QURGHONTEPPA, Tajikistan- Tajikistan is a country rich in natural lakes and glacier-fed streams and rivers- 1,300 to be exact. However, a 2012 study by the United Nations found that most Tajiks lack access to clean, safe drinking water.
Tajikistan’s largest province, Khatlon, is home to two major rivers, yet 80 percent of the province’s four millions residents lack access to clean water. In rural Tajikistan, 95 percent lack access. Many people rely on rivers and open ditches that are often contaminated by animals, human sewage, and agricultural runoff from inadequate irrigation systems and pesticides. Drinking, cooking and cleaning with this polluted water puts consumers at a high risk for typhoid and other potentially deadly waterborne diseases.
In an article published by Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty in 2013, Safarmo Karimova, a resident of the Vakhsh district, was interviewed. The Vakhsh is one of the two major rivers flowing into Khatlon; however, she and her family still struggle to find clean drinking water, saying it is the number one problem her community faces.
Karimova recalls the days during the Soviet reign, saying, “Trucks used to deliver clean water to our villages for free, every day.” Another man interviewed by NPR said that “in Soviet times there were water stands for every 10 or 15 houses in a village.” So what happened to the functioning, reliable water system?
Towards the end of the communist period, infrastructure went into a sharp decline. The situation has only become worse. The once Soviet-ruled territory has not been sufficiently maintained, driving this decline of infrastructure and any existing water supply systems.
As a result of failing infrastructure, people are left to trek miles in order to get water from rusted pipes that have no shut-off valves. Community members flock to these broken pipes, spending anywhere from two hours to three hours to half a day between making the trip, waiting in line and hauling the water back home. It is one of the most crucial crucial daily chores, and also one of the most time-consuming.
Some members of the community are lucky enough to have donkeys for hauling their water, up to 50 gallons with each trip. Although 50 gallons may sound like a lot, it is used quickly in large families between the drinking, cooking and cleaning. Second trips are often needed in order to irrigate gardens.
There is a need for new infrastructure in order to pump clean water from rivers or to gain access to underground reservoirs to increase and facilitate access in communities. For the necessary changes to the lacking current systems, the cost is estimated at $100 million. Authorities don’t anticipate the systems, or water shortage issues to be solved in the near future because of the steep expense and massive structural changes required.
Although the problem is not being solved all at once, there have been small victories in parts of Tajikistan that serve as a model for the rest of the country. In the provincial capital, Qurghonteppa, there is a centralized water system that was completely renovated. In several districts, new pipes have been installed to deliver fresh spring water to nearby villages, and a water reservoir has been restored with chlorination for disinfecting water. Having community water pumps would change circumstances drastically.
Women, who are typically left to do this chore, can spend more time with their children, irrigation and small family agriculture is an option, and women are able to take on other work in order to make an income. The nonprofit group Oxfam has installed village water systems similar to these, with plans of building 40 more to be owned, ran and maintained by locals. This sustainable approach encourages conservation and also produces a method of funding for upkeep and future generations.
Some areas of the country have seen significant decreases in waterborne disease incidences. A state-run regional hospital plans to continue education campaigns to raise public awareness on how to prevent waterborne illnesses, with a goal of eradicating these diseases in the area by next year.
– Maris Brummel