Snow and Avalanche Center 2008 Avalanche News

Tajikistan: Energy Shortages, Extreme Cold Create Crisis Situation
Radio Free Europe - By Country / Tajikistan

January 13, 2008 By Farangis Najibullah

Temperatures in Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia have dropped below minus 20 degrees Celsius in some areas. Heavy snowfalls and avalanches have disrupted public transport in many cities and villages. A crippling shortage of energy, combined with severe weather conditions, have left many people living in cold, dark homes in Tajikistan and other parts of Central Asia. Coupled with increasing prices for food and gasoline, it's creating a miserable winter for many.

At least 80 people have been stranded on a mountainous road in Tajikistan for nearly three weeks after an avalanche wiped out a section of highway linking the capital, Dushanbe, to the country's north. At least three people died in the incident, while the others -- children and women among them -- have been waiting weeks to be rescued, and help has not yet arrived.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Tajik Service via mobile phone, a woman who identifies herself as Mrs. Muhammadieva from the Panjakent district says the stranded passengers have been keeping themselves "barely alive in the middle of nowhere." Muhammadieva says they have been living in a small weather-observation station, where the lone station worker "has given all his food supplies to the trapped passengers."

"No one from the relevant authorities has offered us any help," Muhammadieva says. "[There are now] some 200 people stuck here. There are pregnant women among us. We can't go anywhere. We are grateful to this man who gave us food and shelter. No one from the government or elsewhere is providing us any assistance."

Tajik officials say that "the rescue works continue and that helicopters have dropped food and other necessities" to those who are trapped in the mountains.

Tougher Times Ahead

The bitter cold confronts already beleaguered Tajiks with another on a long list of problems, as they are also faced with widespread unemployment and miserable wages amid increasing prices for food and gasoline. A group of women and children in the southern town of Kurgon-teppa gathered at the office of the local government on January 9 to demand that the authorities help them solve the energy problem. The government in Dushanbe has offered no explanation for the electricity shortage, while the state-run media largely ignores the problem. Tajik officials, however, have announced an electricity price hike of 20 percent that kicked in this month, to allow the "government [to] repay its debt to the World Bank."

In the meantime, the weather forecast is for the freezing temperatures to continue through most of January.

(RFE/RL's Tajik, Uzbek, and Turkmen services contributed to this report.)

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