After months of forced power blackouts, Kyrgyzstan’s residents are bracing for the cold winter months ahead — and are turning the heat on their government to stop the cutoffs.
With its high-peaked mountain landscape, the former Soviet republic relies on glacial melt to generate hydroelectric power, its main energy source.
Kyrgyz officials have rationed electricity since April, blaming the region's semi-drought and an an unseasonably cold spring that did not melt enough mountaintop snow to refill the reservoirs. The latest UN appeal for humanitarian aid in Kyrgyzstan backs this claim.
Some residents hesitate to blame Mother Nature for the crisis, pointing instead to poor government management.
"We don't live like this, this is Bishkek," a young woman in the cosmopolitan capital told Eurasia.net during a period of blackouts. "We believe this is caused by corruption."
The World Bank's Raghuveer Sharma calls the situation a result "not only of a period of water shortage, but also of poor management of the sector, or rather of the water resources that Kyrgyz energy depends on."
The Kyrgyz government is responding to the criticism, making sure power was restored in Bishkek and firing the country's energy minister in late November. But blackouts are continuing in rural areas — sometimes up to eight or ten hours per day. And the energy sector of the government says it will continue to ration electricity through the peak winter heating season.
While the cold may not be as bad this year as last year, electricity stoppages will create much more suffering, especially in urban or semi-urban areas where residents have less access to natural fuel sources, says Kevin Grubb, former Kyrgyzstan deputy country director for Mercy Corps. Grubb, who lived in Kyrgyzstan in 2006 and 2007, says, "More people among the vulnerable populations will die from exposure — as we saw to some degree last year — especially among the elderly and poor, and newborns and infants."
Even before the coldest months arrive, local businesses say they've already been crippled by the outages. "All manufacturing depends on electricity, so everyone has suffered," political analyst Syrgak Abdyldaev told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "The rolling power cuts are increasing the level of discontent among all social strata, and there are more and more unhappy people."