Eastern Tajikistan, with its mountainous landscape and vulnerability to natural hazards, is home to some of the most marginalised communities in Central Asia. The need for critical infrastructure as well as opportunities to improve socio-economic conditions are essential -- and in high demand.
However, determining what this infrastructure would be has been a matter of continual consultation between communities and the implementing partners involved. Local people having a say in the development of these facilities is essential to ensure that the work meets local needs and is sustainable.
In Khorog, for example, the projects selected by locals include both educational and leisure facilities– a school, a sports stadium and several playgrounds – as well as more critical infrastructure, like a water supply system and riverbank stabilisation measures.
The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), in partnership with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDPSP) and the Government of Tajikistan, has been working alongside communities in a series of building projects designed to help stimulate the local economy and create jobs in the face of an economic downturn and the global pandemic. Funded by the European Union, the 18-month project aims to foster peace and stability in Khorog Town by improving public infrastructure and services, strengthening confidence in local authorities, and generating temporary employment opportunities through construction work. Its ultimate aim is to improve the quality of life.
“We knew that for it to truly have value for the communities,” said Manzura Bakhdavlatova, AKAH’s Project Manager, “it needed to have their input from the very start. What we are witnessing now through the community’s control over the construction work and its quality is that sense of ownership of these projects.”
The projects also enjoy local and regional government support. Yodgor Fayzov, Governor of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), recently visited the construction sites, remarking, “These projects will greatly improve the wellbeing of residents across Khorog town.”
Key stakeholders are regularly engaged in the projects, including through site selection, facility design, and continual feedback and consultation. While the pandemic has brought new challenges to the work, around 150 community members involved in the construction chose to “Stay and Deliver”, under strict precautionary measures, to ensure these projects were completed.
“We focused on selecting local construction firms with good reputations and skills to ensure these facilities would be built to a high standard,” said Muyassar Mamadov, head of a Mahalla (community) Committee in one of the districts where a playground is being constructed. “At the same time, we felt it was important to employ economically vulnerable people from the area to support them during the pandemic. I would like to thank AKAH for identifying a qualified local construction company. We are very satisfied with their work. The construction team and the workers are learning from each other, and there is a real exchange of experience and skills, which is amazing.”
The steady income provided to those employed by the project, including vulnerable youth, has been a lifeline during the pandemic and the economic downturn. “My close relatives were infected with coronavirus. With my help, they were able to purchase medication in time for their treatment,” said Dovar Soqibekov, a project worker. “I feel very relieved to be employed during this time. It is a great support during the economic crisis and to the most economically vulnerable groups of people, like labourers who do not have a steady income.”
Okhirnazar Kholiknazarov, a local government representative, is particularly pleased about a new playground and modern sport facilities, “[The playground] will enable youth and children in our neighbourhood to spend their free time actively and safely,” he said. “It will provide a space where we can gather, giving us a sense of real connection and belonging.”
“The accomplishment for us is not only in completing the project,” says Manzura Bakhdavlatova, AKAH’s Project Manager, remarking on the true nature of the programme’s achievement, “but rather the sense of ownership, community spirit and involvement, and stewardship that we have seen coming out of this process … (and) the way the government and civil society are working together.”
This text was adapted from a story published on the Aga Khan Foundation UK website.