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The Aral Sea Crisis and Management of Water Resources in Central Asia

Once again on the issue of construction of Rogun Hydroelectric Power Plant

07.16.2012, Janon News

Over the past few years the attention of wide circles of international community, respected environmental organizations, experts of research centers in many countries engaged in studies of water management construction, riveted to the persistent efforts of Tajikistan on reanimation of the project on construction in the headwaters of Amu Darya of the complex of structures of Rogun Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) with the capacity of 3600 MW.

Previously it has been repeatedly noted that the construction project of Rogun HPP carries significant and massive technological, social, environmental and socio-economic risks and dangers, which is why its implementation induces justified opposition and objection of respected International Organizations and eminent experts, as well as countries in downstream of Amu Darya.

It is primarily due to the following main factors. First of all, these include the technical project solutions for construction of Rogun HPP that do not meet current requirements and has been developed during the Soviet era, 35-40 years ago, with the distinctive feature of the period of pursuing gigantomania, and based on outdated standards, construction norms and rules that fall short of current requirements of ensuring the construction of hydraulic structures that are safe in all respects. This was repeatedly stated by the eminent professionals and experts.

Large-scale problems and accidents encountered by the builders of large HPPs built in the last few decades (“Three Gorges” in China, “Sayano-Shushenskaya HPP” and “Boguchanskaya HPP” in Russian Federation, large HPPs in South America, etc.) led to a reasonable conclusion that the standards and requirements that apply at present to such hydro facilities have dramatically changed and this caused in many cases the revision, suspension or even rejection of projects on their construction.

Besides, already during the engineering of Rogun HPP project Soviet specialist could not find adequate technical solutions for a number of major issues that remained unresolved. These include, in particular, measures to offset the inevitable effects of filtration and impact of a huge mass of water on a strong (more than 100 meters thick) layer salt that lies at the base of the dam, as well as the high mobility of rock masses in the area of construction. Since then problems only worsened, as evidenced by the crash and complete destruction of a temporary bridged Rogun dam in 1993, as well as several other subsequent accidents.

Secondly, the project incorporates the construction of the dam with unprecedented in the world practice height of 335 meters in the rock mass with repeatedly confirmed seismicity of 9-10 points on the Richter scale.

The construction site of Rogun HPP is situated in relatively newly formed mountain ranges of Vakhsh tectonic fault, an integral part of the chain of regional Southern Tian-Shan and Hissar-Kokshaalsk faults. The seismicity of these zones is the highest in Central Asia, with the repeated cycles in the form of regular earthquakes up to 10 points. Such earthquakes, that occurred in Tajikistan in the first half of last century, claimed in total the life of more than 100,000 people. It is suffice to recall the earthquake in 1911 of more than 9 points, which led to the formation of Usoy natural landslide dam and Lake Sarez with the capacity of 20 billion cubic meters of water.

This region is entering the stage of high seismic activity. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are up to eight earthquakes recorded weekly in the Pamir-Hindi Kush mountain range, which includes the Rogun HPP construction cite. A strong earthquake occurs in Tajikistan every four year and devastating one – every 10-15 years. Based on data analysis, some experts predict that over the next ten years one should expect strong destructive earthquakes in this mountain range. This is also confirmed in research studies by seismologists, including Tajik scientists.

In addition, construction of such a huge dam would require moving and disposing of 80 million cubic meters of soil, which, along with the 14 billion tons of water reservoir, will create additional pressure on the mountain. This will increase seismic vulnerability of the region, and one can surely predict that construction of the Rogun HPP will  increase frequency and intensity of earthquakes in this area.

