Thursday, August 7, 2008

Central Asia's fountain head - down to a trickle

Kyrgyzstan is poor in just about every natural resource except water. It happens to sit at the source of most of Central Asia's supply of the wet stuff - but this year has been a particularly dry one, and the rumblings may already be beginning.

With water and mountainous terrain, hydro electricity was a no-brainer of course - but with the Toktogul resevoir drying up, that's a two-fer in terms of resource shocks.

The huge, obviously inefficient gas- or elecricity-powered heating systems in urban and rural housing and in public buildings - nothing more than 3-5 inch pipes running along the walls - were a stark contrast to the energy issues plaguing this country. Mains electricity supply comes and goes. Other energy sources are prohibitively expensive in this land-locked country - forget about solar, heating oil, gas and petroleum are almost completely imported, along with the generators that would burn them.

Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan import Kyrgyz water and export gas and oil respectively - and tensions are always simmering. Mirgul, my translator, says Uzbekistan's president recently complained that water comes from God and should be free, whereas gas is pumped out by man, very expensivley at that.

Add to this summer temperatures of 30-40 degrees Celsius, versus -20 to -30 in the winter - I can barely get my tropical, coastal-dwelling head around the problems racking up for this country.

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