EU green with envy over Tajikistan’s global hydro project

As more and more EU Member States begin to realise that the race for renewables is one that they cannot win, national governments are scrambling for ways to get off the green energy juggernaut without losing face.

With Germany opening new coal-burning plants, while the UK bristles with stationary wind turbines, policymakers lament that their once laudable, voter-friendly plans for clean, 'free' energy have not only failed to achieve energy security, but continue to force more and more citizens into crippling fuel poverty.

This month, Europe's status as a world-leader in energy took another hit and it did not come from the economic powerhouses of China or the USA, or even from emerging nations like Brazil or India. This time, it is Europe's ally to the East - Tajikistan, which looks set to outshine many Western nations in the green energy stakes.

After years of deliberating, the World Bank has finally published two long-awaited reports on the controversial Rogun hydro project. The summaries do not determine whether construction on the dam will proceed, as international agreements and financing must be assessed before a final decision is made. However, the reports, prepared by the French consultancy 'Coyne et Bellier', will help Tajik engineers continue the work safely, should final consent be granted.

With construction of the 3.6GW project and the world-record 335m dam wall having been started nearly 40 years ago, the World Bank experts rightly point out that a lot of repairs to existing structures are necessary. Officials suggested that many of the underground transportation tunnels require maintenance. Concrete production facilities and conveyor systems must also be updated and the 'significant deformations' to the walls of the Powerhouse Cavern must be fixed. While the report fails to outline the costs of the necessary work, it does suggest that all of the requirements are manageable.

The findings should be welcomed by the international community and those who suggest that Rogun poses a risk to downstream nations. The World Bank reports show that the dam is not about to collapse anytime soon and if, or when, construction recommences, it will be able to withstand any earthquakes, storms and floods that it may be subjected to.

With the technical capabilities finally being published, policymakers must now recognise how beneficial a completed Rogun Dam would be to one of Europe's most important and strategic allies. Tajikistan's strategic importance in this region of extreme poverty and high political sensitivity cannot be understated. It is of global significance.

The country shares a 1300 km (830 mile) border with Afghanistan. In Afghanistan and nearby Pakistan, there is abject poverty and a lack of job opportunities which has driven successive generations of young people into the arms of the drugs barons and Islamic terrorists, both of which ultimately impact on Western states. A secure supply of electricity from Tajikistan will transform the economies of these ravaged regions and provide new sources of employment and opportunities for their impoverished and war-weary citizens.

The World Bank reports illustrate that there are no more excuses. Construction can no longer be delayed over fears that the dam is in a state of disrepair. Tajikistan should be applauded for its patience and willingness to adhere to the World Bank's recommendations. Western nations must now ensure that Tajikistan has the support it needs to finish this project. After all, the Rogun Dam would be exactly the type of green, renewable, eco-friendly project that our governments have desperately tried, and failed, to implement in our own countries.


Note: Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP representing Scotland in the European Parliament. He is President of the Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development Intergroup and in 2010 was Personal Representative of the Chairman in Office of the OSCE, responsible for drawing up a report on the environmental problems of Central Asia. He has visited Tajikistan three times and spent many hours touring the Rogun Hydro Power Project in the company of President Rahmon of Tajikistan and high-ranking Tajik government ministers.