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Vakhsh River

Vakhsh River

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The Vakhsh has been intensively developed for human use. Electricity, aluminum, and cotton are the mainstays of Tajikistan’s economy, and the Vakhsh is involved with all three of these sectors. Hydroelectricity
Hydroelectricity is the term referring to electricity generated by hydropower; the production of electrical power through the use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. It is the most widely used form of renewable energy...

 provides 91% of the country’s electricity as of 2005, and 90% of that total comes from the five completed dams
Driot-Arnoux Motorsport is a racing team from France, involved in many areas of motorsports. DAMS was founded in 1988 by Jean-Paul Driot and former Formula One driver René Arnoux. It is headquartered near Le Mans, only 2 km from the Bugatti Circuit.- History :The year after its foundation,...

 along the Vakhsh, dominated by the world's tallest completed dam, the Nurek
Nurek can refer to:* Nurak, a city in Tajikistan* Nurek Dam, a dam in Tajikistan, or its reservoir*Nurek, Łódź Voivodeship...

. (These dams make Tajikistan the highest hydroelectric power producer per capita
Per capita
Per capita is a Latin prepositional phrase: per and capita . The phrase thus means "by heads" or "for each head", i.e. per individual or per person...

 in the world.) Hydroelectricity powers the aluminum production at the Tajik Aluminum Company in Tursunzoda, a major source of Tajikistan’s industrial output and export revenue. As for cotton, Vakhsh water irrigates much of Tajikistan’s crop; about 85% of the water taken from the Vakhsh goes toward irrigation.

Soviet era

The leaders of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 stressed the importance of developing the country's under-developed regions, such as the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic (which was the predecessor to modern-day, independent Tajikistan). Not only did Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

’s ideology identify the decentralization of industry as a way to counter the colonial exploitation of indigenous peoples, but the USSR had strategic aims as well, especially in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 when industry was evacuated eastward away from the German front. This industrialization would be fueled by exploiting Tajikistan’s enormous hydropower potential.

It took until the 1950s, however, for dam construction to begin on the Vakhsh. The Perepadnaya power station was the first to be commissioned, with construction beginning in 1959. The giant Nurek dam was constructed between 1961 and 1980.

To build transmission lines over the Pamirs would have been prohibitively expensive, so, in order to take advantage of the electricity produced by these dams, the Soviet Union built many industries nearby. The Tajik Aluminum Company plant is a prime example. Other industries established locally were chemical plants, nitrogen fertilizer factories, and cotton gins.

The dams, particularly the reservoir
A reservoir , artificial lake or dam is used to store water.Reservoirs may be created in river valleys by the construction of a dam or may be built by excavation in the ground or by conventional construction techniques such as brickwork or cast concrete.The term reservoir may also be used to...

s behind them, were also built with the purpose of providing water for agriculture. The Soviet Union promoted cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

 farming in the Vakhsh Valley, as well as vineyard
A vineyard is a plantation of grape-bearing vines, grown mainly for winemaking, but also raisins, table grapes and non-alcoholic grape juice...

s and orchard
An orchard is an intentional planting of trees or shrubs that is maintained for food production. Orchards comprise fruit or nut-producing trees which are grown for commercial production. Orchards are also sometimes a feature of large gardens, where they serve an aesthetic as well as a productive...

s, and drew water from the Vakhsh for irrigation. The Vakhsh Valley Canal Project, which expanded farmland along the river’s lower reaches, predated the dams, having been completed in 1933. In the 1960s, after the reservoirs had been constructed, engineers dug tunnels through the surrounding mountains to irrigate other valleys. Water storage in the reservoirs also helped control the river’s flow, so as to provide a more reliable water supply for downstream users in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

 and Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan , formerly also known as Turkmenia is one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. Until 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic . Turkmenistan is one of the six independent Turkic states...


After independence

Soviet Central Asia had a centrally planned economy in which the different republics supplied resources to each other at different times of the year. During the summer, when river flows were greatest, Tajikistan (located upstream) released water from its reservoirs on the Vakhsh and exported the hydroelectricity to power irrigation pumps downstream, in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, along the Amu Darya. In winter, Tajik dams accumulated water, and the fossil-fuel-rich downstream nations supplied Tajikistan with oil and gas to compensate for forgone hydroelectricity generation.

However, with increasing regional tension post-independence, this system is breaking down, with no conclusive cooperative arrangement yet. Fuel deliveries from downstream nations have been getting less reliable and more expensive, and impoverished Tajikistan cannot adapt by increasing winter hydroelectric generation since this would jeopardize irrigation and electricity exports in the summer. This dependence has caused energy crises in the winters of 2008 and 2009, in which the capital, Dushanbe
-Economy:Coal, lead, and arsenic are mined nearby in the cities of Nurek and Kulob allowing for the industrialization of Dushanbe. The Nurek Dam, the world's highest as of 2008, generates 95% of Tajikistan's electricity, and another dam, the Roghun Dam, is planned on the Vakhsh River...

