Warm Fridges And Rotten Meat: Blackouts In Tajikistan Disrupt Lives, Damage Businesses

9

Malohatkhon Saidmurodova recently bought 3 kilograms of beef on her way home from work at a rural hospital in Tajikistan’s northern Sughd Province.

“I put a good-size portion of it in the fridge for the Sunday dinner and stored the rest in the freezer,” Saidmurodova said. “When I came home from work the next day, I found out the electricity had been out all day and the meat had gone bad.”

The 275 somonis ($25) Saidmurodova paid for the meat — a rare luxury for many Tajiks — at her local butcher shop is roughly one-third of the hospital cleaner’s September salary, which includes extra pay for working several overnight shifts.

“That meat was supposed to last my family all of October,” she said on September 29. “The blackout came with no warning [from the authorities]. Had I known this, I’d have fried the meat so it wouldn’t go bad. It’s a big deal for us. It means we don’t eat meat until I get my next paycheck.”

There have been reports of sporadic blackouts in recent days in different parts of Tajikistan, including the Sughd and southern Khatlon provinces, as well as several districts in the suburbs of the capital, Dushanbe.

Amid people’s angry complaints, state electricity company Barqi Tojik said in a statement on September 28 that maintenance work had caused the blackouts in some areas. But the authorities did not say how long the alleged repair work was going to last or exactly what areas it would affect and when.

The upstream Central Asian country is home to some of the world’s largest hydropower plants, including the partially operational Roghun plant. Tajikistan is ranked eighth in the world in hydropower potential with an estimated 527 terawatt-hours, according to the International Energy Agency. But currently only 4 percent of that potential is exploited.

People in poverty-stricken Tajikistan are used to crippling electricity rationing during the winter, when most of the country has electricity for about 10 hours a day. Officials often blame the rationing on decreased water levels in dam reservoirs.

Many Tajiks complain these much earlier power cuts — which come with no warning and with no known end in sight — seriously disrupt their lives and cripple their businesses.

Saidnazar Aliev owns a liquid gas station along the Dushanbe-Shohambari highway that runs west of the capital.

He says he had to use a fuel-powered generator to keep his business running when the electricity went off on September 26. The generator uses up to 15 liters of fuel in 24 hours, according to Aliev, adding to the costs of the small business. Aliev doesn’t know how to plan ahead, as the authorities don’t say when the blackout will end.

“Yesterday there was no electricity between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.,” Aliev said on September 27. “The power was cut off again at around 10 a.m. today. It hasn’t been restored yet.”

In the nearby village of Tirgaron, the head of the local neighborhood committee, Hojikholboi Ibrohimov, said that the blackouts were negatively “affecting everybody, making life difficult for the young and old alike.”

“What else do we have in this country? Take away electricity too and we will be left like our limbs are cut off,” he said.

In Vorukh, a rural settlement in the northern district of Isfara, several villagers claim that local officials use electricity as leverage to put pressure on residents ahead of the autumn military call-up. Most Tajiks try to avoid the conscript service, notorious for its hazing.

“[In early September], officials demanded that conscript-age men and their parents sign statements that they will report to the district enlistment office on October 1,” said a Vorukh resident who gave only his first name, Mudarris.

“Some parents refused to sign such statements and electricity was cut off in their neighborhoods as a result,” he added.

“I am all for our young men serving in the national army. It’s their duty. But why punish us with a blackout,” an elderly resident named Amriboi said. “I don’t have a conscript-age son. They cut off electricity in our neighborhood. Everything in my fridge has gone bad.”

But Zubaidullo Shomadov, a spokesman for the Isfara district government, told RFE/RL that the villagers’ claim was “baseless.” The young men of Vorukh “have voluntarily been signing up for military service,” he said.

Tajikistan expected the electricity shortages to end once and for all after the giant Roghun hydropower plant became partially operational and started producing electricity in 2018.

Once fully completed, the Roghun plant is expected to double Tajikistan’s electricity-production capacity to 3,600 megawatts, the equivalent of three nuclear power plants. Tajikistan has several other hydropower plants, including Norak and Sangtuda.

Source : Rferl