Sunday, February 17, 2008

A lil' reminiscing...

Today the sun is trying to shine through the fog and it’s a rather comfortable 5C. I really hope this is the beginning of spring, the 10 day forecast is between high of +8C and low of only -4C. With the sun shining in my window my apartment has for the first time in many months reached 20C! Therefore I am in a very cheerful mood and would like to talk about some good experiences I’ve been having in Tajikistan instead of another post on the energy crisis. However, for those of you who were looking forward to an update on that, here is a link to a recent article from BBC News:

I have been looking at the calendar in disbelief lately, do I really only have 6 weeks left here? Where has the time gone? When I first took the internship I thought 7 months would seem like an eternity, but it has flown by with the blink of an eye. As I think about how soon I will have to leave, it makes me think about all the things I will miss. It took me a while to really get used to life here and stop comparing it to back home, but now as I think about leaving I am comparing it to back home again… and the same things that took me a while to get used to I think I will miss the most.

Open air markets: they are loud, busy, dirty, impossible to find anything, no prices are fixed so they can conveniently charge foreigners double… at least that’s how I first saw them. Now I am sad to think of entering a large, sterile, lonely grocery store where I cannot meet the person who grew the food. And where is the excitement of finally finding something that resembles lettuce when you have 10 different ones right in front of you to choose from. I will miss the conversations I have with the sellers, some get so excited to meet a foreigner and welcome me as a guest in their country and throw in an extra onion. I will miss walking down the aisles that have 40 different sellers all selling the same variety of vegetables and choosing a friendly old lady sitting on an upside-down turned bucket just patiently waiting for a customer. When I approach her she smiles and is so very friendly as I practice my Russian to ask how much, she answers holding up the corresponding number of fingers along with a verbal answer because she’s not exactly sure if I’ll understand her or not… and you know this money will help feed her grandchildren.

Visiting clients in the field… is it really necessary to sit down EVERY time to dozens of plates of food and pots of tea after? I mean we’re here to work and we have more clients to see after you, we really don’t have the time! Well… if you just learn to throw the Western idea of schedules and packing it all in a work day out the window and just relax and enjoy each others company after a successful meeting it is quite enjoyable. And if you’re smart, you won’t plan clients back to back without a comfy window of time for socializing. You can also learn more about the peoples’ lives and their culture, often times the clients are far from the city and live a different lifestyle then what I see in the city.

There are some things that I won’t miss though… such as walking by the meat market on my way to work where they just hang dozens of carcasses in the front of buildings. I also won’t miss the pressure to eat so much just to be polite; they seriously get offended if you don’t eat twice as much as your stomach can possibly hold (couple this with a looong bumpy car ride and motion sickness… it’s not pretty!) I won’t miss the marshuka’s (public transportation) which I am often crammed on; I swear they try to break world records every day… I think maybe they have a competition between each marshruka and brag about how many people they managed to cram in at once… and it baffles me when it seems 110% full, not a single extra body can fit in, yet they stop and pick up another 3, how does the door close? Honestly, its magic, this continues to baffle me.

Another thing I will miss is visiting all of the ancient villages and driving through breath-taking mountains. A week ago I went to Istaravshan and watched them make these beautiful intricate knives (I never thought I would describe knives as beautiful). Istaravshan is known for producing these knives, and there is a row of at least a dozen blacksmiths across from the market where they make them right in front of you, very neat! Then as we were driving away I asked about this beautiful monument on the top of the hill –it was of Alexander the Great!! He lived here when he married a Tajik woman! He built it on top of the hill so he could see for miles and miles to ensure no one was coming to attack. We went up the hill and it was another breath-taking view, and the ruins of the original settlement were still there, crumbled and half buried in the dirt. It’s a very unique feeling when you are around something so old, its from 329 BC…it’s hard to believe that something so old and that is such a famous part of history is just crumbled on the ground in front of you. I will miss this feeling of complete “awe” as Northern Tajikistan has so much ancient history like I have never experienced before. Istaravshan just celbrated its 2500th anniversary… that’s old!

The list goes on… but I will stop here and just say that I definetly have mixed feelings about leaving in only 6 weeks. I miss my friends and family, (and fruits & vegetables… electricity… running water… heat, etc) but there is so much more I want to see and do here before I leave. I hope to have many more interesting posts as I experience all that I can!
Check out my Google photo’s for some recent pics including my trip to Istaravshan.
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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Feeling Helpless in Tajikistan...

