Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's starting to look up...I think!?

Good news! The extremely cold weather is finally starting to let up! Starting Tuesday the sun began to fight its way through the clouds, and I’m happy to announce that today was the first sunny day in a looong time! I could actually see the mountains again… I was starting to think they were only a figment of my imagination in the past. Along with the sunshine, temperatures have started to rise; the daily forecast for the near future is between 0C and -8C. This brings many a huge sigh of relief as things have been getting quite tense here.

The extreme rationing of electricity has caused many people to live in their winter layers day and night, and has also been the cause of hundreds of deaths, from newborns to the elderly and homeless. Predictions that were made public earlier this week was that the country may very soon be declaring a state of emergency as the electricity supply is only expected to last until February 8th.

With this news some organizations have evacuated their staff to other countries for the next couple months; other organizations are shortening their business hours to conserve energy. At work we are stocking up on water, coal, and fuel for the generator just to be prepared (and expats have an evacuation plan, so don’t worry about us!). Many restaurants have closed, including the cafĂ© that is part of the complex that I live in.

The government has tried to talk with surrounding countries to lend us some electricity; however talks have not been very successful as they have also experienced a higher then normal rate of consumption with this unusually cold weather. The deadline of a country wide blackout is quickly approaching, and predictions were that there would be no relief until March when the waters that feed the dam that generates electricity is back up and running to a normal capacity as the water melts.

If the country was to face a national black out, that would mean there would be no water as well because the pumps would not be working to keep the water flowing. With no power, no water, and only limited access to gas, people are scared of how they will survive. They are also scared that such conditions may cause uprisings; I even heard some discussing that this could possibly cause another civil war; even though the scars of the last civil war are still not completely healed.

As tensions rose with thoughts of the near future, the weather finally started to turn. I hope that the March thaw they were waiting for came early, and February will bring enough warm temperatures to keep the electricity flowing. Here is the latest news-

Water Inflow Increases in Nukek –

In the Nurek (Narak) Dam the inflow of water has increased almost twice-fold, but as Asia Plus agency quotes Barq-i Tajik energy holding officials, the danger of plunging into a total darkness is still hovering over Tajikistan. The volume of the inflow has marked a rapid gain since 18 to 90 cubic meters per second recorded before Wednesday (30 January). Yesterday it was around 160 cm/s. Though the usual inflow in past Januaries used to be 200 cm/s, credit must be given to the current milder weather in the country for facilitating the water inflow process.

However, Tajik energy officials do not rush to gladden the population, but rather reiterate the possibility of facing a more serious energy crisis in the near future. Since according to them, even the present generous water inflow will not result in any substantial changes in the station’s activity and will not increase energy production.

The Asia-Plus source in the company believes that the water in the reservoir has almost completely sunk down and further 6-meter drop of the current level will mark the critical stage of the station. At that stage the station will be able to produce not more than 25 m kw/h a day, while now it is capable of providing the country with around 40 m kw/h a day.

So far Tajikistan’s request for assistance has yielded 11 m kw/h of power from Kyrgyzstan - that reportedly is being transmitted to northern districts of Tajikistan – and a phone promise by the Turkmen president to increase the volume of his country’s energy export to Tajikistan.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another Dismal Update

(pic taken on my way to work @ 8am...brrrr)
Posted by Picasa
The weather seems to be getting colder still… I think the humidity is increasing so the cold goes right through you; at least that’s what it feels like. It makes it harder to warm up too, seeing as indoors is little relief from the cold temperatures. My small heaters can’t seem to keep up with the constant cold, my apartment hovers around 10C. The only real relief is to take a hot bath, and I am lucky to have that priveledge! Most people have not had water for weeks becuase the pipes are frozen solid; it is also because I have electricity that I have hot water... a luxury VERY few of us currently have! I have also adapted by moving my stove into my living room... now I don't have to battle the cold to make a hot drink to warm up (kind of worked against itself).

When will the bitter winter end? Apparently no time soon -


The harshest winter in decades is plunging Tajikistan into a socio-economic crisis, as officials find themselves squeezed in a tightening vice of tough choices. The country currently is grappling with an energy emergency, with some areas now left totally without electricity. Efforts to solve the crisis, however, could cause a disastrous spike in inflation in a country where over 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Temperatures in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, have hovered around minus-20 degrees Celsius over the past few weeks. The minus-22 reading recorded in Dushanbe on January 19 was the lowest recorded temperature in the city since 1982. The country’s antiquated infrastructure has not been able to cope with the cold, prompting drastic cuts in electricity.

