Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves and exports billions of dollars worth of gas every year. But its copious reserves are apparently not enough to ensure a stable supply for residents of this isolated, totalitarian country.
Shortages in northern villages prompted a rare protest on October 28, reports the Chronicles of Turkmenistan, a news website run by exiles. Several dozen women blocked a highway to draw officials’ attention to the shortages, which come with the onset of autumn and are affecting residents’ ability to heat their homes and cook. The shortages, says Chronicles, have even hit Dashoguz, a town of about 200,000 people:
Residents have repeatedly called on gas providers [for help], but the latter complain that very little gas is being delivered; moreover, the pipes and equipment are very run-down, while specialists capable of maintaining all this in working order are simply nowhere to be found. The authorities are not providing either the funds or the pipes to repair gas mains.
Turkmenistan exports most of its gas to China, over 20 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year, or over half of China’s gas imports. The Central Asian country is slated to up those deliveries to 65 bcm by 2020, becoming something of a resource colony for China.
Those sales allow President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov – who likes to be called “Arkadash” (The Protector) – to live a lavish life in the capital, but his country routinely ranks as one of the least free and most corrupt places on earth.
Turkmenistan recently began charging its consumers a negligible fee for gas, after many years of giving it away for free. The subsidy still encourages waste, and stories of homeowners leaving a gas stove running because they pay for matches.
But overall, the reported shortages in and around Dashoguz shed light on how the secretive, gas-rich government approaches local infrastructure and the basic needs of its small population.