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Q&A with Saroj Jha, Regional Director for Central Asia, on the Rogun Assessment Studies

Saroj Jha

August 31, 2012

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Saroj Jha, World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia, explains the importance of energy and water resource management in Central Asia and the Bank’s support to the Assessment Studies for the proposed Rogun Hydropower Project.

Q: Is the Bank still supporting the Rogun assessment study process?

SJ: Yes, following a July visit of World Bank technical experts to Dushanbe and a series of discussions with the Government of Tajikistan, the Bank has declared effective the Additional Financing for Tajikistan’s Energy Loss Reduction Project (ELRP).  This will allow the project that started in 2005 to continue to support the Government of Tajikistan’s efforts to improve the financial management and viability of the energy sector, to build better accountability for energy and revenue flows, and to explore energy export options for long-term sector sustainability. The project will also support the continuation of the assessment studies of the proposed Rogun dam.

We want to continue supporting a process that ensures a full, impartial examination of the issues regarding the proposed dam.

Q: What are the assessment studies reviewing?

SJ: I want to emphasize that this is a complicated process. If built, the proposed Rogun Hydropower Project would rank as the tallest dam in the world. Over the years since Rogun was originally conceived, significant changes in hydropower development and climate science have occurred. Tajikistan needs to apply modern international knowledge and standards to its assessment of the proposed dam. A Techno-Economic Assessment Study (TEAS) and an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) are being conducted by international consultant firms contracted on a competitive basis by the Government of Tajikistan and financed through an IDA project with assistance of World Bank experts. The studies were contracted to two international firms – a consortium led by Coyne & Bellier for TEAS and Poyry for ESIA.

In addition, the World Bank established and is funding two independent Panels of Experts (PoEs): an Engineering and Dam Safety Panel and an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Panel. The role of the Panels is to ensure due diligence and international quality standards, as well as objectivity and credibility through independent advice and guidance. The Panels of Experts are composed of recognized international professionals.

We are supporting this thorough assessment because independent, credible studies of all aspects of Rogun are crucial to determining its viability, ensuring public safety, and assessing potential downstream impacts. These transparent assessments also need to be open to international scrutiny and riparian consultation. This process takes time.

Q: What is the next step after the assessment studies are completed?

SJ: The assessment studies are expected to be completed in 2013 and will then be reviewed and discussed with the Panels of Experts and riparian nations. The Bank is overseeing this process and aims to help facilitate a constructive, fact-based dialogue among all riparian nations about the project and about international cooperation on energy and water resources in Central Asia.

It is important to clarify that the Bank-financed assessment studies will not decide whether Rogun is built. And they do not imply that the Bank will finance the proposed project in the future. A variety of other factors such as international agreements and financing would need to be considered before the future of the proposed Rogun project is decided.

Q: Has the World Bank made any financial commitments to supporting construction of the proposed Rogun dam?

SJ: No, the assessment studies stand alone as an early input to internationally credible decision-making about the Rogun dam. They do not represent a World Bank commitment to the proposed Rogun dam by the World Bank. Our intention is to help put all the facts on the table for consideration.

Q: Why have the studies been delayed?

SJ: During the assessment studies, the World Bank has had concerns with the process and methodology. We clarified with the Government of Tajikistan our position on the assessment studies and what is needed to ensure their credibility and ongoing support from the World Bank. Over the past several months, the Government of Tajikistan has taken steps to address all outstanding issues and a detailed monthly monitoring plan has been agreed. We have had many discussions and we are satisfied that we can move forward with the studies.

Q: What were the Bank’s concerns and how are you preventing further delays to the assessment study process?

SJ: Our basic principle is that World Bank support should benefit the people of Tajikistan. Scarce funds can be wasted and significant risks to public safety can occur if a project is not studied from the technical, economic, and social angles before any construction begins. We wanted to ensure that as the assessment studies move forward we are focusing on what will help the Tajiks most; to do that, the technical teams needed to reach agreement on information-sharing, on the timing of deliverables, the scope of additional geotechnical investigations, and the methodology for key technical design criteria. At the same time, the Government issued binding instructions to restrict all activity at the Rogun site to general maintenance and construction for safety purposes only until the studies are completed. The Government has also assured the Bank that any resulting reductions in labor force at the Rogun site will be handled in accordance with Tajik labor laws and with a focus on redeploying workers.

We are confident now that the activities at the Rogun site will follow a schedule and process agreed with the World Bank technical team. If they do not, we could see more delays. Regular visits by the World Bank technical experts and monthly progress reports by the Government of Tajikistan will help us monitor this closely. We are committed to ensuring that this assessment process follows internationally accepted norms and procedures.

Q: Is the Bank considering alternatives to the Rogun dam?

SJ: Yes, our primary concern is helping Tajikistan solve its winter energy shortages in the most sustainable way possible. We are looking at a wide range of alternatives and we will be publishing a paper on those alternatives in the near future. We view this analysis as a critical element of the decision-making process about Rogun.

The Bank’s engagement in Tajikistan’s energy sector is broad and focused on problem-solving. We’re helping address winter energy shortages to help meet the immediate needs of the people, while investing in longer term development of the energy sector. We’re supporting a study of the rehabilitation and sedimentation management of the Nurek Hydropower Plant because we know that improving efficiency will bring some relief to the overburdened Tajik electricity system. We’re helping to strengthen the financial management and operational capacity of the Barqi Tojik Energy Company and providing advisory support to the Government for the preparation of electricity export arrangements, such as the Central Asia South Asia Regional Electricity Market development initiative (CASA-1000 project).

Q: Is the CASA-1000 Project linked to Rogun?

SJ: No, the CASA-1000 Project and Rogun are not linked. Today, there is enough electricity during the summer months in the Tajik and Kyrgyz systems to supply the CASA-1000 transmission lines during summer. There is no need to add any new power generation to make CASA a viable project. However, winter electricity shortages in Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic must be met in other ways. The World Bank is supporting the CASA-1000 Project because it is an important first step in the Central Asia - South Asia Regional Electricity Market (CASAREM). It would support the trade of up to 1300 MW of clean electricity between the two regions and we believe it could serve as a transformative project for both Central and South Asia.

Q: As the new Regional Country Director in Central Asia, what are your observations about the importance of energy and water resources?

SJ: Regional dialogue and cooperation are critical. Given climate change, population growth, and the urgent need to lift people out of poverty, there is an acute need to coordinate international energy and water resources. This is about irrigation for crops, hydropower for electricity and economic growth, and about drinking water to serve basic human needs. We believe it’s important for our planet that we are all better informed about the smart use of precious resources in the 21st century. The Bank is committed to demonstrating good practice in information-sharing and involvement of all riparian countries.  This is where we feel we add value – in ensuring openness, transparency, and the credibility of assessment studies like those for Rogun. For us, it’s about taking a long view toward solving the energy and water challenges that countries all over the world are facing.