Kyrgyzstan + 1 more

Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan: Focus on drinking water and hygiene in Ferghana Valley

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
OSH, 5 November (IRIN) - Access to clean drinking water remains a key development issue in the densely populated and povery-stricken Ferghana Valley, shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Around 60 percent of the 10 million people in the valley have no safe water supply.

"We didn't have any access to clean drinking water since our village was established years ago. We used to drink water from these aryks [small irrigation ditches]," Takhir Akhmatakhunov, the president of the water committee, a local NGO managing the water supply system, and the head of the Birlik village administration of the southern Kyrgyz Osh Province's Aravan District, told IRIN in Birlik, where some 6,000 people live.

According to the village residents, they used to drink water coming from a small river, which reaches their village after having passed neighbouring Naukat District and therefore already polluted.

In fact, many villages in southern Kyrgyzstan, which boasts one of the richest water resources in Central Asia, remain without access to safe drinking water. One such village is Japalak with a population of some 10,000, which is officially within the borders of the city of Osh.

Japalak is only 100 metres from the Ak-Tilek neighbourhood of Osh, which has a water supply system, which Japalak lacks, as it did during the Soviet era. As a result, there have been incidences of various waterborne diseases in Japalak, particularly typhoid and diarrhoea, as local people continue to drink water from the irrigation channel passing through the village.

However, the situation is even worse in some villages in the neighbouring Uzbek province of Ferghana. Yambarak village in Ferghana District, home to some 1,000 people, is one of them, having suffered severely from lack of clean water for years. Residents told IRIN that they used to drink water from aryks and irrigation canals coming from Shakhrikhan river. "Sometimes there was litter in the water and even bodies of dead donkeys," one resident told IRIN.

But one of the most striking factors is that during the Soviet era, water used to be released only intermittently through the irrigation canal, especially during the planting season, and in order to have some water for those dry days, villagers used to dig holes to act as reservoirs. "When there was no water, we had to drink from a pool and within time it would badly stink, but we really had no other choice," an elderly villager said, going back to his memories of that time.

"There were cases of various diseases, as we used to drink water from aryks, irrigation channels and pools," Anarkhon Yusupova, a sanitation and hygiene trainer at the village water committee, told IRIN in Yambarak, adding that in 2001 and 2002 there had been several cases, including hepatitis, typhoid and diarrhoea, and before that there had been even more.

According to the Central Asian Alliance for Water (CAAW), a local NGO based in Osh dealing with drinking-water issues in the region, more than 60 percent of the rural population in the Ferghana Valley lacks access to safe drinking water. This is due to lack of investment over the last two decades, a lack of initiative, and a dependency syndrome inherited from the Soviet era, as well as a perception of water as a free commodity and priority given to irrigation over drinking water.

Tajimamat Akhmatkulov of the Asian Development Bank's Project Implementation Unit in Osh told IRIN that some 52 percent of villages in Osh Province used to have access to water during the Soviet times. However, after independence in 1991, more than 90 percent of those water supply systems broke down, apparently from lack of maintenance.

The Kyrgyz government has reportedly claimed that between 50 percent and 60 percent of people have access to drinking water. "When they say this they may also mean that, for example, in a village quite often we see one standpipe that is working and water runs from it for the whole village and they can call it, like, 'we are supplying water'," Bakyt Mahmutov, the executive director of the CAAW, told IRIN in Osh.


The CAAW was established as a local NGO in 2001 within a three-year community water management project comprising 14 village water committees and three NGOs with the mission of promoting sustainable use of rural water supply and hygiene behaviour change.

Most of the systems collapsed even during the Soviet times, and even when they did function, they were old, the pipes already rotted, Mahmutov said, adding that people still thought water was free and expected government to be solely responsible for supplying it, owing to the Soviet mentality.

Commenting on the magnitude of the problem in neighbouring Uzbekistan, Mahmutov said there were many villages which had never had piped water even during Soviet times, but drew their water from irrigation canals. "All the figures on water-related diseases are hidden in Uzbekistan," he claimed, adding that if one asked the Uzbek authorities, they would say there had never been any typhoid.

However, the situation in Yambarak changed immensely after the CAAW built a water supply system there in 2002. "The number of [cases of] diseases is going down year by year and in 2003 there hasn't been any cases of them," Yusupova said.