In Dushanbe, residents still receive a couple of hours of power every day, but many report having no heating. The situation is far worse outside the capital. For example, electricity has been completely cut off to several districts of southern Khatlon Province, according to the Asia-Plus news agency. Schools have shut down and many businesses and light industrial enterprises have ceased operations. The deaths of several newborns in hospitals have been attributed to the combination of the cold and the lack of power. The crisis is such that officials decided on January 15 to divert a limited amount of electricity from the Tajik Aluminum Plant – one of the country’s main economic assets, and its largest single consumer of power – for civilian needs.

Compounding the crisis is the fact that the Nurek reservoir and dam complex, which is currently responsible for generating most of the country’s domestically produced electricity, is experiencing a low water level. As a result, according to the state power company Barq-i Tajik, several of the dam’s turbines are unable to function. Meanwhile, much needed supplies from neighboring states have dwindled. Despite a contractual obligation to supply 10 million kilowatt hours per day (kw/h), Uzbekistan in early January cut off electricity exports. At the same time, Turkmenistan is exporting just 3 million kw/h per day.

For many Tajiks, the power cuts have highlighted the lack of progress made by President Imomali Rahmon’s administration in implementing infrastructure development projects. Several power-generating dams are in various stages of construction. One, dubbed Sangtuda-1, actually began operating on January 20. But the facility’s expected generating capacity of 2.7 million kw/h per day won’t have much of an impact on alleviating the crisis. Dushanbe alone consumes an estimated 12 million kw/h per day.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

the situation keeps getting worse...

If anyone needs a reason to be thankful, be thankful that you are not living in (or being born in) Tajikistan through one of the coldest winters on record. Even though this is the time when utilities are needed the most, the government has continued to keep people at it's mercy by limiting electricity and gas which people rely on to stay warm. The President recently made a speech telling everyone to "save your money and buy coal", however this just goes to show how ignorant the government is of the lives of its people. When the average person only makes $20/month, how are they supposed to spend the thousands of dollars it costs to heat a house for a single winter on coal? (we buy it for the office, it is VERY expensive). The average yearly income isn't enough to survive a winter if every cent (durum) was spent on coal.

I have heard through friends and co-workers of babies dying, freezing to death in the middle of the night, as well as elderly who already have poor circulation. Homeless people die, frozen to the ground along the streets. Here is an article that will make you shake your head... in a time when we can send people to the moon, map their DNA, and clone living creatures, this country still can't manage to provide the basic essentials for the survival of it's citizens-

Children die because of electricity cut-offs
Posted by Vadim on January 18th, 2008

The energy crisis is Tajikistan is so severe that newly born children die in maternity hospitals because of electricity cut-offs. It is unbelievable but even hospitals are put on schedule of electricity cut-offs. It will be hard to find out who is responsible for the recent deaths of children in the hospitals - doctors or power engineers - but the story of a girl who died because of electricity cut-off in a maternity hospital shocked everyone. This story was excerpted and translated from an article of Asia Plus about the recent deaths of newly born babies in our hospitals.

My wife was taken to a maternity hospital on 8th of January in the evening. Unfortunately her blood pressure went down and doctors decided to make a cesarean operation. The operation went well. The baby (girl) was in a good condition but she needed artificial lung ventilation. However at 9 p.m. electricity was cut off and the ventilation equipment went off as well.
Doctors launched an electricity generator. It took about ten minutes. Again the hospital had electricity. But after about 7 minutes the generator went off. Doctors could not start the generator. Something went wrong with it and obviously the doctors had no skills to fix it.
We called to the local electricity supply department, but a woman who answered, said that electricity was cut off in the area of the hospital according to the schedule. And in addition to that she complained that they are [in the department] tired of answering to everyday phone-calls from this hospital about the same issue.

It was the first time in my life that I felt so helpless. My long-awaited baby was dieing and I couldn’t help him. I felt as if the whole world does not care about the death of my baby.
After that I immediately decided to go home and bring my own generator. At that time, doctors were strained to the utmost trying to help the baby breath. It took me about an hour to bring the generator to the hospital and start it.

At that night two babies needed the artificial lung ventilation because both of them were born with the help of cesarean operation. My daughter was born on 34th week and weighed about 2 kilos. And before the electricity cut off doctors said that she was in a stable condition and she had a chance to live…

But she couldn’t survive.

