2008 Central Asia energy crisis
|This article is outdated. (November 2010)|
The 2008 Central Asia energy crisis is an ongoing energy shortage in Central Asia, which, combined with the severe weather of the 2007-08 winter (the coldest since 1969) and high prices for food and fuel, has caused considerable hardship for many. The abnormally cold weather has pushed demand up for electricity, exacerbating the crisis. The situation is most dire in Tajikistan. An international appeal has been made by the United Nations, NGOs, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent for around US$25 million to assist the government. The crisis has been ongoing and the UN has warned that millions face starvation during the 2008-09 winter.
Tajikistan has the greatest capacity for hydroelectric power in the region (over 300 terawatt-hours (TWh) annually), but during the winter it is often dependent on importing electricity from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in no small part because the water used for hydroelectricity freezes, and demand increases. However, because of shortages in those countries as well, electricity supplies have been severely restricted. Furthermore, Uzbekistan cut natural gas supplies to Tajikistan on January 24 for payment delays. The amount of water in the reservoirs is at a record low. The giant Nurek reservoir has fallen to six meters, a worryingly low level according to energy sector representatives. Snowmelt to replenish the reservoirs is not expected until late March or April.
World Bank debt and price hikes
At the beginning of January 2008, officials announced an electricity price hike of 20 percent to allow the "government [to] repay its debt to the World Bank." According to an official at Barqi Tojik, a national power company, limits will become stricter, and the price for electricity is expected to rise until 2010.
On April 2008, Pradeep Mitra, World Bank chief economist for Europe and Central Asia, issued an uncharacteristic statement, urging the worse-hit countries to spend more on social assistance and "top up" their social programs.
Nonetheless, Mitra focus remained centred "on inflation management," suggesting that the affected countries "especially refrain from imposing controls on trade" (measures recently undertaken by many countries to protect their populations from food price inflation and keep food available domestically), arguing that "it could work against the food supply in the longer term."
As of January 13, 2008, many villages received only one to three hours of electricity per day, and the capital Dushanbe cut power to residential areas overnight. On January 26, 2008, Dushanbe cut power to places of entertainment (including restaurants, shops, pharmacies, markets, and public bathhouses), causing many to close until spring. The few visible lights are from the owners of generators, factories, or people who have illegally tapped the power lines. The restriction was set to end February 10, but there is discussion of extending it. The only exemptions to the restrictions are for government offices, hospitals, and certain industrial cities, such as Tursunzoda, which has a large aluminum plant. Because of inoperable central heating systems in Dushanbe and other cities, residents in apartment blocks have no means other than electricity to heat their homes.
The situation was exacerbated by the cold winter, with temperatures reaching -20 degrees Celsius. Dushanbe residents report wearing several jackets and overcoats to sleep and all family members sleeping under a single blanket to share warmth. The UN's World Food Programme also declared the food situation one of emergency shortage, in both cities and rural areas.
Allegations of media suppression
As of mid-January, the state-run media did not discuss the problem. Subsequently throughout the month of February, there emerged numerous Western media reports of children dying in maternity wards of hospitals during blackouts. The Tajik government maintains that the blackouts were not responsible for any deaths. The Tajik government has appealed for international aid. Meanwhile, aid workers and diplomats urged the government to declare a state of emergency. The handling of the crisis has raised questions about the competence of the political leadership.
According to the weblog news service neweurasia, as of March 3, 2008 the crisis in Tajikistan has eased: "From now on (at least till the next winter) Dushanbe is not going to have problems with electricity and the tough schedule introduced in the beginning of this winter was abandoned on March 1, 2008 in Dushanbe by the decision of Barqi Tojik." The Christian Science Monitor, neweurasia, and other media observers are predicting that a nascent hunger crisis will erupt into a full famine as a consequence of the energy shortages. UN experts announced on 10 October that almost one-third of Tajikistan’s 6.7 million inhabitants may not have enough to eat for the winter of 2008-09.
In Kyrgyzstan, also rich in hydroelectric resources, the cold weather has made demand 10% higher than the same time last year, which is depleting the main Toktogul reservoir for hydroelectric power.
Beginning in late December 2007, the unusually harsh weather has frozen the gas supply to numerous homes and businesses across Uzbekistan. As a result, there have been numerous demonstrations and protests against the government, in favor of an insured uninterrupted supply of gas and electricity. The government response has varied; in Karakalpakstan, they met protesters and promised to rectify the situation, while the local government head of Hazarasp responded to a complaint by one woman by cutting off gas altogether to all the houses on her street.
Some in Uzbekistan have turned to "traditional methods" for heating, and there are reportedly some villages which have no trees left, because villagers have cut them down to heat their homes and cook food. This is expected to have a negative effect on the economy, because the leaves are essential to the local silk industry, and the fruit grown is the main source of income for many villagers.
In some provinces of Turkmenistan, villagers have been burning saxaul plants, a traditional Turkmen way to heat homes, but which is a rare plant at risk of extinction. In cities, the central heating pipes have been neglected and do not work well to heat, and electrical devices cannot be used because of a shortage of electricity.
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- Situation Report No. 4 – Tajikistan – Cold Wave/Compound crisis (25 February 2008) United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- Tajikistan: Almost One-Third of the Population Is in Danger of Going Hungry This Winter | EurasiaNet.org
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