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.
Since its introduction in 2009, the Rogun Dam resettlement scheme has drawn intensive criticism from the resettlers, human rights organizations and some political analysts. Criticism from the affected populations and human rights watchdogs have mostly focused on the inadequate compensation for displaced communities. Tahmina Juraeva, coordinator of a project that monitors the Rogun Dam resettlement at the NGO Human Rights Bureau, says most resettlers are unhappy with the compensation they get for their houses and other property that they have to leave behind during relocation, finding it well below market rates.
“Whenever we meet with villagers in the Rogun Dam flooding zone, they complain that their houses and other property were evaluated many years ago, and prices have drastically increased since, while the value of the national currency has fallen,” says Juraeva. “If they are compensated for the lost property based on the old cost estimates, they will not be able to build new houses. Besides, many villagers suggest that officials responsible for evaluating their property often fail to do their job properly.”
According to Tajikistan’s deputy minister of labor and social protection Anvar Boboyev, most resettlers from the reservoir zone receive about 100,000 somoni (or about US$ 20,000) in compensation for the property that they leave behind. Experts believe that this amount is sufficient to build a modest house. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that the actual compensation that most resettlers receive is often less that this amount. Besides, the money is paid in four installments, making it difficult for relocated families to purchase construction materials.
Monetary compensation alone does not guarantee that the resettlers will be able to effectively reconstruct their livelihoods in the relocation areas. These areas often lack adequate social services and employment opportunities, except for hard and low-paid jobs on cotton-growing farms.
Some analysts have also cautioned the government that the resettlement might have unintended long-term political implications. The major reason for such warnings is the role that grievances generated by Soviet forced resettlement schemes played in the events leading up to the civil war in Tajikistan in 1992-1997 (see the 06/03/2009 issue of the CACI Analyst).
Although the resettlement program is formally suspended, the relocation of communities in the vicinity of the dam site will continue. According to Ahlers, the Tajik government and the World Bank have agreed that these communities have to be resettled because of the ongoing construction works at the site.
While Dushanbe and the international community wait for the results of the World Bank-led studies, it appears highly unlikely that any findings from these assessments will force Tajikistan to abandon the long cherished project. The Rogun Dam is regarded in Tajikistan as a way to meet its basic energy needs and boost foreign earnings through export of surplus electricity to neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, Uzbekistan’s fierce opposition to the Rogun project has turned it into a symbol of national pride for most Tajiks, who now see the dam as a way to boost Tajikistan’s regional influence. Therefore, it is likely that the Tajik government will push ahead with the resettlement program irrespective of the findings of the studies. The government should, however, use these findings at the very least to improve its resettlement program based on the needs of affected communities.
(By Alexander Sodiqov (June 22, 2011 issue of the CACI Analyst)