With World Water Week 2020 focusing attention on the connection between climate crises and water, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat’s (AKAH) efforts in Tajikistan in combatting both natural disasters and inaccessibility to safe drinking water present some useful insights into how tailored local initiatives can result in sustainable community-led water schemes.
Tajikistan is noteworthy because while it is rich in water resources (with some reported 947 rivers and temporary flowing watercourses), only about 43.4% of its rural population have access to potable water. AKAH is therefore pursuing an ambitious strategy targeting a marked improvement in these figures over the course of the next five years.
One key project expected to contribute to these outcomes is the integrated five-year and USAID-supported Thrive Tajikistan project, which is leveraging the community development and engagement capacities of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP), as well as AKAH’s significant infrastructure development in the region. AKAH is involving local government and the local community and, most importantly, engaging local construction companies across the target regions of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) and Khatlon. The project plans to develop 15 water supply systems that are expected to serve some estimated 42,000 individuals by the end of 2023.
AKAH’s Thrive project manager, Imomberdi Berdov, explains the unique approach to this initiative: “Building, operating and maintaining significant water supply systems such as these require tailored and concerted efforts. As such, the modality adopted in Khatlon, to use an example, is for the local population to lead in its operation. Specifically, this is through the Water User Committee, established and managed by project partner MSDSP.”
In the Medon community of Roshtqala district (in GBAO), community members are waiting in eager anticipation of the completion of the water supply system. AKAH has collaborated with the Roshtqala local government, who will eventually take responsibility for its operation and provide water supply services to the population on a commercial basis.
Shirinkhon Kurbonkhonov, focal point for the project in Medon, agrees that this is the best model for the area. “The water supply system is very much needed in Medon village,” he says, “as residents are using the contaminated water from the river. It will ensure a consistent supply of clean water for households, offices, schools, and the market, thereby safeguarding the health of all.”
Another project that will see AKAH contribute in similar ways in the Rasht valley region is the Integrated Health and Habitat Improvement (IHHI) Phase II, supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and AKF UK. An Integrated Habitat Assessment undertaken by AKAH in 2018 identified a vital need for safe drinking water for the inhabitants of the Balkh and Akjar villages of Lakhsh district.
AKAH’s project manager Jahongir Olimov noted how important the Balkh water supply system – completed in April this year – is in contributing to addressing some of the health challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “The system, located some 5.5 km from the source, provides drinking water to almost a thousand residents,” he says, “and also features vital community facilities such as a public health centre and a teahouse. However, what makes this system different from some others we have developed is that it is connected to each individual household, giving residents regular and improved access to water”.
Water users’ associations, formed with the support of MSDSP, will control and collect the monthly tariffs to maintain and sustain the system. “No water supply system built here in the past has been as unique and useful as this” said Sadirdin Zuurov, head of Balkh village. “Firstly, this system considers all the areas prone to natural hazards, and secondly, it uses house to house connection that increases ownership of the system and involves collection of fees that improves maintenance quality.”