updated 1/22/2008 8:16:43 PM ET 2008-01-23T01:16:43

Strict limits on the use of electricity have been imposed throughout poverty-stricken Tajikistan, amid shortages that the Central Asian country's power company said could lead to an emergency declaration.

Only a handful of key enterprises have been spared from the cut, including the Tajikistan Aluminum Company, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the country's industrial output. Dairies, bakeries and brick factories will also be supplied with electricity, national power company chief Sharifkhon Samiyev said Tuesday.

Power will be maintained in hospitals and schools wherever possible, Samiyev told reporters.

Electricity is being provided to rural households for only three hours daily, while supplies in the capital, Dushanbe will be limited according to a schedule of rolling blackouts.

Widespread power shortages are a recurrent problem in Tajikistan, but a sharp drop in water levels at the Nurek reservoir that powers a key hydroelectric plant has created an unusually severe crisis this year.

"There is so little water in Nurek reservoir that volumes may only last until Feb. 10," Samiyev said. "If that happens, the country could find itself in a critical situation and the government may have to declare a state of emergency."

The limits on electricity supplies are expected to be maintained until early March, when the thaw should bring a rise in water levels at the reservoir.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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