Speaking to journalists in Dushanbe on July 12, 2010, the visiting head of the Iranian president’s office, Esfandiyar Rahim-Masha’i, accused Uzbekistan of causing a six-month delay in the launch of the first unit of the Sangtuda-2 hydroelectric power station (HEPS) – Iran’s US$ 180 million investment project in southern Tajikistan – by holding up Tajikistan-bound freight cars with construction materials. Uzbekistan has been delaying the transit of hundreds of Tajik trains since February 2010, attributing the interruptions to “technical and logistical” issues. However, many observers believe that Uzbekistan’s blockade of Tajik cargo transit through its railway network is an attempt to force Dushanbe to abandon the controversial Rogun HEPS project, which Tashkent has long been opposing. Out of 1,500 to 2,000 Tajik cars held up by Uzbekistan, roughly one-third are bound for Khatlon where the Rogun dam is being constructed.
As the rail dispute was aggravating the already strained Tajik-Uzbek relations, in May 2010 Iran offered to mediate between Dushanbe and Tashkent. Iranian officials explained that the Tajik-Uzbek rail dispute inflicted economic losses on the Iranian construction company that had to delay the completion of the Sangtuda-2 HEPS because Uzbekistan did not let cars with cement and other crucial construction materials pass through its territory.
On March 10, the World Bank regional director for Central Asia, Motu Konishi, announced in Dushanbe that the bank has found the funding for carrying out a feasibility study and environmental assessment of the controversial Rogun hydropower station project on the Vakhsh River in Tajikistan. Konishi’s statement came almost one year after the bank agreed to finance the study with a particular focus on the potential regional implications of the Rogun dam. It will take 18 months to complete the impact study and, if the project proves financially and environmentally sustainable, Konishi said the World Bank will “assist the Tajik government to create an international consortium to build it.” In the meantime, the Tajik government will continue building the dam with the bank monitoring the works.
The World Bank’s announcement generated considerable enthusiasm in Tajikistan where the Rogun project has long been regarded as the country’s shortcut to energy self-sufficiency and economic development. Government representatives and independent analysts agree that the impact assessment will at the very least encourage evidence-based discussion of the project’s environmental implications. According to the Tajik hydropower expert Georgiy Petrov, the study will demonstrate to what extent the downstream countries’ concerns about Rogun’s impact on the flow and quality of water are justified. “If the assessment proves that the project has faults, we can modify it accordingly to address such issues”, Petrov said. “In any case, this will break the deadlock in our discussion of the project with downstream countries”.