What would be the consequences of destruction of such a HPP caused by earthquake or human factor? Scientists and engineers estimate that dynamic pressure of 14 cubic kilometers of water trapped in the reservoir is capable to create giant waves - the so-called man-made tsunami - with more than 100 meters in height, rushing down to the Vakhsh River at a speed as high as 500 km/per hour. It can completely destroy the Nurek dam, all other HPPs and hydro sites along the Vakhsh cascade and can flood the towns of Nurek, Sarban, Kurgantyube and Rumy. Moreover, while continuing its destructive movement, the flood wave would demolish dozens of towns and villages in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, causing to incalculable consequences and death of many hundreds of thousands of lives.

Thirdly, the Rogun HPP Project poses a long-term and irreversible threat to environment of the region as well as in the socio-economic sphere.

Construction of a gigantic HPP would break delicate ecological balance in the region, having a devastating impact on water resource management and environmental situation. The formation of a water reservoir of 14 cubic kilometers will require a significant limitation of the Vakhsh River flow for at least 8-10 years, which will disrupt long-term water flow regulation in the region and increase water deficit up to a disastrously high level.

The construction of the HPP would completely disrupt the structure of natural water flows by decreasing the water flow sharply during the growing season and increasing water feed in the autumn-winter period, which will result in severe water scarcity, drought in summer time, as well as disastrous winter floods for downstream state of the Amu Darya.

A hydrological regime change of the Amu Darya River will also increase channel losses, which makes up to 15% in low-water period, accelerate the drying of downstream lakes and wetlands, emergence of new salt marshes and saline takyr surfaces, which would become major sources of salt transposition to adjacent farmlands, reducing soil fertility and crop yields on the ground. As a result, this will worsen environmental disaster of the Aral Sea, which has a global impact.

It will also completely destroy economic basis of production and the prevailing modus vivendi way of more than 10 million people living in the Amu Darya downstream oasis in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, who will be doomed to drought, hunger, and eventual displacement.

It is estimated that direct economic loss of the downstream countries, including Uzbekistan, resulting from the construction of Rogun HPP, make up more than $ 20 billion with no state willing to compensate. Additional economic and social problems will emerge as a result of forced displacement of people suffering from water shortage, causing sharp social instability to increase in the region.

As a result, total economic damage from this project is unquantifiable, and how, in what currency and what numbers the suffer and misery of millions of people could be estimated?

It is obvious that the construction of such dam contradicts not only to technical standards, economic logic, but also to the common sense, in general.

Precisely these threats from construction of Rogun HPP station are causing legitimate concerns of the international community and wide range of international organizations, such as United Nations, International Commission on Large Dams, World Water Council, International Union for Protection of Nature, as well as members of the European Parliament, Parliaments of the United States, Belgium and other countries, scientific and research centers of Japan, USA, the Netherlands, South Korea and other states.

As result of broad discussion of the problems associated with this project at various levels in the United Nations bodies, international scientific-practical forums and conferences, implemented over past few years, brought an understanding and clear formulation of principal position of the international community on necessity of carrying out of in-depth objective independent international expertise of this project.

It should be noted that opinion of independent experts goes inline with the norms of the international law in the field of transboundary water resources management. A number of UN conventions, such as The United Nations Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes of September 18, 1992; The 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Uses of International Watercourses,  adopted by the UN General Assembly on May 21, 1997, are clearly defining the requirements for compulsory consideration of interests of all parties, located in zone of influence of transboundary water facilities, before taking decisions on elaboration of the projects associated with a transboundary effect.

Moreover, The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, which entered into force in 1997, envisages a full accounting of environmental consequences from construction of such facilities, and implementing of in-depth assessment of their impact with attraction of all interested parties.

Taking into account the opinion of international organizations and structures, and on the basis of international law, the World Bank decided in 2010 to conduct an independent international expertise of the project of construction of Rogun hydro-power station and provided USD 20,0 million for its implementation. A number of European firms from France, Switzerland and other countries are involved in this studies and its completion is expected at the first quarter of 2013.

In its turn,
the government of Tajikistan took commitments in 2010 not to carry out construction works on Rogun hydro-power station’ site until the completion of independent technical, economic, social and environmental impact assessment from. At the same time Tajikistan pledged to the International Monetary Fund to stop campaign on forcible fund-raising from the population to finance the project of construction of Rogun hydro-power station.