Well we are approaching the middle of February which is when the country is expected to be in the height of the energy crisis. I myself haven’t felt the effects like most citizens; I often have electricity and water, sometimes even HOT water! I wish I could understand people that are talking wherever I go, you can tell everyone is discussing the crisis and how they are being affected by it, and how they are dealing with it. When I am with someone who can translate what they are saying –it is often about methods of trying to heat their homes, and the associated cost, as well as the cost of everything else sky rocketing, such as food. Once again I don’t really feel these effects, as I don’t have a coal/wood burning stove and because of my expat salary and the fact that I’m used to paying western prices for food make it hardly noticeable that prices have doubled or triple for staples.

As I read these news stories and when I here the stories co-workers bring to work about how the local population is suffering it makes me feel as helpless as you will feel when you read these stories. I wish MEDA did relief work so I could get involved, but they don’t, and I have my own work to finish. So I will just be thankful that many organizations are responding, such as UNICEF, WFP, Care, and Save the Children which are bringing in large amounts of supplies mostly targeting vulnerable groups such as young children and elderly. I even read today that Japan has donated a large sum of money to bring in supplies.

Join me in praying for the people of Tajikistan. I hope spring comes early!

Crisis Looms as Bitter Cold, Blackouts Hit Tajikistan -by Ivan Watson

All Things Considered, February 8, 2008 · The lights have gone out in most of Tajikistan, the poorest republic in the former Soviet Union.

The country is facing an energy crisis in the midst of the coldest winter in more than 25 years.
With millions of people left without electricity, heat or running water, aid organizations are warning of a growing humanitarian crisis.

For the past 15 days, there has been no heat, electricity or running water in the freezing maternity ward of a small country hospital in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
In that time, Adolat Shoreva and her small team of nurses have helped deliver 13 babies — by candlelight.

"In my 40 years as a nurse, I've never seen it this bad," Shoreva says. "I sit in the dark at night and cry."

The unusually cold winter has overwhelmed the country's aging Soviet-era infrastructure, leaving millions of people cold, in the dark, without access to clean water.
Aid workers say that even before this crisis, more than 60 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.

With many Tajiks spending what little money they have on fuel to heat their homes, the country is about to face widespread food shortages, says the United Nation's Zlatan Milisic.
"Increased food prices, previous reduced harvests, very, very cold weather, and the energy crisis have all contributed to the fact that the people are not able to cope anymore on their own," he says.

Reports of Children Dying
As the pale winter sun sets over the Tajik capital, Timur Fatholaev chops wood outside his crumbling, five-story apartment building.
He says those who can afford it have installed woodstoves to heat their apartments.
"I don't sleep at night because I'm worried about my 1-year-old daughter. I'm afraid she'll freeze ... like my neighbors' child did," he says.
Fatholaev's neighbor, a 27-year-old mother, put her 10-month-old daughter, Dilnoza, to sleep in a wooden cradle one night in January. Dilnoza was dead when her mother went to retrieve her in the morning.

There have been widespread reports in the Tajik media of children dying in the maternity wards of hospitals during prolonged power cuts. But the Tajik government insists that no one has died due to the blackouts.
International aid workers and foreign diplomats have been meeting with Tajik officials, urging them to declare a state of emergency and to make a public appeal for help.
20 Days in the Dark

Rosa Nabieva, a housewife, says she and her three children sleep on the floor of their 3-by-8-foot kitchen under the warmth of a single blanket by the feeble glow of a small flashlight.
She says the family moved into this small room to stay warm because they haven't had electricity in 20 days. Nabieva worries about her 2-year-old daughter, Shakzhoda, who recently developed sores the size of quarters on both cheeks.

Outside, it's pitch black at 7 p.m., and a crowd of villagers has gathered in the darkness. They're angry at the government.

The World Bank warns that the energy crisis could get much worse. Water levels have dropped dangerously low at the country's main hydro-electric power plant.

In central Dushanbe, however, where there are pockets of prosperity, some lucky Tajiks still enjoy 24-hour electricity.

To conserve power, the government has ordered bars and cafes to operate by candlelight.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Energy Crisis in Tajikistan Situation Report No.1

Well, looks like my optimism hasn’t paid off. It has started to get colder, and the Nurek hasn’t melted enough to make a difference. The UN has stepped in to provide some aid and Embassy’s are suggesting people to “consider” leaving the country if it’s not necessary for them to be here. However the worse the situation gets, the more I want to stay. There’s a term for people who are interested in relief work, “adrenaline junky” and I’m starting to feel the adrenaline over the hovering crisis… however I’m working in development here, not relief, and as an intern I’m sure they would evacuate me before the situation got too bad. But it has confirmed in me that I definitely want to explore relief work in the future, but for now I will just stay safe and do as I’m told.

