Lake Sarez is a natural wonder of Tajikistan, containing 17 billion cubic meters of one of Central Asia's scarcest commodities water. Tajik leaders are now searching for a way to unlock the lake's economic potential.
The lake was created in the early 20th century, when an earthquake touched off a massive landslide in the Bartang Valley in the Pamir Mountains, creating a natural dam across the Murgab River. The mass of soil and rock holding back the water was dubbed the Usoy Damn. The lake extends for over 60 kilometers and in some spots is over 500 meters deep.
In recent years, experts have grown increasingly concerned that the dam could give way, sparking a natural disaster with severe consequences for all of Central Asia. These days, the lake is the subject of intensive monitoring: data on even the slightest fluctuation in the water level, for example, is relayed immediately to central government officials in Dushanbe. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
A late May conference on Lake Sarez, held in Dushanbe, considered ways to minimize the risks of a natural disaster. While conditions at dam appear stable for now, some experts warn that the situation is capable of rapid change. "We have to keep in mind that it [the Usoy Dam] emerged as the result of a powerful earthquake," said Col. Kadam Maskayev, a department head at the Tajik State Committee for Emergencies and Civil Defense. "[The dam] is situated in a seismically hazardous area, at an altitude of more than three thousand meters above sea level. We cannot underestimate the
Konstantin Parshin is a freelance writer based in Tajikistan.