A Pipeline From a Land of Water to a Land of Oil
A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
Iran is looking for more water and some Iranian officials believe the place to get it is from Tajikistan.
The problem is how to get the water from Tajikistan's mountains to Iran, several hundred kilometers away.
The head of the parliament in Iran's Khorasan Province, Mohammad Reza Mohsin, came up with a new and novel proposal and on August 6 he suggested building a pipeline.
The plan seems a bit unrealistic but it does show Iran's determination to get water from cultural cousins in Tajikistan, because this is not the first time the subject has been raised. Not even close to the first time.
Mohsin's idea is to get the water from Tajikistan's Lake Sarez, which is not only located in a very active seismic zone but the lake itself is the result of a major earthquake that hit the region just over 100 years ago.
RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Ozodi, looked into the proposal and its feasibility. Ozodi found the pipeline would need to be some 600 kilometers long to reach from Khorasan to the Gorno-Badakhshan region in eastern Tajikistan.
The distance is not the problem, the terrain is. Lake Sarez is in a remote location. The road, such as it is, that leads to Sarez is barely adequate for a car to pass and more than 20 kilometers from the lake it gives out altogether. The pipeline would require a passage 10 to 12 meters wide.
And tremors, avalanches, and mudslides wipe out roads and paths in the region regularly.
Ozodi spoke with Homidjon Oripov, an official in Tajikistan's energy department, who said there could still be a way to pipe water from Lake Sarez to Iran.
Oripov noted there were plans to build the Dashtijum hydropower plant downstream from Sarez and suggested the water could enter the proposed pipeline after it spills out from the plant.
Oripov has been negotiating water exports with Iranian officials since 2012. He told Ozodi the idea of exporting water to Iran goes back some 10 years, when an Iranian company sent a letter about water exports to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. The Iranian government was prepared to invest $3 billion in a project to bring the water to Khorasan.
Ozodi reported that initial proposal was scrapped, but in 2007 President Rahmon and then-Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad signed an agreement on the export of water from Tajikistan to Iran. And in fact, as of the start of 2013 Tajikistan was supposed to be exporting 1 billion cubic meters of potable water to Iran.
So far, that has not happened.
There have been other means proposed for delivering water. Iran has previously suggested shipping it by rail and sweetened the deal by mentioning it could be an oil-for-water arrangement, and Tajikistan could certainly use the oil. There are plans for construction, starting as soon as next year, of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway that would run tantalizingly close to Iran's northeastern border.
On paper, it sounds possible but there are some other factors that need to be considered. Although about one-third of Central Asia's water originates in Tajikistan's mountains, roughly half of Tajikistan's population does not have adequate access to drinking water.
A water pipeline would then mirror the problems seen in other Central Asian countries with natural-gas export pipelines. For example, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan export gas to Russia and China while their own populations suffer through power rationing and gas shortages.
Tajikistan's downstream Central Asian neighbors are already apprehensive about plans to build the enormous Roghun dam in Tajikistan. These downstream countries worry that decreased water supplies from Tajikistan will devastate agriculture in the lowlands. They can be expected to raise objections to Tajikistan selling water, ultimately the region's most valuable resource, to Iran.
-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Farhodi Miloh of RFE/RL's Tajik Service
Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.