News / Asia

Tajikistan Plans to Build World's Tallest Hydro Dam

A propaganda poster for the Rogun dam project outside of Dushanbe features Tajikistan's president and builder in chief Emomalii Rahmon, October 1, 2011.
A propaganda poster for the Rogun dam project outside of Dushanbe features Tajikistan's president and builder in chief Emomalii Rahmon, October 1, 2011.

With high mountains covering half of the nation, landlocked Tajikistan would like to become the Switzerland of Central Asia, exporting hydroelectricity to its neighbors.  But first it has to generate enough power to avoid more winters of electricity rationing at home.

Wearing a hard hat in publicity photos, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon wants to be his nation’s builder-in-chief.

In September, he inaugurated the world’s tallest flagpole.  Next year, he wants to start building the world’s tallest dam. Called Rogun, it would rise almost as high as the Empire State Building.

Designed to be the biggest hydroelectric plant in Central Asia, this $2 billion project could end power shortages at home, and export excess electricity around Central Asia, to Afghanistan and on to Pakistan.

Muhiddin Kabiri, who leads Tajikistan’s opposition Islamic Revival Party, says after the government sold $200 million worth of dam construction bonds to people in this poor country last year, dam-building has to start soon or the government will lose face.

Daily Life in Tajikistan

Water is the lifeblood for Central Asia, a region where the population has doubled since the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago.  Tajik cotton fields and fruit orchards will be guaranteed irrigation water.

But downstream from the dam, Uzbekistan fears for its crops.  It wants to stop Rogun.

Izzatmand Salomov, a Tajik journalist, dismisses worries about water wars.  Salomov calls Uzbekistan’s ecological complaints "fairy tales."  Salomov adds that Uzbekistan fears losing money from selling electricity to Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Last April, after yet another winter of electricity rationing in Tajikistan, Zafar Abdullayev used Facebook to organize a protest against Tajikistan’s state power company.

Abdullayev says that Rogun is essential for Tajikistan to develop and that Uzbekistan’s worries are unfounded.

Rogun was first designed 35 years ago, in the Soviet era.  With Tajikistan now entering another winter of power rationing, Tajiks say the time has come to stop studying, and to start building.

James Brooke

A foreign correspondent who has reported from five continents, Brooke, known universally as Jim, is the Voice of America bureau chief for Russia and former Soviet Union countries. From his base in Moscow, Jim roams Russia and Russia’s southern neighbors.

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