On June 7, Tajikistani President Emomali Rahmon returned home from a week-long tour of China. The tour included a five-day state visit followed by Rahmon’s participation in the 12th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Beijing. Following the trip, the Tajik President’s office announced that ten new deals signed in Beijing would bring Tajikistan about $1 billion in new Chinese investment, loans and aid. Experts suggest that the new deals will increase China’s economic clout in Tajikistan, giving Rahmon more leverage in dealings with Moscow.
As part of the deals inked during the visit, Beijing has pledged to invest some $600 million to build a large cement plant in Tajikistan’s southern district of Shahritus, on the border with Uzbekistan. When completed, the plant is expected to produce three million metric tons of cement annually, using local limestone reserves. According to Rahmon’s press service, the plant will be a joint project between the Chinese government-run National Materials Group Corporation and the state-owned Tajik Aluminium Company (Talco) (president.tj, June 7). Eager to break its dependence on cement imports, Dushanbe previously negotiated similar deals with Tehran and Islamabad (news.tj, June 11, 2011; June 1). However, joint projects with Iran and Pakistan have taken too long to get off the ground, leading Tajikistan to seek Chinese investment instead.
Beijing has also pledged to build a coal-driven combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. Although negotiated over a year ago, the $200 million project stalled because of disagreements over the plant’s technical specifications. Following Rahmon’s return from Beijing, it was announced that Chinese specialists will begin the construction of the plant “within the next several days” and will complete the project within a year. The CHP plant project is part of the Tajikistani government’s effort to use the country’s coal resources in tackling power shortages. China is also helping Tajikistan’s state-owned cement factory in Dushanbe and a number of other enterprises to switch from imported natural gas to local coal (president.tj, June 7; news.tj, April 28, 2011).
On November 3, Tajik authorities announced that they had completed the main diversion tunnel of the Rogun Dam project. This means that it is now technically possible to divert the Vakhsh River from the part of the valley in which they plan to place the giant dam. Dewatering the construction areas will allow the authorities to start building the facility (www.avesta.tj, November 3).
According to Tajik hydropower experts, there are strong technical reasons for blocking the river as soon as possible. The lake created behind the temporary dam when the river is diverted will enable the authorities to accumulate water next spring and summer. This water can be released in winter so that downstream hydropower plants (HPPs) convert it into additional electricity, helping the country to prevent blackouts (www.avesta.tj, November 3). Besides, the lake will stop the sedimentation of the Norak HPP’s reservoir further downstream, which is reportedly close to reaching a critical level (www.regnum.ru, November 7). Any serious breakdown of the Norak facility, which produces about 70 percent of the country’s electricity output, will have catastrophic consequences for the country. Overall, according to the company building the dam, “the diversion of the river is technically possible now,” but, “the decision to block the river flow is essentially political and has to come from the highest level” (www.avesta.tj, November 3), that is, from the country’s president.
On June 1, World Bank director of strategy and operations in Europe and Central Asia Theodore Ahlers announced that the Tajik government temporarily put a halt to a program for resettling tens of thousands of villagers from the projected reservoir area of the giant Rogun Dam. According to Ahlers, the resettlement was suspended until the results of two ongoing World Bank commissioned studies, which look at the dam’s economic feasibility and its potential social and environmental impact, become available. These studies, expected to be completed in late 2012, will help the Tajik authorities to develop a proper resettlement framework based on the needs of the affected populations.
The effort to resettle people from the zone that will be flooded behind what is projected to become the world’s tallest dam was launched in 2009. A special government regulation adopted in January 2009 envisaged the moving of more than 4,700 families, or about 30,000 people, from 63 villages in the districts of Rogun and Nurobod to Dangara, Tursunzade, and Darband. According to official reports, 600 families were resettled from the projected reservoir area in 2009, and about 1,000 families were relocated in 2010. These reports fail to mention, however, that many of the formally resettled families, particularly elderly family members, have continued living in their native villages.
Iran has steadily expanded its economic position in Tajikistan since the start of 2011. In February, a private Iranian company signed an agreement with the Tajik Ministry of Energy and Industry (MEI), pledging to build a large cement plant in Tajikistan’s southern Khatlon province. When completed, the coal-driven plant is expected to produce two million metric tons of cement annually, using local limestone reserves. The company will also build a coal power plant to supply energy to the cement producing facility. According to the MEI, Iranian investment in the project will total $500 million (www.avesta.tj, February 9, 18).
Iran’s hitherto largest investment project in the country aims to help Tajikistan meet its steadily growing demand for cement. Boosted by large-scale energy and infrastructure projects, the demand is presently estimated at 1 million to 1.5 million tons per year and continues to increase. With domestic production standing at only 290,000 tons in 2010, Dushanbe has heavily relied on cement imports from Pakistan and Iran to meet its needs (www.cacianalyst.org, February 2, 2011). The Iranian-built plant is expected to provide Tajikistan with surplus cement output that can be used in new infrastructure projects or exported.