Clare Nuttall in Almaty -
Tajikistan's government has introduced a ban on coal exports as part of a bid to boost energy security by switching industrial production across the country from gas to coal.
The impetus for the ban stems from Tajikistan's recent dispute with neighbouring Uzbekistan over gas exports. On April 1, Uzbekistan cut off gas supplies to Tajikistan, resulting in a halt to production at factories across the country.
Dushanbe also says it wants to increase domestic coal production, which amounted to 237,000 tonnes in 2011 - an increase of 18% compared to 2010, Caspionet reports. However, production is well below the levels seen in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Tajikistan was producing around 1m tonnes of coal a year, and consumed 1.5m tonnes.
However, the civil war, which lasted from 1992 to 1997, devastated Tajikistan's economy, with many of the country's factories destroyed. It remains the poorest country in the CIS and has been unable to rebuild many of the facilities destroyed in the war.
Although 12 coal miners are currently active in the country - exploiting 14 deposits and with others under development - the industry remains small-scale compared with total reserves estimated at over 4.5bn tonnes.
Whilst an agreement with Uzbekistan was eventually reached and gas imports resumed on April 26, the cut off raised awareness in Dushanbe of Tajikstan's vulnerability. Relations between the pair are often tense, with frequent disagreements, in particular over their shared water resources.
In response to the energy crisis, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmon announced at a government meeting on April 20 that in addition to developing additional hydropower resources - which already supply the country's full energy needs during the summer months - factories will also be switched to run on coal instead of gas.
The recent push to develop Tajikistan's coal reserves started in 2007, when the government signed agreements with several banks - including the Chinese Development Bank, the Development Bank of Kazakhstan and the World Bank - on financing for development of its coalfields and the construction of coal-fired power stations.
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