To anyone reading this, your thoughts and prayers for the people of Tajikistan are greatly needed as they go through this very difficult time!

Energy crisis in Tajikistan Situation Report No. 1
Source: United Nations Development Programme
Date: 31 Jan 2008

Situation overview

Tajikistan is experiencing its harshest winter in three decades with temperatures that have averaged -15 degree Celsius during the day and have dropped as low as -25 degrees at night in capital Dushanbe. Many antiquated water lines have either broken or become frozen/clogged, with a major impact on the availability of water for the past seven days. Sub-zero temperatures and water shortages may be expected to continue.

Tajikistan's potential to produce electricity is estimated at over 300 billion kilowattohours per year - the greatest hydroelectric capacity in the region. But due to lack of installed hydro-electric power stations, the country is dependent on its neighbors for electricity during the winter. The country imports electricity from Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but these supplies are limited due to power shortages in these countries, a situation that emerges every year.

In rural areas population receive one or two hours of electricity a day. Even in Dushanbe, electric power is limited and many residential areas have no electricity overnight. The only exceptions to these periodic blackouts for now are residential areas, some of the hospitals, critically important industries in the country. Supply of electricity to the aluminum plant has been limited, even though this industry makes up 40% of the national GDP.

Tajikistan is consuming approximately 41.6 GWh of electricity per 24 hrs, of which 39 GWh comes from sources in the country. Of the electricity produced in the country, approximately 66% comes from the Nurek hydroelectric power station. Unfortunately, it is expected that the level of the reservoir supplying the Nurek turbines will reach a critical point where no more than 6 GWh per 24 hrs can be produced. When this situation occurs (anywhere from 10 to 14 days from now), Tajikistan will loose approximately 45% of its electrical supply. It is not expected that this gap will not be covered by other sources, leading to increase electrical shortages and longer blackouts. The humanitarian impact of these increased blackouts is not clear. However, the impact may be most significant for urban populations who depend on electricity for heating, cooking and the supply of water, and for the more vulnerable of these urban dweller, as well as clinics, hospitals and other mass-care facilities.

As a result of heavy snowfalls roads between several districts are blocked such as Khovaling, Shurobod, Muminobod, Temurmalik and Baljuvon in Khatlon region; Ishkashim, Darvoz and Murgob in GBAO and Rayons of Republican Subordination (Rasht Valley). These closed roads have als- had an impact on local supplies of food and other basic commodities.
The cold weather has overloaded the national electricity system. In Dushanbe alone, 58 transformers have been damaged, electrical supply lines damaged and services which depend on electricity (e.g., water supply) have been affected. to date, qualitative reports indicate the combination of unusually cold weather and electrical shortages has had an impact on human life and welfare beyond what is normally the case during winter in Tajikistan.

Response information
Two REACT meetings were held on January 29th to ensure information exchange and coordination of possible response. As an immediate action, UNICEF Tajikistan allocated $100,000 from its regular resources and from its emergency stockpile assisted Ministry of Health with the following items:
- 300 Jerry cans (200pcs - 10ltr and 100pcs - 20ltr);
- Bed linen - 200 sets;
- Baby blankets - 2230 pcs;
- Soap - 2000 pcs;
- Five emergency health kits for hospitals in Dishanbe;
- Toilet soap - 490pcs;
- Blankets wool-blend - 260pcs.

High protein biscuits have also been provided to orphan homes, boarding schools, maternity and children hospitals. An assessment of the local markets for procurement of generators for maternity hospitals and boarding schools has been started.
IFRC/ RCST are conducting an assessment and report will be ready by 6th of February.
WHO is planning to conduct a Rapid Health Assessment and is considering other assistance.
REACT, through its secretariat, is conducting an initial rapid assessment of the impact of power shortages in urban areas. This assessment may be later expanded to rural areas. A second assessment, focusing on the impact of electrical shortages at the Jamoat and District levels, to be coordinated through Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defence, is also in preparation.

Needs Information
The government of Tajikistan has mobilised available capacity to provide electricity and heating for population and to clean the blocked roads. However, according to information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a need for the following items to address the current situation:
- Transformers - 400, 630 and 1000 KVa capacity - 60 pcs;
- Under ground high-voltage cable - 6 km;
- Diesel generators - number and size not indicated;
- Food (flour) - quantity is not indicated;
- Fuel (mazut - fuel for central heating systems, petrol, kerosene) - quantity is not indicated.
Separately, UNICEF received a request from Ministry of Health for the following assistance for maternity and children hospitals:
- Generators - 70 pcs;
- Baby bed linen - 2800 sets;
- Soap - 2000 pcs.