However, unfortunately, at the present time it must be noted that, regardless of its commitments to the World Bank and IMF,
the Tajik side is continuing to implement its “idee fixe”, unilaterally grossly violating the achieved agreements to prevent construction works at Rogun hydro-power station.

Numerous facts indicate that Tajikistan, in hidden from the international community, is carrying out behind closed doors a wide range of works on construction cite, which was started in the 1970s.
At the present time massive construction works are being carried out on the site of Rogun HPP, its constructional drainage tunnels, turbine hall, quarries and other facilities of the station.

Both, the Tajik authorities have been actively attracting foreign contractors (from Russia, Ukraine and other countries) to carry out works on designing the Rogun HPP facilities.

At the same time the Tajik side has been making contracts for supplies of equipment, components and materials needed for launching the first phase of the plant.
Particularly, so far the equipment for launching the first power unit has been procured, produced and delivered. Shortly production of equipment for the second unit is to be finished and preparation for delivery is underway.

Along with allocation of significant budget funds for the last several years (more than USD 200 million annually), Tajikistan in violation of its obligations before the IMF has lately enhanced the compulsory sale of Rogun shares to the population despite harsh financial conditions of majority of people in the country.

All these actions are taken under enormous pressure of the Tajik leadership who recently claimed “that who against Rogun project is the enemy of the Tajik nation”.

Natural question arises – what is final objective of the construction or Rogun HPP, why despite numerous objections and violating all norm of international law, Tajikistan has been trying to complete in accelerated paces the first stage of the plant?

The answer is clear – their final objective is to complete the  first stage of the plant and put the World Bank and the entire international community in front of the fait accompli and thus legalize that which is actively opposed by the expert community and international structures.

Distorting the real situation, misleading and hiding the real works from the world community,
the Tajik side has been trying to win time and finish the started works, to cross the line of no return when international experts will have to put up with the fait accompli of completed Rogun HPP.

At the same time the Tajik side through the controlled media and experts on payroll has been irresponsibly speculating, completely distorting facts and arguments of international experts, manipulating figures with a view to convince the people of Tajikistan that there is no alternative to the construction of Rogun HPP.

Thereby they have been trying to distort the real state of affairs and use all possible and impossible means to accomplish their goal which is construction of the Rogun HPP while ignoring all catastrophic risks and dangers which this project may entail.

One should stress that many of international experts and neighboring countries of Tajikistan located in the lower reach of the Amudarya river have been proposing a reasonable alternative which might address the problem of  a reliable power supply to Tajikistan at a significantly less cost and time not creating a large-scale man-made, ecologic, social and economic threats for both Tajikista
n and its neighbors. That alternative is the construction of a number of small scale hydropower plants. Considering this alternative has been one of the most important directions of the World Bank activities.

Following conclusions can be made from the aforesaid:

It is not normal when the Tajik side has been continuing the construction of the Rogu n HPP ignoring numerous warnings and recommendations of international experts and specialists gravely violating its commitments on suspending all civil works until the completion of the World Bank expert examination.

The policy adopted and pursued by the Tajik and which is based on covert continuation of the construction of the Rogun HPP may entail the gravest and unpredictable consequences impossible to mitigate. It cannot be ignored.

Pravda Vostoka, July 12, 2012



Portal of Knowledge for Water and Environmental Issues in Central Asia 

Contrary to logic and reason

October 15, 2011

These days the media more and more coming information on the status of an international round of examination and preparation of feasibility study of Rogun in Tajikistan. This examination is conducted by the World Bank commissioned an international consortium of companies "Coin and Lingerie", "ELC Electron consult SpA" and "IPA Energy + Water Consulting".

