uzbek government started complaining formerly to international bodies, even at one point to the UN. Stating that water was a basic necessity of life, and should not be regulated and treated in this way. Tajikistan pointed out that the water originated within their borders, and what they did with it, especially when part of its power went to Uzbekistan, was up to them. Yet northern Afghanistan now has power, kind of. Russia also opened a new plant in July 2009, and Iran, Russian companies, and Chinese companies are all building different plants throughout Tajikistan.
But wait, you were in Tajikistan, and they don’t have power all the time?
That’s right. The government, seeing which side their bread was buttered on, decided instead of providing power to their citizens, which when they do it is at extremely low prices (I am told the lowest in the world), they would heavily regulate it. It is ostensibly a national security resource, like oil in the US, or food in most other countries. Thus in the middle of winter, when most in the cities can only get heat from electricity, and light from electricity is needed for almost any work, there is rationing. In the summer time they don’t have rationing they have blackouts. But instead of at least a bit of warning, like in California, there is none, and people can have the power go off, and turn on, up to 10 or 11 times in one day. Sometimes you have weeks with no problems, then suddenly part way through the day, the power goes out, and no one knows when it will start again.
And yet Tajikistan is still able to be a member of the EU INOGATE, an energy program designed to support EU internal energy market principles.
Hussein woke up with a start, and everyone turned quickly towards his desk.
“Sorry, I thought I heard the conditioner turn on,” he mumbled, as he sunk his sweaty head back into his hands. I think he was dreaming of having the problem of a power bill that was too high, because when he began to snore slightly, a smile crept onto his face.
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