This is the first turbine of a gigantic building. A hydroelectric dam of 335 meters, the highest in the world, will rise above the river Vakhsh. True pride of Tajikistan, this project, named Rogun, was inaugurated Friday, after having been imagined by the USSR there are more than 50 years. Even if a single turbine on the 6 planned for this hydropower plant works, she embodies the hopes of an end to the energy crisis.

This mountainous country is the poorest in central Asia. The power outages are daily and the gas is bought from the neighbor, Uzbekistan. The current production of the country fails to meet the need of the 7 million Tajiks, especially in the villages of the province. In 2008, hundreds of Tajiks have lost their lives, victims of the harsh winters where the temperature can drop below minus 20°, relates to France Inter journalist Régis Genté, which covers the Caucasus and central Asia.

However, Tajikistan has one of the largest energy resource, its water. “If the country holds 69% of the reserves in the upper basin of the Aral sea, it operates less than 5% of its hydropower potential estimated at 527 billion kilowattheurs”, explains Régis Genté in Le Monde Diplomatique . Use this blue gold has therefore become a priority since the 60s.

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It is primarily the USSR that launched this project. The soviet empire imagine a set of three dams, including the one of Nourek, which will be put into service between 1972 and 1979. Rogun is also among the three but its construction is stopped at the fall of the USSR in 1991, and then again by the civil war that has roiled the country since 1992. When it ends five years later, president Emomali Rahmon decided to raise the dam, but the project is undermined by the Uzbekistan who sees a bad eye the will of his neighbor to take the control of the regional waters. In September 2012, its then president, Islam Karimov, has warned of a “water war”.

water, an economic issue

And for good reason, the Vakhsh, on which stands Rogun, is one of the main tributaries of the Amu Darya, which irrigates the basin of the Aral sea expensive in Uzbekistan. The country, a leading producer of cotton, has need of its water resources to produce cotton of which it is a major exporter. From the start, Tashkent is trying to block the project of the hydroelectric dam, including by intercepting the trains carrying the material necessary to its construction. Uzbekistan fears of significant financial loss was estimated, in 2012, to $ 600 million. He also argues that the dam is in a seismic zone, posing a danger to those downstream of which it is part. “What motivates Uzbekistan, it is rather to maintain his power in the region by being a key provider of energy,” says Bakhrom Sirojev, Association of energy specialists of Tajikistan, and cited in Le Figaro.

in Tajikistan, the issue is also economic. With this dam, it will be able to provide the necessary energy for its industry of aluminum, one of the main export products of the country and whose production is very heavily penalized by the lack of electricity. It could even be to turn exporter of energy, selling its electricity to Afghanistan, to Pakistan, also victims of a shortage of electricity, ” explains Samuel Carcanague, a researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) and a specialist in the post-soviet space: “If the country becomes an exporter of electricity, and that it develops its economy and its industry, it can of course place him in a situation more favorable to its Asian neighbors, even if it remains a country of modest size compared to Uzbekistan”, he adds.

Bolstered by hopes of an economic revival, Tajikistan continues to carry out his ambition that the final cost is estimated around $ 4 billion. In 2009, he made the same call to the population to fund part. The State is launching a people’s participation “voluntary”, raising $ 140 million (124 million euros). “In reality, people were forced to take action,” says Bakhadur Khabibov, consumers Union of Tajikistan, and cited in Le Figaro .

The long-awaited launch

efforts finally rewarded. In may 2016, Uzbekistan agrees to lower the weapons. A change of direction initiated by the new head of State, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, prime minister of the old president Islam Karimov, who died in September of the same year. His successor is much more lenient with the dam, Rogun. “A co-management around the management of water is even being considered,” says Samuel Carcanague. The work can finally begin, under the direction of the Italian company Salini Impregilo. October 29, 2016, the Tajik president is shown at the controls of a bulldozer during the launch ceremony. More than a year after, the first of the six turbines, which should, in time, produce 3600 megawatts, is finally opened. “It is necessary that the dam is full, that it works, that all of the distribution networks are in place”, shade the researcher and the IRIS. “It will take some time, several years, from the inauguration until the whole population benefits”, he concludes.