Controversy over Rogun Dam Complicates CASA-1000 Plans in Central Asia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 188

Rogun Dam construction site (Source: centralasiaonline.com)

The CASA-1000 project is confidently moving forward (see EDM, October 7) and the construction work, although a little delayed, reportedly will start in 2014 (http://www.regnum.ru/news/fd-abroad/polit/1708783.html). CASA-1000 is a large-scale proposed series of hydroelectric dams and power generation sites in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that would be linked via power lines to export around 1,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan during the summer months. However, the project unintentionally could further exacerbate the relationship between the downstream and upstream Central Asian countries. Most notably downstream Uzbekistan, which relies on regional rivers to irrigate its cotton crop, has vociferously protested Tajikistan’s desire to build large-scale upstream dams—especially the flagship Rogun Dam. But the results of a recent World Bank assessment study of Rogun, coupled with Russia’s growing involvement in the CASA-1000 project, are only contributing to complicating the tense water security situation in Central Asia.

As implied by a high-level Russian delegation visit to Pakistan in September 2013, chances are high that the CASA-1000 project will eventually export five times more electricity than its planned 1,000 MW. Indeed, Russian officials offered 5,000 MW of electricity to Pakistan during their recent visit to Islamabad “through the Kyrgyzstan-Afghanistan route” (Associated Press of Pakistan [via dawn.com], September 20), clearly referring to the future CASA-1000 transmission lines and one of two controversial Upper-Naryn cascade hydroelectric power plants that Russia is planning to build in Kyrgyzstan. Russia’s offer to provide 5,000 MW of electricity—the exact amount that Pakistan’s annual electricity shortage comes to—is probably not a coincidence, but appears to be a planned political move.

Tajikistan’s president, Emomalii Rahmon, has openly linked perhaps the most controversial planned hydroelectric power plant in the region, the Rogun Dam to the CASA-1000 project. Russia was involved in Rogun until 2007, but abandoned the project after the parties could not agree on the height and type of dam to be built. Dushanbe continued Rogun’s construction work by raising its own financial capital through an aggressive fund-raising campaign (http://www.rferl.org/content/Tajikistan_To_Allow_Roghun_Shares_To_Go_On_The_Market/2025180.html). However, in 2012, the World Bank advised Dushanbe to suspend any construction work on Rogun until after completing feasibility studies for the dam. Since then, the World Bank had held three information-sharing and consultation meetings on the project.

In September of this year, the World Bank released the long-awaited first summaries of its two Techno-Economic Assessment Studies: “Phase 0—Geological and Geotechnical Investigation of the Salt Wedge in the Dam Foundation and Reservoir” and “Phase 1—Assessment of the Existing Rogun Hydro Power Plant Works.” The Phase 0 report indicated that proper grouting and an efficient hydraulic barrier would be sufficient to prevent salt formations in the soil from contaminating the water reservoir. The report dismissed the risk of monitoring failure and future maintenance abandonment given the experience of the Tajikistan’s authorities in monitoring the further downstream Nurek Dam over several decades. The Phase 1 report recommended that the underground tunnels that had been built in the 1980s be brought up to modern safety and serviceability standards. According to the report, the Transformers Cavern had no visual evidence of local or global instability problems and had only minor finishing defects. The Phase 1 report concluded that through the proposed set of stabilization measures, it is possible to improve the conditions in the caverns (http://www.worldbank.org/en/events/2013/09/30/Fourth-Information-Sharing-Meeting-on-the-Assessment-Studies-of-the-Proposed-Rogun-Hydropower-Project-HPP).

The two released reports, as the language suggests, neither advise against nor support the building of the Rogun Dam. Dushanbe wishes to have an endorsement of the project that would assure its safety and feasibility, allowing the country to proceed with the construction; Tashkent wants to see the opposite. However, the reports identified problem areas and advised “mitigation, rehabilitation, and stabilization” measures. The World Bank had already made clear that it would not endorse such a politically contentious project: “The Assessment Studies will decide neither whether the proposed Rogun dam will be built, nor the final design, should a project proceed… Our role is to help establish objective, independent, and comprehensive facts for all stakeholders” (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/10/01/world-bank-discloses-next-round-of-interim-rogun-assessment-studies). It is not even clear that Tashkent will acknowledge the conclusions of the World Bank reports; as early as 2009, it announced that it would recognize independent studies on the Rogun Dam from the United Nations only (Interfax-kz, March 23, 2009; http://www.iwpr.net/?p=rca&s=f&o=350948&apc_state=henh).

The World Bank scheduled a fourth information-sharing meeting in mid-October to discuss the released reports with the riparian countries: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. After the meeting, the World Bank will produce a concluding report, as it did for the past three information-sharing meetings (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/09/19/world-bank-regional-director-meets-with-president-of-tajikistan). Any upcoming consultations and future reports will almost certainly be given in the same tone as the previously released reports—with the World Bank attempting to hold the middle ground and deferring to Tajikistan to make the final decision on the construction of Rogun (http://www.regnum.ru/news/fd-abroad/polit/1708783.html).

Assuming it is built, the more comprehensive CASA-1000 project is an important accomplishment and a milestone for the State Department–promoted New Silk Road Initiative. However, completing the Rogun and Upper-Naryn cascade hydro plants could turn this positive project into an intense “water war” between Central Asia’s upstream and downstream countries, despite these two dams’ dubious connection to CASA-1000 as it is presently envisioned. Neither Tajikistan nor Kyrgyzstan need these mega hydro plants for the viability of the CASA project. Current summer surpluses already make up 1,000–1,300 MW of electricity each year. However, potential growing electricity demand could change the scope of the CASA project in the future: Pakistan repeatedly highlights its annual 5,000-MW electricity shortages. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, which initially plans to purchase 300 MW of the electricity to be carried by CASA-1000’s transmission lines, will likely require ever more electricity as the country becomes more stable in the future. This extra electricity will need to be generated somewhere, and Moscow’s promises to be involved boosting energy exports to Pakistan may imply that the Rogun Dam could secure Russian support after all.