"The project was started in 1998, initiated by International Secretariat for Water (ISW). The pilot phase of the project was planned to last for three years and it was finished in 2001, while the UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] and NOVIP, a Dutch NGO, were the main donors of the project," Mahmutov told IRIN in Osh. He said the project had comprised three components, these being the provision of drinking water, sanitation and hygiene behaviour change, and micro-credits for women.


In 2001 a mission from Canadian society for civil engineering, another NGO, found that the water project had benefited people's lives and decided to give CAAW funds to replicate the project elsewhere. "For the replication phase, we also approached SDC [Swiss Development Corporation]. So, with these two donors we started the replication phase of the project," Mahmutov said.

In the replication phase, eight villages were chosen, and the scheme of the methodology for expansion was that the members of the water committees from the pilot phase would act as trainers in the new villages, helping to mobilise local communities, then setting up water committees, building up capacity and periodically monitoring their progress.

CAAW provides 70 percent of the total cost of constructing or rehabilitating water supply systems in the villages, while the remaining 30 percent is paid by village residents. For example, the total sum spent on constructing the Yambarak water supply system was about $10,000, of which CAAW met 70 percent. The same ratio was applied in the Kyrgyz village of Birlik in Aravan district, where CAAW also built a water supply system.

Asked why CAAW used such a payment method, Mahmutov said there had been some instances where a village had been given a water system gratis, but it later became inoperative due to lack of maintenance, at which point the residents took no action, because they did not regard the system as their property. "The idea is to make them have the sense of ownership," he explained, emphasising that only a sense of ownership could ensure that they would keep that system running.

In every village its water committee, registered as an NGO, is charged with maintaining the water supply and collecting fees from the residents to pay for it. Each committee comprises a director, an accountant, a cashier, a sanitation hygiene trainer and a plumber, all elected by the community and therefore representative of it.

There are altogether 14 water committees - nine in the Kyrgyz province of Osh and five in the Uzbek province of Ferghana. "I think that only communities should deal with the issue [of drinking water]," Mahmutov asserted. "Now we say that it's only the community who can be really responsible for water supply and no one else, because the government has no resources at all [for the purpose]."


The second component of the project is aimed at changing the public's behaviour towards sanitation and hygiene. "When we provided local people with water, we came to realise that by doing only that, that the incidence of disease did not decline, So, the issue is not only clean water, but do the population follow sanitation and hygiene norms?" Mahmutov said.

In the rural areas, latrines are one of the main causes of hygiene-related problems. In almost all rural areas of Central Asia, including the Ferghana Valley, latrines consist of big pits, where flies can access sewage and carry away harmful bacteria. Moreover, the latrine floors are often unstable and therefore shunned by children, who often tend to use gardens instead.

One solution was seen in the use of the dry latrine, which consists of two chambers - one in use and the other inactive. The structure of the latrine is such that it diverts urine through a hose into a container for subsequent conversion into fertiliser. The solid waste falling into the first chamber is covered with sand or ash after each use. Once it is almost full, it is closed and the second chamber becomes operative. After some time, the solid waste in the first vault dries up and becomes a fertiliser.

In this system, the factors contributing to the destruction of pathogens are lack of humidity, an alkaline factor and a lengthy storage period, all achieved by the alternate use of the two chambers.

The dry latrine saves water, is simple and inexpensive to instal either inside or outside the house, and requires little space. As an additional benefit, the user regularly harvests organic soil conditioner, free from pathogenic organisms, as well as a constant supply of urine as a natural fertiliser.

According to CAAW, a dry latrine costs about US $200, not much more than the cost of constructing a traditional toilet. Moreover, the CAAW will pay 70 percent of the price, so villagers wishing to own one need only to pay the remaining 30 percent. Mahmutov said the goal was to introduce these latrines to villagers and brief them on their significance.

The NGO started implementing this part of the project in March 2003. "We thought that these ecological toilets would indeed help the population to make a breakthrough in their thinking," Mahmutov explained, adding that at first it had been feared that people wouldn't support the idea of using sewage as fertiliser. However, on the contrary, the idea was well accepted. "We were planning to build 20 toilets, but now we have already built 70 and expect to construct 50 more," he said, adding that this showed that people were interested in having, realising that the dry latrine was odourless and did not attract flies.


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