The need for an objective independent international examination of the Rogun hydroelectric project in the world's highest dam height 335 m is the major concern of the neighboring countries and the world community in connection with the fact that this construction project, prepared in the 70's of last century, long outdated and that the place of construction chosen mountain area in the upper Amu Darya with seismicity 8-10, taking into account the possible negative environmental, technological and economic impacts of the construction of this huge complex.

As part of the representatives of the Tajik authorities and state agencies involved in the implementation of this ambitious project, a consortium of experts the impression that the government of the Republic of Tajikistan, in spite of the arguments and the final result of the outcome of the developed feasibility study is still configured to implement the initial project concept with unprecedented giant the dam.

The financing of the construction of buildings, as well as meaningful socio-economic situation in the country who do not let this overly capital-intensive construction, or in any way concerned about the leadership of the republic. The country has launched a powerful scale aggressive promotion of the project, feasibility study which has not yet been completed.

Between the consortium and the Tajik side there are serious disagreements over the base of the dam inspection by probing the soil. A preliminary assessment has identified issues that require further study and analysis. In particular, because of the considerable thickness of weathered zone is necessary to study the lower and upper part of the foundations of the dam to a more thorough study of the site in terms of conditions of rocks, water levels etc.

Despite the categorical objections of international experts, the Tajik authorities obsessed with the idea this year, without waiting for an expert opinion, to begin building the first phase of Rogun with an intermediate height of the dam is 120 m, in order to put the international community with an accomplished fact adventurous.
Representatives of the international consortium insist on drilling multiple wells at the top of pillars and conducting mechanical tests of rock cores selected, which is a prerequisite for determining the strength of laying the foundation.

OAXK "Barki Tojik" first came out against the said work by experts of the consortium, but then offered to instruct their representatives execution of Iranian contractors, while the consortium insisted on the conditions of the contract and the participation of its experts in these studies.
This approach is dictated by the Tajik authorities' confidence in the fact that Iranian contractors will be given the necessary guidance for the conclusion of Tajikistan.

Non-constructive, one-sided focus on the construction of the RT Rogun failure Tajik side the recommendations of the World Bank not to start construction of HPP and not to any work until a final conclusion on the feasibility study all the more difficult the situation, and call into question the usefulness of further examination.
According to reports, continues to mobilize additional human resources to enhance the construction work. In the construction area has about 2.5 thousand people.

Naturally, such an aggressive approach of the Tajik side to the project, regardless of the reasonable arguments of the companies for which the World Bank, entrusted with the objective of international expertise, reaffirms desire leadership of Tajikistan at any cost, regardless of any possible tragic consequences for millions of people to carry out intrusive the idea for the construction of Rogun.

In a situation like we have every reason to expect that such arrogant attempts by Tajik authorities to ignore the insistent repeated warnings about the possible tragic consequences of the implementation of long-outdated draft Rogun meet proper appreciation, primarily from the World Bank and the international community, in order to These potentially harmful effects do not become a reality.


Appeals Must Be Supported With Reliable facts


V. Akhmadjonov,
Deputy Head of the balance of water resources and development of water saving technologies of the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of the Republic of Uzbekistan

In recent years the passions around the Rogun Hydropower Station and exchange of «pleasantries» on this issue in the information space not only of Central Asia but also beyond its borders has acquired such a scale that one might wonder: when will stop the flow of disinformation?

One would like to address to numerous authors - when the flow of verbal accusations will be replaced to a sober analysis of available facts and realities, which are formed in water issues, use of water and hydropower in the basins of the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers. Unfortunately, misinformation soars not only in different estimates of mass media, political scientists, experts, but also it clearly appears in the high level government statements.

Recent statements of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Melioration of Tajikistan Khamrokhon Zarifi and Rakhmat Bobokalonov regarding the terms of filling the Rogun Hydropower Station (HPS), not backed by serious and valid arguments, aim to mislead its own and the international community. Their assertion that reservoir will be filled within 17 years at the benefit of the Tajik quota of water resources and it will have no impact on downstream countries is full absurd.

