Kyrgyzstan: Energy Crisis Challenges Bakiev’s Presidency
Deep dissatisfaction brews among the Kyrgyz population as power cuts have been introduced throughout the country. Although President Bakiev hastened to reassure that heat and electricity supply will not be interrupted this winter, local observers say there are few mechanisms to make it possible, which seriously challenges Bakiev’s leadership.
Drought and low reservoir levels left impoverished Kyrgyzstan without ability to produce energy from hydropower stations this year. In order to save water for winter the government had to introduce electricity cuts, which last up to eight hours in capital Bishkek.
As the lamps and refrigerators die out so do lifts and water pumps leaving many households without hot and cold running water. Thousands businesses suffer huge losses and have to close. Some entrepreneurs decided to leave for Kazakhstan and Russia to save their funds.
Prime Minister Igor Chudinov said that release of extra two billion cubic meters of water in 2004 for electricity export to Russia could be blamed for the current critical situation. He said that electricity import from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is the only way the country can survive during cold season, although just recently this option was brushed off by top Kyrgyz energy officials.
Now the government has announced about preliminary agreement to import 250 million kilowatt per her of electricity from Kazakhstan. Negotiations are being held with Uzbekistan on gas and electricity supply.
Deputy Director of the Kyrgyz Scientific Energy Center Akhmed Djundubaev said earlier that electricity import will be more economically viable than exploiting Toktogul hydropower stations, which normally produce forty percent of the totally consumed electricity.
“We have to import at least one billion kilowatt per hour of electricity, this is more economically sound than to exhaust Toktogul power stations,” he said.
Although President Kurmanbek Bakiev tried to address frustrations of population seething with anger by promising “hot water, heating and electricity will not be a problem this winter,” many observers say his administration does not have capacities of fulfilling the promise.
Meanwhile, oppositional forces attempt to use energy crisis as a stick to beat the current leadership hoping to mount support for a stronger call for presidential resignation. This might be a way to win hearts and minds of many in the rural areas, where ninety percent of the population live below the poverty line. In villages in north Kyrgyzstan electricity cuts last for 12-18 hours.
Some of the villagers told Ferghana.ru they “might block the roads in protest to unbearable living conditions.” Blocking highways became very common three years ago when deep dissatisfaction with parliamentary elections and poverty forced many people onto the streets to protest. As a result of a popular unrest in March 2005 Bakiev came to power replacing the first President Askar Akayev, who fled to Russia in fear of prosecution at home.