Globally, winter cold kills more people than summer heat, and winter in Central Asia is no gentle visitor. Temperatures can plummet to minus 40 degrees C (minus 40 degrees F), transforming bustling cities into frozen landscapes and testing the limits of human endurance.
The winter struggle is especially intense in rural areas, where shelter and other infrastructure are often rudimentary. Wood and coal have long been used for heat.
For example, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan—three Central Asian countries seldom mentioned in the media—rely heavily on abundant coal reserves for heat and energy.
However, this economical energy source, along with natural gas and oil, has come under attack by international political institutions, such as the European Union and United Nations, and leftist politicians and funding entities. Armed with the pseudoscience of climate change, fearmongering opportunists are seeking to ban the fuels that are a lifeline for the people of Central Asia.
Uzbekistan is set to increase coal production by 22 percent and is conducting geological exploration across 31,000 square kilometers of new sites. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is increasing oil production and plans to increase exports to Eastern Europe.
Kyrgyzstan has more than 33 percent of its population living in poverty, making it significantly poorer than Uzbekistan (17 percent in poverty) to the west and Kazakhstan (5 percent) to the north. Half of Kyrgyzstan depends on traditional coal-fired stoves for cooking, and nearly all citizens depend on solid fuels such as wood, coal, and rubber for winter heating.
“In a cold winter, we burn about 5-6 [metric] tonnes,” a Kyrgyz housewife told Reuters at the time. “It is expensive for us to buy coal at 5,500 soms [$62 a tonne]. Therefore, I stand in line for three-four hours. And what are we supposed to do, freeze?”
The most obvious solution to filling its energy needs is Kyrgyzstan’s coal reserves. Undeterred by the political noise of climate change, Kyrgyzstan is embarking on an ambitious program to increase coal production with advanced technology and by privatizing mines.
Mining has increased by around 30 percent during the past 15 years. Most of the mined coal is brown coal, or lignite, an inferior fuel that’s mostly exported. The demand for higher-quality coal is met predominantly by imports.
To bolster the movement of electricity imports and exports, the country is investing in the 500‑kilovolt Datka-Khodjent-Sangtuda power transmission line connecting Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There’s also a long-term partnership with Gazprom to improve gas supply in the country.
In addition to withstanding the annual assault of winter, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan all have interests in overall security and economic development that make the exploitation of natural resources such as fossil fuels all the more important. Climate politics has no place in the frigid expanses of Central Asia.