Peace Through Economic Development
Right at the entrance of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City there is a huge, beautiful carpet hanging on the wall. Sewn into its fabric are the profound words of the 13th century poet Sa’adi:
“When time afflicts a limb with pain
The other limbs at rest cannot remain.
If thou feel not for other’s misery
A human being is no name for thee.”
This quote is applicable to many areas of life. Access to energy is one of those areas and is a real-life, everyday issue that impacts us all in one way or another. In fact, energy is an imperative for economic and market forces to advance and for the public and private sectors to flourish.
In New York City — where I live — I assume the lights will work, the subways will run, and that the entire energy grid insofar as it pertains to me will keep pace with demand. But for many elsewhere, they are not so fortunate. Thus, the pain of being “in the dark”, affects every part of their economic life and social development and, ultimately, all of our lives. Furthermore, in some parts of the world, lack of access to electricity means that terrorism can rule and people will suffer.
A World Bank Group (“WBG”) dossier on energy needs across the globe states that, “access to environmentally and socially sustainable energy is essential to reduce poverty.” Over 1.2 billion people are without electricity worldwide, it states, and many of those rely upon solid biomass fuels for cooking and heating. Two million people die each year from fume- and smoke-related respiratory diseases. Most of those are women and children.
Reliance upon fossil fuels generates greenhouse gases, a major culprit contributing to climate change. Growth in population, technology, and economic conditions are also expected to continually drive up demand for energy, especially in developing countries. The global temperature is expected to rise as much as two degrees by 2030, with radically altering effects.
As a result, the WBG has decided to focus on a policy of “sustainable energy for all”, known, in short, as the “SEFA” policy.How will this mandate be accomplished? By focusing on expanding access to affordable energy to low-income consumers and by promoting moderate-usage energy practices in energy-intensive economies. The WBG is ultimately working towards facilitating a shift to cleaner energy sources wherever possible.
Countries with low-access must expand what access they have within their reach. High-intensity consumers must scale up efforts toward conservation and greater efficiency. Countries with renewable energy potential need to find ways of tapping that potential.
The WBG enthusiastically supports energy system development based upon renewable energy sources — hydropower, wind, solar, and geothermal, committing billions for direct support on renewable energy projects and billions more in supportive financing. The WBG’s renewable energy development commitment has increased every year since 2007, lending $5.4 billion on hydropower projects alone.
One country that has benefitted from the World Bank’s directive is Tajikistan. In 2007, the WBG responded to Tajikistan’s energy emergency. Tajikistan was suffering the harshest winter faced there in decades – literally, thousands of Tajiks who lived high in the mountains, particularly women, children and new-born babies died. Addressing this crisis aggressively, the WBG provided critical facilities with standby power year-round, over 100,000 meters were installed throughout the country that had the effect of reducing consumption, and 250,000 people in north Tajikistan were provided with modern basic energy services for the first time.
Tajikistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia which is separated from northern Pakistan by a stretch of land only 16 kilometers wide, and which is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east. It is roughly the size of New York State.
Tajikistan’s richest, most plentiful resource is water, water, water. It has copious amounts of it, streaming down from the huge rivers that flow from the highest reaches of the third highest mountain range in the world, the Pamirs, and other ranges throughout the country. Tajikistan being over 90% mountainous has, by far, the most water of any other country in Central Asia.
But for the most part, this richest of world resources is untapped, with Tajikistan only utilizing 5% of its hydropower potential. The water is there, but the infrastructure is not.
At present around 70% of Tajiks experience energy shortages for at least part of the year. This makes it difficult for families to cook and heat their homes and for children to study at night, and with limited work possibilities, 1.5 million Tajik men migrate to Russia every year to find work, sending money back home to their families.
Many industrial enterprises in Tajikistan are also idle for 6 to 7 months of the year due to the energy crisis, thereby undermining the government’s efforts to reduce poverty, create permanent jobs and improve the living standards of the population.
Consequently, nearly 40% of Tajikistan’s GDP comes from remittances sent home from men working in Russia. And when the winter is dangerously harsh as it was in 2007, hospitals and other critical facilities do not have enough power to meet the health needs of the populace.
For Tajikistan’s president, Emomalii Rahmon, there is one very obvious, very clear way forward — completion of the Rogun Dam Project. Head of State since 1992 – and president since 1994 — Rahmon is known to be highly capable of moving the country forward and is aiming to position Tajikistan as a stable and progressive actor in Central Asia.
In particular, President Rahmon deserves credit for bringing peace to Tajikistan and continuing its revival after a civil war which claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people.
Tajikistan’s plan is a big one, and when realized, the country would finally have previously unimagined opportunities for development on many fronts — first and most in the energy sector, then subsequently in infrastructure development, and throughout the project via development of Tajikistan’s human capital.
Begun by the Soviets in 1979, abandoned in 1991 when Tajikistan won its independence, and set back further when a flood destroyed the part of the dam then completed (200 feet), the Rogun Dam on the mighty Vakhsh River is projected to be the tallest dam in the world at 1,099 feet. The dam will provide enough energy for Tajikistan, northern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan and various countries in Central Asia that opt to benefit.
With as much as 85% of electricity in other Central Asian countries being produced in thermal power plants — a major source of carbon emissions – the Rogun Dam is an attractive proposition for environmentalists, not least because it can provide clean energy for a number of countries in the region, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The window for completion is estimated to be 7-10 years. It will have 6 turbines generating a total of 13 tera-watts of electricity annually once online. The dam’s total cost for completion is estimated at $3 billion — or according to a recent Congressional report — about 1 to 2 weeks worth of costs incurred by the US government for fighting the global war on terror.
The biggest critic of the Rogun Dam Project is Uzbekistan, it’s larger, more powerful neighbor to the west. Under Soviet rule, the Uzbek economy was purposefully centered around cotton production – a highly water-intensive enterprise. In response to Uzbek criticisms, the Government of Tajikistan requested that the World Bank conduct feasibility studies on the dam. It is anticipated that these studies will be released before the end of 2013.
The Tajiks are proud partners with the United States in the global war on terror. They see providing ample electricity to towns and villages as a chief ‘weapon’ in that war, as is evidenced by their leading role in advancing the Millennium Development Goals – a major priority of the United Nations.
Ample electricity, more than anything else, will promote stability. And, stability, more than anything else, will promote peace. Consequently, peace, more than anything else, will promote limitless opportunities for women and children, and for the men who will have more opportunities to work close to home instead of migrating far afield to provide for their families.
There are those in the region who remain opposed to the project, but Tajikistan continues to show a readiness for constructive dialogue and cooperation with all parties. For this reason, President Rahmon has invited the United Nations, government officials from around the world, civil society groups and academic experts to Tajikistan for a High Level International Conference on Water Cooperation to be held on 20-22 August 2013 in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Representatives from around the world, and especially from Central Asia, are scheduled to attend. With one-fifth of the world’s population lacking clean water, it is proper and fitting that this meeting take place.
With no commodity on the planet being more valuable than water and with my investment focus being centered on green issues and sustainable energy, I too plan to be there.