“It Has Become Hard to Breathe”: Tajikistan's Capital Gets a Coal Plant… and Hazardous Dust

"Ecology is dead!", written in Tajik on a glass surface covered by coal dust. Image by ASIA-Plus, used with permission.

“Ecology is dead!”, written in Tajik on a glass surface covered by coal dust. Image by ASIA-Plus, used with permission.

When a new coal-fired power plant just began to supply electricity to the residents of Tajikistan's capital in early January, few people had anything against the facility. After all, the Chinese-built plant promised to help Dushanbe tackle its chronic winter power shortages and provide something that people living in the capital have missed over the past two decades: central heating and hot water. Now, however, with less than two weeks into the plant's operation, many people in Dushanbe realize that placing a coal-burning air-polluting facility in the country's most populous city was not a very good idea. 

The coal-fired power plant in Dushanbe was put into operation on January 10, 2014.

The coal-fired power plant in Dushanbe was put into operation on January 10, 2014. Image by ASIA-Plus, used with permission.

There were rare voices of disapproval of the plant before it was put into operation. On November 8, 2013, ‘Only in Tajikistan’ tweeted:

Another Twitter user replied:

After the facility began to emit the first clouds of coal dust, media agency ASIA-Plus was the first to ring alarm bells. The agency published images showing that the plant was responsible for massive amounts of poisonous coal dust. The facility is located less than a mile from a residential area, amusement park for children, and the botanical gardens.


Coal dust in a popular amusement park for children, less than a mile from the coal plant. Image by ASIA-Plus, used with permission.


ASIA-Plus also published [ru] an article based on brief interviews with people concerned about the rising levels of coal dust in the capital. A heated discussion has taken place in the comments section under the article. Nibiru wrote [ru], for example:

Мы живем по проспекту Рудаки, около ботанического сада. После запуска ТЭЦ в нашем районе и квартирах начался ужас! Кругом пыль, дышать стало тяжело, в квартирах не успеваем делать уборку. Чиновникам до лампочки эти проблемы, потому что они живут на другой планете. Придет время, они будут наказаны по заслугам за постепенное убийство рядовых граждан!

We live on the Rudaki Avenue, near the Botanical Gardens. Since the [coal plant] was put into operation, it has been horrible in our area and our apartments. The dust is everywhere; it has become hard to breathe; we have to clean our places much more often now. Officials do not care about these problems because they live on a different planet. But the time will come when they will be punished for the gradual killing of ordinary people!

Many other readers shared similar stories. Some netizens, however, focused on the positive changes brought about by the plant. Ruslan shared [ru] his take on the controversial facility:

После запуска ТЭЦ у меня дома заработа стиралка и все остольные приборы начали работать на полную мощь. Это на моём личном примере. А в целом я за строительство и экплуатацию ТЭЦ сегодня это постоянный свет, в следующем году + тёплая вода и отопление. И не надо поднимать шум что все плохо. У нас и так в городе плохая экология хуже не будет. Сейчас нам нечем заменить уголь ! Но в будущем все эти новые предприятия перейдут на газ.

After the [coal plant] was put into operation, I have been able to use a washing machine and other electronics at home. This is my personal example. I support the construction and use of [the coal-powered plant] because it now supplies electricity and will next year supply hot water and heat. You should not ring alarm bells as if everything is bad. The ecological condition of the city is bad anyway, and it is not going to get worse. There is nothing we can replace coal with at the moment. But in future, all such plants will have to shift to natural gas.

But Rustam responded [ru]:

Руслан, до того как он перейдет на газ (если вообще перейдет) с такой экологией ты можешь и не дожить до этих дней…

Ruslan, with these ecological [problems], you might simply not live long enough to see the day when this plant shifts to using natural gas (if this ever happens at all)…

In an attempt to lessen its dependence on oil and natural gas imports from abroad, the government of Tajikistan has emphasized the need to switch its Soviet-era energy-inefficient industrial facilities to local coal. A massive cement plant on the outskirts of Dushanbe is currently being redesigned to use coal as its main energy source. Another industrial giant, an aluminium smelter located not far from the capital, is also gradually shifting to coal. A broad-based discussion of the health and environmental impacts of this transformation is still waiting to happen in the country.

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