Dubious water management rehabilitation in rural Tajikistan
By Avilash Roul and Maya Eralieva

PHOTO BY AVILASH ROUL / NGO FORUM ON ADB12 August 2008, Not far from Dushanbe, the capital of the Republic of Tajikistan - Several villages nestled near the rugged mountain, despite having water from the streams and channels, are not safe from various water-borne diseases. To the villages, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are useless and baseless. They are not aware of the MDGs and its seventh goal.

The irony here is the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has initiated two inter-related projects involving irrigation rehabilitation and rural development – both of which have failed in their objective to attend to the development of hundreds of villages.

In Dashtibed village of Vahdat district, nearly 140 families are depending on a canal — named after the village — for all types of purposes: drinking, washing, irrigation of arable land, kitchen and gardening. The muddy water is not safe for drinking but they are left with no choice because there is no other source for potable water.

PHOTO BY AVILASH ROUL / NGO FORUM ON ADBThe woman, or young girl, from each family is tasked to fetch water from the canal and each one spends three hours daily and walks five kilometers. A mother of three children tells us, “We have no choice except this canal water. After de-silting the water, we boil it for our drinking needs. But my children are always sick with intestinal diseases because they are drinking the canal water directly.” People also suffer from several waterborne diseases. The villagers have never seen anybody examine or analyze the water quality for drinking purposes.

The Dastibed village is not an isolated image of unsafe drinking water in the ADB-funded project area. The same image of lack of sanitation and unsafe drinking water is prevalent in Rohati, in Shahtekier, in Vahdat and in Faizabad.

How ironic.

Tajikistan is considered the water tower of Central Asia, largely due to the glaciers nestled in its high, majestic mountains. In a rational world, the problem of water needs for irrigation, drinking and sanitation should today be a distant mirage yet reality on the ground is totally different.

For many years now, investments by international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the ADB on the water sector have been under scrutiny. Investment is disappearing without any tangible positive result on the lives of people living near the rugged Tajik mountain range.

PHOTO BY AVILASH ROUL / NGO FORUM ON ADBHere is the result of IFI investment in Tajikistan's water sector — dry Tajik faucets or dirty Tajik canals on the one hand, and on the other, IFI money is watering thirsty corruption. Tadjibay, a 70-year old man, knows what happened, “All money dedicated for the project and for our village went to somebody’s pocket.”

Under the Irrigation Rehabilitation Project funded by the ADB, the project was supposed to restore the headwork of the Dashtibed canal. In reality, nothing has been accomplished so far even though the project commenced in September 2005.

People from the Dashtibed project area could not explain to us why the project was stopped. They are in a fix – a very serious one. We found it interesting when we discovered that the head of the canal is situated on private land, which is scheduled to be transformed into an amusement park. The owner of the land has already constructed a high fence to protect his land. He has his own plan as well to convert it for commercial use. The obvious question arises, whether and to what extent a common resource — community water — is now under private control.

PHOTO BY AVILASH ROUL / NGO FORUM ON ADB Will people at the far end of the Dashtibed canal live on the mercy of this land owner? Who knows what will happen. What is clear, however, is that access and control of the head water should be addressed immediately by the ADB. Realities on the ground are pointing at huge corruption. Nowadays, unfortunately, you keep wondering whether there's really anyone in the Bank, and whether any of them really bothers to listen.

The Dashtibed canal is supposed to provide water for irrigation in three areas: Faizabad, Shahtekier and Dashtibed. But due to delay in the rehabilitation work at the head of the canal, people in Faizabad have not received water for irrigation up to this writing. And even though their water pumps are working, their land remains barren.

Last year, people failed to harvest their corn crops. Mr. Abdulmadjit from Shahtakier village received only 10 sacks of grain from one hectare of his land due to poor water supply for irrigation. This is not enough for him to make flour and also to keep as grain for next year showing.

PHOTO BY AVILASH ROUL / NGO FORUM ON ADBAt Dushanbe, a government official is still hopeful about the rural development and irrigation rehabilitation project funded by the ADB, despite the glaring schedule setbacks. The official confirmed that both projects are interrelated. The objective of the irrigation rehabilitation initiative, which was approved in 2005, is to achieve higher crop productivity and to help sustain the rural economy. The purpose of the rural development project is to increase productivity and income of rural communities in the project areas, and to improve the access of the rural population to potable water. An estimated 262,000 beneficiaries live in the project areas, of whom 153,000 are poor. But on the field both the projects have failed to address the project objectives.

In the meantime, the project's beneficiaries - the poor - remain in the same predicament — without safe drinking water and with little irrigation water.

*Filed on 28 July 2008

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