At about 11 p.m. we had electricity. By that time it was hard for my baby to breath. By midnight her condition went even worse, but her organism was desperately struggling for life. She died at 4 a.m. and at around 11 a.m. she was laid to rest.

We waited for her for so long and we lost her so absurdly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

(this is me, writing my blog... I blame any spelling mistakes on my frozen fingers!)
Posted by Picasa

Tajikistan: Energy Shortages, Extreme Cold Create Crisis Situation by Farangis Najibullah

I came across this article that describes the current situation here better then I can. However I'd like to say I'm attached to the electricity of "important" buildings, so at home my heaters keep my apartment around 13C. My kitchen is not attached, so water freezes, olive oil becomes solid, and snow blows in under the door. But I am very lucky, here is a snapshot of the current situation outside of my apartment-

A crippling shortage of energy, combined with severe weather conditions, have left many people living in cold, dark homes in Tajikistan and other parts of Central Asia. Coupled with increasing prices for food and gasoline, it's creating a miserable winter for many.

Official meetings and press conferences in Tajikistan these days reveal the extent of the problem. Freezing temperatures have forced people to wrap themselves in coats and scarves inside their offices and homes.

Temperatures in Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia have dropped below -20 Celsius in some areas. Heavy snowfalls and avalanches have disrupted public transport in many cities and villages. Some bus drivers who are brave enough to go on the icy roads have been charging passengers twice the price for tickets.

At least 80 people have been stranded on a mountainous road in Tajikistan for nearly three weeks after an avalanche wiped out a section of highway linking the capital, Dushanbe, to the country's north. At least three people died in the incident, while the others -- children and women among them -- have been waiting weeks to be rescued, and help has not yet arrived.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Tajik Service via mobile phone, a woman who identifies herself as Mrs. Muhammadieva from the Panjakent district says the stranded passengers have been keeping themselves "barely alive in the middle of nowhere." Muhammadieva says they have been living in a small weather-observation station, where the lone station worker "has given all his food supplies to the trapped passengers."

"No one from the relevant authorities has offered us any help," Muhammadieva says. "[There are now] some 200 people stuck here. There are pregnant women among us. We can't go anywhere. We are grateful to this man who gave us food and shelter. No one from the government or elsewhere is providing us any assistance."

Tajik officials say "the rescue works continue and that helicopters have dropped food and other necessities" to those who are trapped in the mountains.

Households Hit Worst

The situation is difficult for other Tajiks, as well. Amid the bitter cold, the country once again faces a severe shortage of electricity and gas.

Tajikistan's potential to produce electricity is estimated at over 300 billion kilowatt-hours per year -- the greatest hydroelectric capacity in the region -- but it is dependent on its neighbors to provide electricity during the winter. The country imports electricity from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but it has been reduced to almost nothing due to power shortages in those two countries, a situation that emerges every year.

In many villages, people receive one or two hours of electricity a day. Even in the capital, Dushanbe, electric power is limited and residential areas have no electricity overnight. The only exceptions to the power limits are government offices, hospitals, and industries in some other "strategically important" cites, such as Tursunzoda, which has a large aluminum plant.

"You can't imagine how cold our homes are. We have small children. My youngest daughter is 8 months old, and for the past two days I haven't wanted to take her out of her cradle because our home is so very cold." -- Sabohat, Dushanbe resident The centralized heating systems in Dushanbe and other cities have been almost entirely paralyzed since the early 1990s, and residents in apartment blocks have no alternative means to heat their homes in the absence of energy from the city.

Sabohat, a Dushanbe resident, says people wear several jackets and even overcoats when they go to bed. She says that when the temperature drops too low, all family members gather under one blanket to keep warm.

"You can't imagine how cold our homes are. We have small children," Sabohat says. "My youngest daughter is 8 months old, and for the past two days I haven't wanted to take her out of her cradle because our home is so very cold."

Tougher Times Ahead

The bitter cold confronts already beleaguered Tajiks with another on a long list of problems, as they are also faced with widespread unemployment and miserable wages amid increasing prices for food and gasoline.

A group of women and children in the southern town of Kurgon-teppa gathered at the office of the local government on January 9 to demand that the authorities help them solve the energy problem. The government in Dushanbe has offered no explanation for the electricity shortage, while the state-run media largely ignores the problem.

Tajik officials, however, have announced an electricity price hike of 20 percent that kicked in this month to allow the "government [to] repay its debt to the World Bank."

