Tajikistan: Changing the Course of Emergencies

News and Press Release
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By Philip Wood

The government, with help from ADB, is reducing vulnerability to floods in Tajikistan, which has suffered from a lack of levee maintenance in the years following independence

Hamadoni, Tajikistan - Five years ago, the swollen Pyanj River surged over a series of antiquated embankments in Tajikistan's fertile Hamadoni district, sweeping away everything that lay in its path.

"The river turned into an avalanche of mud and water," recalls Gadoi Masayumov, who owns what was once a riverside restaurant in the town of Hamadoni.

"When we returned to the area one day later, the water level was higher than I am," added Masayumov, raising an arm high above his head.

Incomes Washed Away

Thanks to advanced warning systems and a swift government response, the flood in Tajikistan's southwestern Khatlon province caused no fatalities.

But more than 250 buildings were destroyed, along with roads, bridges, and water towers. The area's farmers were equally hard-hit, as some 4,000 hectares of Tajikistan's richest arable topsoil was swept away. In a country where more than 60% of the population relies on agriculture as its major source of income, that meant that livelihoods were swept away as well.

"Our people are mostly involved in agriculture, in growing fruit and potatoes and onions," said Sitam.

Sharifov, a resident of Hamadoni. "But the flood destroyed all of our agricultural fields. People lost their harvests and so lost their income."

Deputy Chief of Hamadoni District Abdujabor Katayev surveys barren landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see. It is bare, sandy expanse covered in mud piles and littered with chunks of concrete.

"The flood destroyed the bridge, the road, residential households," said Katayev. "Two streets in one village were fully flooded, so fully destroyed."

ADB Tajikistan Country Director Makoto Ojiro says the socioeconomic impact of what happened in Khatlon is still being felt throughout the province. "There is a strong link between floods and poverty, and in Khatlon there was a very substantial loss of livelihood," Ojiro said, adding that residents of the area have experienced disease, deteriorating drinking water quality, and other hardships which, in turn, have led to greater emigration.

Mitigation Measures from Earth and Rock

With its mountainous terrain and high levels of rainfall, Tajikistan has always been prone to flooding and other natural disasters. But the flood of 2005 was unprecedented.

A lack of routine maintenance in the tumultuous years following Tajikistan's independence in 1991 was largely responsible for the failure of the dikes to contain the river.

ADB has provided a US$22 million loan for the Khatlon Province Risk Management Project to help prevent future flooding. The project represents a shift from reactive, infrastructure-oriented flood control to a comprehensive, integrated, and proactive approach to flood management.

A major part of the project is the rehabilitation of 8.3 kilometers of flood protection embankment along the Pyanj River. At the project site, which abuts Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, border guards patrol as huge trucks haul in soil, rock, and earth.

The materials are packed into high, sloping embankments that are covered with concrete blocks. These dikes will reach almost 10 meters in height, a full 3 meters taller than the walls breached in 2005.

Mark Kunzer, a senior environmental specialist with ADB's Central and West Asia Department, said the new embankments will help protect the area from the climate change impacts that are increasingly being felt in the Hindu Kush and the Pamir mountains, and which are causing glaciers to melt at accelerated rates.

"This will result in increased flows in the rivers of the region, such as the Pyanj, which are fed by glacier melt from the mountains," Kunzer said. "Climate change is likely to alter traditional weather patterns and also bring about more extreme weather events. When the occurrence of extreme events is combined with the increased river flows, there is a significant potential for further serious flooding in the region."

The project reforms have gone beyond building physical embankments. ADB assistance has helped the government build over 130 houses away from flood-prone areas and to improve flood management systems. This includes upgrading warning mechanisms, better maintenance of protection structures, and new regulations to restrict land use in high-risk areas.

ADB has also helped the government undertake topographical, social, environmental, and economic surveys, and conduct computer modeling of flooded areas. From these surveys, risk maps were prepared. To improve forecasting, the government has rehabilitated and modernized the Agency for Hydrometeorology's climate stations and river gauges, as well as the agency's database.

"When we have finished this project," Katayev said, "the whole population of the area will be protected from future floods."

Asian Development Bank
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