Why Tajikistan’s Water Matters

Tajikistan is a very rich country in terms of water and hydropower potential. Its water, which is the Central Asian nation’s most widespread natural resource, seems to have become Dushanbe’s priority for socioeconomic development.

In Tajikistan, a mountainous landlocked country of around 10 million people, water and energy are closely interrelated. The former Soviet republic is almost exclusively reliant on hydro for electricity generation. Water resources are the main source of energy production. As a result, 95% of Tajikistan’s electricity is generated by hydropower plants. 

But the problem for Dushanbe is the fact that its water infrastructure requires extensive investment. It is old, and has a limited capacity to expand to match population growth. Moreover, only 55 percent of the population in Tajikistan uses a safely managed drinking water service. According to estimates, Tajikistan will need a minimum investment of $800 million to ensure access to safe water supply services for the whole population by 2030.

Despite its enormous energy potential, the hydropower-rich nation often faces electricity shortages during the autumn-winter period. According to the Tajik Ministry of Energy, 10 percent of Tajikistan’s population has no access to electricity.

That is why one of the Tajik energy officials’ major goals is to find ways to invest in rehabilitation of power grids all over the country. Also, the mountainous terrain and 947 rivers flowing through Tajikistan, allows the construction of high dams and large hydroelectric power plants. Dushanbe seems to have no ideological or geopolitical boundaries when it comes to investments in its water potential. 

Tajik authorities are actively working with international organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the UN Development Program, UNESCO, aiming to improve the country’s energy and water infrastructure. For instance, the World Bank’s current investments in water and irrigation sectors in Tajikistan stand at $163 million, while over the past 20 years the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has invested over $100 million in water projects in the former Soviet republic. 

But Dushanbe also seeks to establish close cooperation with other global actors. In 2019, Russia – Tajikistan’s ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Central Asian nation’s major trade partner – has built the Sangtuda 1 Hydroelectric Power Plant, an energy facility that provides around 12 percent of Tajikistan’s electricity output. In May 2023, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) agreed to provide a $500 million soft loan to Tajikistan for the construction of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant. Dushanbe has also secured additional $550 million from the Islamic Development Bank and institutions in several Arab countries for the Rogun megaproject.

Previously, in June 2022, the EU hinted that it would be willing to become the top investor in the giant hydropower Rogun plant, quite aware that the world’s tallest dam has a strategic importance not only for Tajikistan, but also for neighboring countries. The completion of the Rogun hydroelectric power plant will allow Tajikistan to supply sufficient electricity to its own population during the winter, and at the same time to increase summertime exports to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. 

Indeed, water resources play a significant role in ensuring the sustainable development of the Tajik economy. Tajikistan possesses four percent of the world’s hydro power resources and 53 percent of Central Asia’s resources, and is the eighth richest country in the world in terms of hydropower. As such, over the years, Tajikistan has been actively promoting the water agenda – a key result of the UN 2023 Water Conference, held in March 2023 – which calls for universal water and sanitation access.

It is, therefore, no surprise that the high-level international conference the Dushanbe Water Process will be held in the Tajik capital on June 10-13. According to Shahin Samadi, the head of the Department of Information and Press of Tajikistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the event will make a great contribution to solving water problems and climate change, and promote the role of water in sustainable development. The Dushanbe Water Process is an initiative of the Government of Tajikistan to support the implementation of the goals of the United Nations-sponsored International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028”.

But since there is a risk that under the influence of climate change the volume of water in Tajikistan may gradually decrease over the years, the Tajik government seeks to develop other parts of its energy sector as well. The Central Asian state wants to have 10 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources, namely from solar and wind, by 2030. In order to achieve such an ambitious goal, Tajikistan has already started looking for investments from all over the world.

In August 2023, a USAID-funded solar power plant with a capacity of 600 kW was put into operation in Tajikistan’s Murghab district, while companies from Russia’s Dagestan region are ready to build mini solar power plants in the highlands of Tajikistan. Also, the United Arab Emirates-based Masdar and W Solar Investment corporation are reportedly interested in the development of renewable energy projects in the former Soviet republic. 

The potential of solar and wind energy in the Central Asian nation is quite high, although at this point alternative energy sources account for only two percent of the total energy balance. But since about 60 percent of water resources of the rivers in Central Asia are formed in Tajikistan, the authorities in Dushanbe are expected to focus primarily on the development of the country’s water sector. If they succeed, water could serve as the basis for the nation’s economic growth.

[Header image: Sangtuda 1 Hydroelectric Power Plant in Tajikistan, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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