And there's no relief in sight.

Rashid Gulov is an official at Barqi Tojik, a national company that oversees the production and consumption of electricity. Gulov says that limits on electricity are going to be even more "strict." According to Gulov, the prices for electricity will continue to rise until 2010.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Holiday's in Tajikistan

Posted by Picasa
*I actually updated my google photos, the albums are new starting with “A Tajik Wedding”

I knew coming to Tajikistan that the holidays would be quite different, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I assumed that because it’s mainly a Muslim country that no one would celebrate Christmas, and I didn’t know if there any celebrations at all for New Years. Well I was pleasantly surprised when I found out they celebrate New Years much like we celebrate Christmas! They decorate trees, put up colourful lights outside, and hang garlands all around. They may have been decorating for New Years, but it sure helped it feel like Christmas to me! And the best part was that the children recieve a visit from Father Frost much like our Santa, so the excitment is all the same!

The first holiday of the month was a holiday I was not prepared for, on Thursday, Dec 20th was Qurban. This is NOT a holiday for vegetarians! It is based on the Bible story of Abraham and his son; when God asked Abraham to kill his son to prove his loyalty to God he tried, but had a very difficult time. God then stopped him and said that he can sacrifice an animal instead, that he proved through trying that he was truly dedicated. So now every year, the Muslims sacrifice animals and bring some meat to family members, friends, and they even give some to the homeless. As a vegetarian I don’t see the need to slaughter all of these animals, how about they bake cookies and give them out instead? I mean, after all I don’t think the animal was agreeing to ‘sacrifice’ its life… it’s just one holiday I will never get! But none the less, it was an official holiday which meant no work. So I invited Umeda over to my place to celebrate a peaceful way – by baking cookies to share with others!

Christmas was the following week, but no one celebrates it here. Even the Russian’s who are Christian celebrate their version of Christmas in January. But that was ok; I made plans to spend it with Philip (American) and Peruiza (Uzbek) at their house. I went over Christmas Eve and we baked a pumpkin pie. Then Christmas day we made an excellent dinner with pureed carrot soup, fresh dill bread, salad, non-stuffed stuffing, mashed potatoes, belenchi, and they roasted a chicken for them. It was a great day; we had an excellent meal, had some wine, and watched Christmas movies! Well, this is Tajikistan so it didn’t go THAT smoothly, there was a 3 hour break between eating and movies because of a power outage… and we lost the gas and had to only use electric appliances to cook half way through. But how often is Christmas relaxing back home? It was kind of nice to have a 3 hour candle light chat to really enjoy each others company.

So New Years quickly approached, we had the MEDA parties on the 28th. They were a huge success! There was a children’s party that we held at the MEDA office, where the children came in costumes to sing, dance, play games, meet Father Frost and get presents. They really enjoyed it, and it was so nice to see so many little ones so happy! They were adorable in their costumes too, and they all held hands and walked around the New Years tree while singing to the music. Some of them even knew the words to a few English Christmas songs, like “Jingle Bells”, when they sang it for Father Frost they won a prize. It was a great experience for me to see how other cultures celebrate their holidays.

The staff party followed later that night; we had it at one of my favorite restaurants “The Rose”. It was a very warm and cozy atmosphere, and we had the place to ourselves so we could celebrate freely. We played some games, there was limbo, and a blindfolded snowman drawing contest, and a dancing contest involving a sheet of newspaper, dancing in couples, and folding it in half when the music stops, they were all tones of fun! In-between games people were dancing, it was nearly impossible to get them off the dance floor. The party started at 5, yet we didn’t sit down and eat until 9! Tajiks know how to have fun J

So on the 31st for the real New Years Eve, I had tried to get a group together for bowling. However Brad had just arrived back from America, and Philip and Peruiza had a little bit of a disaster at their house (due to electricity and water shortages) so the group dwindled down enough to scrap that idea and reschedule that for another day. Instead I stopped by Brad’s in the afternoon and brought cake, and Umeda stopped by with some traditional foods she made for her family (and made extra for us, how nice!). So we had a quick visit, then we went our separate ways for the evening. I went to Philip and Peruiza’s and we once again ate some junk food, watched some movies, and brought in the New Year watching the Tajik President give a speech (to make it even less exciting, we had no idea what he was saying, lol). But we toasted with champaign to bring in the New Year, and hoped the President was promising electricity, gas, and water for the year to come!