Infrastructure War: How Trying to Fix a Problem Can Sometimes Become a Fight

The road going over the pass has drops down the side in which one can see the bodies of former semis, trucks, and cars which slid down the side of the road. The second time I took the road my driver told me, “That always happens in winter, but how else are you going to get goods from one place to another.” The main road linking Dushanbe (the capital) and Khujand (the second largest city) is interesting to say the least. Going over 9,000 feet at one point, and with parts of the road being dirt, or when it rains mud, this is the only internal artery that connects the two main parts of Tajikistan. You’ve read blogs about poor roads before. Two of my favorites are James A-G and Meg Grey’s. But this isn’t just about poor roads, this is about rising tensions, and also rising costs.


Since coming to Khujand a little under three months ago, I have seen the cost of transportation rise three times. The inner city transport which takes most people to and from work has gone from 40 to 50 then to 70 and now is at 90 Duram (Tajik cent). Recently one of my friends shook his head, “I have to buy a bike,” he said, “it’s getting to expensive to ride the marshutka to work.” This has in turn lead to a rise in prices for many goods, from bread, to cars, to little yogurt balls. The reason for this price rise, which has also effected those getting loans in Tajikistan, encompasses all different forms of infrastructure.

- There are railroads in Tajikistan, but these railroads were built in the Soviet Union, when Central Asia was more like separate states, then independent countries, so all railroads that go into Tajikistan from anywhere else in the world, have to go through Uzbekistan first. Thus when Tajikistan recently angered Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan stopped all cargo coming into the country. This was back in February.

So why is Uzbekistan upset with Tajikistan?

- Tajikistan is building a hydroelectric power plant, called Rogun. This power plant, which will be the highest in the world will produce much needed power in Tajikistan, which has constant blackouts in winter time. You will see signs for Rogun everywhere in Tajikistan as the government released an IPO at the beginning of the year and made it mandatory for citizens to buy stakes in the dam.

Great, so why is Uzbekistan upset about Tajikistan fixing its electronic infrastructure?

- As anyone who has paid attention to the news in the last 20 years knows, the greatest obvious man-made ecological disaster took place in Central Asia. It was the shrinking of the Aral Sea. And Uzbek government feels that any hydro-electric dam will be disastrous for them, as the water that flows into Uzbekistan comes from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The fear is that the people who live down stream will not have enough water to drink and to grow Cotton (an extremely thirsty plant).

But the Rogun Dam isnt the only dam being built currently, as Iran and Russia are also building dams in Tajikistan to create power to sell to Afghanistan and Iran. Their supplies have also been stopped, causing Iran to threaten  to cut off all rail cargo to Uzbekistan.

- The rising tensions have led to a situation where Uzbekistan has cut the natural gas flowing into the country and prices of many things have started to noticeably go up (even within a 3 month time period).

The government of Tajikistan recently began examining creating a railroad link through Afghanistan to by-pass Uzbekistan all together. The idea would use one of the bridges America has built-in the south of the country.

Different microfinance organizations though are beginning take on infrastructure problems in a small way. In the Pamirs (one of the hardest hit by power outages in winter), the Aga Khan Fund has been giving villages solar panels. In the more populated areas MDO Arvand, soon to be on Kiva, has started working with Habitat for Humanity in getting water filters into villages that have never had fresh water in the village. And a few different organizations I work with, and have talked to, are beginning to examine solar lights that could help in the long winter months.


Even with these beginnings from microfinance instituations, the problems of a growing young population, around 34% of the population is below the age of 15, (compare that with France *the most fertile in Europe* where 18% is under 15 and 34% is over 50) and the need for power in winter to heat and light, it seems like this is going to be a long bumpy road for Tajikistan as it tries to improve its infrastructure. Lucky this has stayed a cool conflict fought with words and embargos, but there could be a time when this turns into a “hot” conflict, and all because of poor infrastructure.

Sam Kendall is currently a Roaming Kiva Fellow in Tajikistan where he has been for the last 2 1/2 months.

About the author