The EBRD is helping to improve Bishkek’s water and sanitation services and plan for long-term sustainability.
The Bishkek Water Company manages assets including a 1,277 km-long water supply pipe network and 605 km of wastewater collectors - approximately the distance between London and Minsk. These are only part of the infrastructure that helps to provide clean water and sanitation services to over 1.5 million people living in the Kyrgyz capital and its surroundings. The problem is that most of it is more than 30 years old.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relatively small Kyrgyz Republic faced a rapid deterioration in public infrastructure and basic services once taken for granted. In the capital, rapid urbanisation in recent years – with increase of water consumption registered in the north and new settlements to be supplied in the south – have put an additional strain on the already stretched capacity of the water mains.
The challenges to ensure that water services run smoothly at any time are enormous. This is why the Bishkek Water Company has a maintenance task force, on duty 24/7.
But times are changing. In Bishkek, since 2009, the water company has been working on an extensive modernisation programme. With a €5.5 million loan from the EBRD, co-financed with a €5 million grant by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the water supply and sanitation infrastructure is being restored for the first time in decades.
In Orto-Alysh, where the underground water originates from before it reaches Bishkek’s houses, shops and factories, three old pipes that connect to the chlorination system have been replaced by a single, over-ground pipe, with a larger diameter. This new technology was identified thanks to a study funded by the EU Central Asia Investment Facility (IFCA). It will prevent water from freezing and damaging the infrastructure during the cold winter.
Closer to the city centre, extensive works to replace the water mains are diverting the traffic in Togolok Moldo street. Seven hundred metres of new pipes have already been substituted and over a thousand more will be in place before the end of the year. This work is being done while the water is still being pumped, with no interruption to the service.
The loan was also used to purchase new equipment and vehicles for the repairs, which made Valerii Shevtsov and his maintenance teammates’ work much easier.
“With the electrical equipment finally on board we can repair the pipes in less time, so we can do more in one day,” he explains as another water leak in a residential street is just being repaired. “Some of the old cars didn’t even have windows and we used to get sick a lot but this winter it will be a different story.”
This was the first EBRD operation in the Kyrgyz municipal and environmental infrastructure sector. Since then the cooperation between Bishkek’s city government and the Bank has grown strong and the EBRD has extended loans and technical cooperation support to improve public transport and solid waste services in the capital.
The water project benefited from extensive international donor support that provided a total of €1.4 million. Sweden provided funds for all the work needed to prepare a solid investment plan. SECO funded engineering and implementation support while the Bank’s Early Transition Countries Fund and the Shareholder Special Fund funded technical cooperation to increase the company’s capacity and help them engage with the local community through public awareness campaigns on the ongoing works, the importance of saving water and paying for the service.
Now the Bishkek Water Company can look ahead and plan for long-term sustainability. With citizens’ ability to pay in mind, water tariffs have significantly increased, allowing the company to get closer to the goal of recovering the costs of its operations.
Households and industries have responded well: the collection rate in 2011 reached 98.6 per cent. The better the service, the more people are willing to pay for it.