Energy poverty in the mountains of Tajikistan


People living in remote, rural communities in Tajikistan face serious difficulties accessing energy sources. This is one of the main reasons for the increased pressure on natural resources in mountain areas. The lack of access to electricity supply has a negative impact on the livelihoods of local communities and impairs their capacity for further development. Women and children bear the burden caused by energy poverty.

Many villages in the upstream Bartang Valley, Gorno-Badahshan Autonomous Region, Tajikistan, are located hundreds of kilometres away from major highways. The only road running through the valley is precarious and fraught with danger for inexperienced drivers. It is often blocked by deep snow in winter and by high river water in summer. At times, vehicles will have to wait several days to pass when the road is obstructed by a rockfall or mudflow. However, the lack of transportation is not the biggest problem here. Local communities have no access to the centralized power transmission networks, with some villages having no power at all. Families are highly dependent on tree and shrubbery vegetation for firewood as well as dried animal dung for cooking and heating.

Access to electricity and clean energy sources is an essential element in the struggle against poverty. According to the World Bank, around 70 percent of Tajikistan's population suffers from the universal power shortage in winter. Many villages are unable to find enough firewood or biomass for heating their houses or cooking. Villages in the upper portion of the Bartang Valley are no exception.

Destruction of nature

The unregulated felling of trees and uprooting of shrubbery has become the cause of deforestation in uplands where vegetation is already scarce. A single household needs 3-4 tons of firewood to live through the cold season. To collect this amount of fuel, a vast territory has to be deforested. This also results in the destruction of wildlife habitats, causing the reduction and possible extinction of wild flora and fauna. Deforestation furthermore causes land degradation, deterioration of pasture lands and more frequent natural disasters.

"In our village, there is wasteland of 3-4 hectares in area down by the river. We call that place ‘a forest’, although nothing has grown there for some time now. When I was a little girl, my parents told me there had been a thick jungle there about 50 years ago. They used to play there. As the village population increased, new houses were built. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyone started cutting down trees and shrubbery for firewood to cook and heat their houses because we had no access to electricity. There was no authority left to regulate the cutting of trees or to undertake their replanting. The place is now devoid of any vegetation. Everything was cut down. Even grass and eurotia have become scarce," said Savribegim Olimova, a resident of Nisur Village.

"There used to be thick buckthorn overgrowth along the river. Birch tree and poplar groves would grow in some of the gorges. One would occasionally come across barberry and dog rose bushes, whereas eurotia was growing everywhere. Over the years, the situation has changed dramatically. We have cut down almost all of the buckthorn and other shrubbery, small groves of trees have also disappeared and there is desert now where eurotia used to grow. Birds and animals have disappeared along with the vegetation. It is only rarely that one comes across a nightingale or a brown bear now," commented Rozik Yaftaliev of Nisur Village.

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News and photo by Little Earth/Timur Idrisov

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