After completion of the Rogun hydroelectric complex this reservoir must be filled with water for over 7-8 years, initially – until design reference mark of the level of dead-storage capacity (DSC), and then - to the calculated pressures and marks. It means that there will be irrevocable withdrawal of watercourse Vakhsh River in the vegetation season, mainly in June-August (in non- vegetation the Rogun reservoir will not be filled since necessary expenses are needed for operation of Nurek, Baipazin, Golovnoy and Sangtuda hydropower station and to cover winter energy shortage). Under option of DSC 1220 m, the cost of water to fill the dead-storage capacity of the Rogun HPS reservoir alone will make up about 5 km3.

The experts of the German company «Lahmeyer», who engaged in technical feasibility study of the Rogun HPS in 2006, also came to similar conclusions regarding the terms of filling of the Rogun HPS reservoir. It is worth recalling that the Tajik representatives, who often produce the feasibility study by this company of the Rogun project as “an independent environmental impact examination” for some reasons keep silent on the technical conclusions of foreign experts when it comes to such important aspects as filling the reservoir and the level of its impact on flow of transboundary rivers.

Expert calculations made for the average water period show that to ensure the initial filling of the Rogun HPS it is expected additional annual withdrawal of the watercourse of Vakhsh River in the amounts up to 1,5 - 2 km3 in vegetation periods. If the period of filling the reservoir turns out to be a period of water shortage, the water withdrawal will be increased, and the shortage in the downstream of the Amudarya river will be increased several-fold. At the risks of water shortage in the basin Tajikistan will not be able to restrict the supply of water for its water complex, and release (from the allocated quota) water to fill the Rogun.

As the same calculations show, the joint energy work of Rogun and existing Nurek hydropower station may further reduce currently practiced vegetation releases from Nurek reservoir which are already in dry years insufficient to cover the emerging water shortage in Uzbekistan.

Such a scheme of operation of reservoirs is very real, if we take into account that generated electricity at Rogun HPS will go on sale, and the Nurek HPS will be forced to operate in near-contemporary regime, covering own energy needs of Tajikistan.

It cannot but arose big doubts the calculations of the chief Tajik diplomat on the volume of water resources in the Aral Sea basin, including those contained in the reservoirs.

To raise awareness of senior officials of Tajikistan we deem it necessary to emphasize that in Uzbekistan there are 55 reservoirs with a total volume of 19.8 km3, of which about 5 km3 are not used or the so-called “dead-storage capacity”. Said that, the amount of used volume is about 15 km3. For comparison, the total volume of just two reservoirs in Tajikistan - Nurek and Kayrakkum located in Tajikistan is about 15.0 km3.

Mathematical calculations of Mr.Zarifi on the actual volumes of water in the Aral Sea and the water accumulated in the Uzbek reservoirs are also subject to significant correction. At the current level of development of information communications it is easy to obtain reliable data on the water situation in the region. According to recent estimates, the current level of water or the Aral Sea is more than 70 km3. Comparing figures 15 and 70 is an elementary math, i.e. the amount of water reservoirs used in Uzbekistan is almost 5 times smaller than the current level of the Aral Sea!

The question emerges: why there is such a juggling of facts? Perhaps, the Tajik side wants to use them to «substantiate» claims about the need for expertise of water reservoirs in the «downstream» in an attempt to distract the international community to fulfill its own promises on an international independent expertise of Rogun. However, these appeals, unlike the well-founded appeal of Uzbekistan on the examination of Rogun have not any logic and serious reasoning. To let know the Tajik officials and «experts», we shall note that the international legal norms do not provide holding any examination of relatively small reservoirs located along downstream rivers, and, accordingly, is not practiced.

Moreover, in Uzbekistan, it is with state policy to ensure safety of hydrotechnical structures. This is clearly reflected in the presence of specialized legal and institutional system to ensure the safety of hydrotechnical structures.