, lost power and heating.

Tajikistan is therefore pursuing a course of action to increase hydroelectric capacity by building more dams on the Vakhsh, in order to promote economic growth and move towards energy independence. Another four dams are planned or under construction, including the Rogun Dam
Rogun Dam
Rogun Dam is an under construction dam on the Vakhsh River in southern Tajikistan. It is one of the planned hydroelectric power plants of Vakhsh Cascade. If finished, it would be the world's tallest dam with a height of height compared to the second tallest dam Nurek Dam at . -History:The Rogun...

. The Rogun Dam began construction in Soviet times but remains uncompleted; now Tajikistan has recommenced the project with financial support from the Russian Aluminum Company. If constructed to its full planned height, it will supersede the Nurek as tallest in the world.

However, this project has caused great controversy. Just as energy dependence threatens Tajikistan, so water dependence threatens the downstream nations. For this reason, Uzbekistan is highly critical of the Rogun Dam, claiming that it would “put it [Tajikistan] firmly in control of the river”. The World Bank has responded to these tensions by launching investigations into the social and environmental impacts of the dam .

Environmental problems

Intensive agriculture in the Vakhsh basin has left the river polluted with fertilizers, pesticides, and salts. Also, chemicals have leached into groundwater from the heavy industries near the Vakhsh’s dams, which has in turn contaminated surface water. However, ever since Tajikistan lost their Soviet agricultural subsidies with the breakup of the Soviet Union, farms have not been able to afford as many fertilizers or pesticides as before, thus decreasing levels of pollution in the river. The 2008 financial crisis has further increased poverty, which in turn has further decreased pollution.

Since the waters of the Vakhsh eventually flow into the Aral Sea
Aral Sea
The Aral Sea was a lake that lay between Kazakhstan in the north and Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan, in the south...

, pollution in the Vakhsh contributes to eutrophication
Eutrophication or more precisely hypertrophication, is the movement of a body of water′s trophic status in the direction of increasing plant biomass, by the addition of artificial or natural substances, such as nitrates and phosphates, through fertilizers or sewage, to an aquatic system...


Climate change impacts

The Vakhsh is fed by the glaciers of the Pamirs, one of the world’s most susceptible regions to climate change. Tajikistan as a whole has experienced a rise in temperatures from between 1.0-1.2 degrees Celsius between 1940 and 2000, and many glaciers that feed the Vakhsh have retreated, including the Fedchenko
Fedchenko may refer to:*Alexei Pavlovich Fedchenko, Russian explorer*Fedchenko Glacier, in Tajikistan*F.M. Fedchenko, designer of precision pendulum astronomical clocks...

, which is melting at a rate of 16-20 meters/year. According to Oxfam International, up to 30% of Tajikistan’s glaciers could shrink or disappear completely by 2050. The reduction in river flow could lower the Vakhsh’s hydropower production, and harm agriculture dependent on its waters for irrigation. Furthermore, if climate change affects precipitation patterns, it could cause more floods, landslides, and other natural disasters in the river valley.


The Vakhsh is located in a seismically active region, and earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

s, in addition to high groundwater
Groundwater is water located beneath the ground surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. A unit of rock or an unconsolidated deposit is called an aquifer when it can yield a usable quantity of water. The depth at which soil pore spaces or fractures and voids in rock...

 levels (especially during the wet season), cause hundreds of landslide
A landslide or landslip is a geological phenomenon which includes a wide range of ground movement, such as rockfalls, deep failure of slopes and shallow debris flows, which can occur in offshore, coastal and onshore environments...

s per year. These landslides occasionally block the river and form landslide dam
Landslide dam
A landslide dam, debris dam, or barrier lake is a natural damming of a river by some kind of mass wasting: landslide, debris flow, rock avalanche or volcano. If it is caused by earthquake, it may also be called a quake lake. Some landslide dams are as high as the largest existing artificial dam...


Such blockages pose a significant threat to the river's dams and hydroelectric power generation. A large landslide five miles downstream from the Baipaza dam has blocked the river twice (in 1992 and 2002) ever since this dam opened in 1985. Both blockages were immediately blasted to clear the river channel, since they threatened to raise the water level high enough to flood the dam. Such an event could potentially have serious economic consequences by disrupting power generation, stopping production at the Tajik Aluminum Company, and cutting off supplies of drinking and irrigation water for downstream users. In the worst-case scenario, failure of a landslide dam could cause catastrophic floods.

Recognizing these threats, the Asian Development Bank
Asian Development Bank
The Asian Development Bank is a regional development bank established on 22 August 1966 to facilitate economic development of countries in Asia...

responded to the landslide of 2002 by granting the government of Tajikistan a low-interest loan to stabilize the valley slopes and mitigate the potential for blockages in the future.

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