Central Asia shivers through icy winter, shortages

Tue Jan 22, 2008 11:57am EST
 
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By Roman Kozhevnikov

DUSHANBE (Reuters) - With no heating and just three hours of electricity a day, Malokhat Atayeva is struggling to survive the coldest winter in three decades in her small town in western Tajikistan.

"It's so cold that water turns into ice in the kettle overnight," Atayeva, a mother of two, said by telephone from Tursunzade, as temperatures outside, normally above subzero, plunged to -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit).

"We sleep fully clothed, wrapped in blankets. Children stopped going to school because it's too cold in the classroom."

Like Atayeva, millions of people across energy-rich Central Asia are scrambling to find refuge from one of the harshest winters in living memory.

Extreme cold is no surprise to the 60 million people scattered across a region wedged between Russia, China and Iran, but this year's winter has exposed the poor state of crumbling Soviet-era utilities and pipelines and sparked energy shortages.

Lying on some of the world's biggest energy reserves, Central Asia has attracted billions of dollars of foreign investment as the European Union and other powers seek energy deals in the region.

But the cold snap caught impoverished Tajikistan off guard, forcing the government to resort to daily rations of electricity and gas. Central heating has all but stopped working across Tajikistan, its utilities ruined by a 1990s civil war.

Governments across Central Asia have pledged to carry out urgent repairs and build new electricity generators. But there were no signs of relief as the severe weather has entered a second month.   Continued...

 
<p>A man looks at a frozen spring at a mountainous area outside Almaty, Kazakhstan, January 22, 2008. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov</p>