The shortage of water resources for the needs of the population and economy of the Central Asian region is noticeable today. However, as a result of construction of new large hydro facilities, particularly the Rogun HPS and filling its huge reservoir, the lower-lying basin countries will suffer even more severe shortage of water. Launching this hydrosystem will certainly cause a decrease in Vakhsh watercourse in summer and, accordingly, the total flow of the Amudarya, compounding the tragedy of the Aral Sea.

The main question that bothers people of middle and lower reaches of the AmudaryaRiver is the absence of concrete assurances that the Rogun hydroelectric complex, in the case of construction, would work in irrigation-power mode, as provided in the original design, and would not harm environment and national economy of downstream countries. In the case of exploitation of Rogun hydroelectric complex in a power mode the removal of the watercourse of VakhshRiver in the vegetation period will not be less than 7-8 km3, which would have catastrophic effects in terms of providing water to downstream countries.

Unfortunately, in Tajikistan, which operates one of the highest dams the Nurek HPS and constructs the highest dam in the world – Rogun HPS, there are not created modern regulatory frameworks and institutional arrangements to ensure the safety of hydraulic structures. The situation in the country's water sector exacerbated with the need of qualified specialists for the operation of such a huge dam.

Tajikistan is a country of earthquakes, torrents, landslides and mudslides that have a significant impact on the operational safety of dams and hydroelectric system. The earthquake with intensity of 9-10 on a scale MSK-64 on 11 February 1911 resulted in creation of the SarezLake on MurghabRiver. The catastrophic torrent of 8-9 May 1993 destroyed Rogun HPS’s cofferdam, and in 80s of the last century the Sargazonskoe reservoir was destroyed. In 1993 on the Pamir’s Vanch HPS the water intake structure was completely destroyed that consisted of an earthen dam and concrete spillway with segmental gates. In 1998 a landslide hit derivational canal of Varzob HPS’s Stages, which is both a source of drinking water in Dushanbe. In 2001 the Namangutskaya HPS on the Pamirs because of destruction of the feeding canal went out of service for more than 3 months. The Baipazinskiy landslide bore a serious threat to the Vakhsh HPS’s cascade.

All of these problems, both separately and collectively cannot but cause a serious trouble to the Central Asian countries, which are located downstream of these rivers. The transboundary effects of accidents at a HPS cascade will undoubtedly have catastrophic consequences.
And in such a situation, instead of the correct and balanced assessment of the prevailing socio-economic and energy problems in Tajikistan, some senior officials of this country are trying to shift responsibility to neighboring countries, creating in them the image of an enemy of the Tajik people, that falls beyond any reasonable limits of a common sense .



Transboundary environmental problems discussed


18.11.2010, Jahon News

One of the most important tasks for the whole mankind today is to preserve the environment and ensure environmental sustainability, including through effective solution of transborder issues, without which sustainable development in the 21st century is impossible. This was the topic of the international conference “Transboundary environmental problems in Central Asia: application of international legal mechanisms to solve them” held in Tashkent on 16-17 November.

The forum was attended by experts, scientists and environmentalists from 30 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Britain, Germany, India, Spain, Italy, Canada, China, South Korea, Netherlands, Russia, USA, Turkey, Ukraine, France, Switzerland and Japan, as well as representatives of more than 60 international organizations and financial institutions – the UN, OSCE, World Health Organization, World Bank, World Wildlife Fund, World Conservation Union and others, UzA informs.

The Chairman of the Board of the Central Council of the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Chamber of Oliy Majlis Boriy Alikhanov opened the conference.

The First Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Rustam Azimov read the message from the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov to the participants of the international conference.

Protection and preservation of the environment are of great importance for further progress, including food security, and in general for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially in today’s conditions of climate change, said secretary-general of the International Commission for Irrigation and Drainage M.Gopalakrishnan. He stressed that the use of water resources should not be considered only in terms of hydropower energy. In complex regions like Central Asia, use of small power stations is preferred, he said.

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