With international donors, we’ve modernised water and wastewater services.
Tajikistan, a mountainous, landlocked country in Central Asia, is blessed by nature and awe-inspiring views. But since it gained independence in 1991, it has yet to enjoy sustainable growth.
Across the country such basic urban services as sanitation, water and public transport have often been neglected and underfinanced. As recently as 2012 even access to safe drinking water was sporadic in some regions.
In Khujand, the second biggest city, the apparatus for water distribution and wastewater collection systems dated back some six decades.
“I’ve been working at this hospital since its very beginning and I was sorry to see it in such a bad condition because of lack of water for the patients, said Larisa Ivanonva Veretennikova, a nurse at the Khujand Regional Hospital.
“We lost hope for the situation to improve and I thought it would never revive again.”
Over time, the pumps and pipes have drastically deteriorated, leaving most of the city’s households and buildings with water flowing only occasionally and often heavily contaminated, giving poor taste from corroded water tubes.
This was particularly common in multi-storey buildings with weak pumping stations unable to feed water to higher floors. Water loss from pipe leakages was common too, making it difficult to monitor water consumption.
Institutional weaknesses at the municipal level as well as inadequate funding to upgrade infrastructure worsened the situation.
This all resulted in no access to drinkable or even sufficient quantities of water, with service interrupted for long periods. Sometimes water ran for only a few hours a day in the city’s buildings.
“We had serious difficulties with water supply,” remembered Ms Veretennikova . “Sometimes there was sand in it and sometimes we even had to carry it in buckets from wherever we could find it so as to be able to do our daily tasks at the hospital.”
Gaining 24h access to water
Ensuring 24-hour access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation and hygiene for households, businesses and public buildings in Tajikistan required international collaboration on multiple fronts: to improve policies, institutions and infrastructure.
Due to the deficit in financing, the government turned to external aid, including the EBRD and its donors, to fill funding gaps, not only in funding but also in expertise.
To improve water and wastewater infrastructure for all of the Khujand’s population, the Bank provided a total of US$ 6.55 million in loans to the Khujand Water Company and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) gave US$ 12.47 million in grants.
“The EBRD is investing in upgrading the municipal infrastructure as it is an important contribution to economic growth of the region,” said Ayten Rustamova, EBRD Head of Office in Dushanbe.
“We see a real difference that this particular project has made to people living in Khujand and we are proud to be a part of it.”
The funding covered new pipes and water distribution networks, new domestic water meters, the replacement of deteriorated water and sewage pumps as well as development of new boreholes to increase the water supply capacity. Still to come during the next phase is the rehabilitation of the wastewater treatment plant.
The physical infrastructure investments were also accompanied by improvements to “soft” infrastructure policies and legal systems.
SECO also funded project design and implementation support work, while Finland paid for the city’s Master Plan helping to analyse the city’s water source, storage, delivery and its treatment.
Norway also contributed donor funds for a programme aimed at finding the best ways to improve financial and operational performance of the company.
In addition, the EBRD’s Early Transition Countries (ETC) Fund * financed a corporate development plan to strengthen the institutional capacity of the Water Company and also stakeholder participation programme, allowing a platform for citizens’ input to be considered prior to making any decisions.
As a result, a crucial balance was struck between pricing infrastructure services in such a way to meet the objectives of financial viability of the Khujand Water Company and at the same making them affordable.
“Together with the EBRD, Switzerland is proud to have supported Khujand municipality and Khujand Water Company. A key objective of the programme is to improve living conditions and economic opportunities through an improved water supply and sanitation. This includes safe and inclusive access to water and wastewater treatment as well as better hygiene,” said Walburga Roos, Head of the Swiss Cooperation Office in Tajikistan.
The new system has also minimized the risks of waterborne diseases from corroded pipes and illegal outdoor community taps.
“The quality of water has improved, and so has the supply. I think that in the nearest future we will observe significant decrease of the kidney diseases”, said Kamolov A’zamkhon Ibodulloevich, a doctor at the Khujand Regional Hospital.
Water is life
All those improvements turned out to be life-changing for 161,000 people in Khujand as well as 571 businesses and 230 state organisations, including schools and hospitals.
Manija Ziyeboi, a student at Secondary School no 6 in Khujand, summed up the importance of safe water services: “There is no life without water. We need it for cooking, drinking, laundry and if we drink dirty water, we can get sick.”
“We need to use clean water in an efficient way because it is a foundation for our health.”
This year Switzerland celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Swiss Cooperation Office in Dushanbe. Within the framework of a comprehensive cooperation and development program, Switzerland has supported the people and the government of Tajikistan in reforming the health, water and natural resource management sectors, in increasing access to justice and in facilitating the country’s transition towards a market economy. Switzerland invests approximately 20 mln USD per year in projects implemented in all parts of Tajikistan.