Analysis: Why Hydropower’s Human Rights Problem May Be Insurmountable
By Nick Ferris
In southern Tajikistan, 110km from the country’s capital, Dushanbe, a vast monolith of compacted rock is taking shape in the desert. The 335m tall Rogun dam – the name of the new structure – will be the tallest dam in the world once complete, and its 3.6GW of electricity generation capacity will nearly double the size of the former Soviet state’s existing power network.
Rogun’s gestation period has been long: first proposed in 1959, construction began in 1976, with efforts paused in the 1990s following the collapse of the USSR. Construction recommenced in 2007, with the aim for the project now to be completed by the end of 2029.
It is not only the lengthy building time, or vast size, of this project that boggles the mind, however. The list of human rights abuses associated with this hydropower project is also huge, with numerous allegations against often-powerless communities stretching back for decades. For starters, some 42,000 people living near the dam site have been forcibly resettled, with a study from the NGO Human Rights Watch showing that the standard of living for many resettled families deteriorated as a result of land loss, lack of jobs and poor access to essential services like schools or a steady water supply. A study released on 6 July from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) also highlights cases of non-payment of wages at the construction site, as well as local communities being forced to buy shares in the project back in 2010 when the development lacked adequate funds, or risk losing their jobs.
Photo courtesy of Power station.