I grew up in Bishkek, the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic, and I was lucky to live in an area that never experienced problems with access to clean water and sanitation. When I was a child, I used to drink tap water as I was sure it was clean.
And yet I visited many remote areas of the country where people did not have access to any water, let alone clean drinking water and sanitation facilities.
The lack of access to safe water and sanitation is a pressing problem in my country. It affects every aspect of daily life, from the moment one wakes up to the moment one goes to bed.
Personal hygiene, environmental safety, eating and household chores are impacted by the lack of water at home, in schools and offices.
For instance, in Batken, a city in the south, people can get water only until midday. They carry it home from public water pumps as they have no water pipes in their homes. While the adult population is at work, this chore is left to their children who queue for long and carry huge water containers.
Inadequate outdated infrastructure and poor water management remain a major problem. According to UNICEF, over 36 per cent of schools in the Kyrgyz Republic have no water supply within school boundaries and 91.8 per cent of children confirmed that they wash hands more often at home than at school.
That’s why, on World Water Day, it is important to remember how precious water resources and services are, even in countries that take them for granted.
I only started working for the EBRD a few months ago. But the fact that my employers, together with its partners such as the European Union, are doing their bit to preserve water resources and improve access to water is very important to me.
As the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, put it: “Access to safe drinking water is a fundamental right but is still a challenge in many parts of the world.
“On World Water Day, the European Union reaffirms that all states are expected to fulfil their obligations regarding access to safe drinking water, which must be available, accessible, safe, acceptable and affordable for all without discrimination, and recalls that the right to safe drinking water is a human right essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. “
I may be a newcomer to the EBRD but I know that the Bank signed its first water project aimed at improving the supply of drinking water in the city of Bishkek ten years ago.
The number of projects in the water sector here has since increased to 19, and the total investment volume has reached over €153 million (of which €74.95 million are grants) and €20 million in technical assistance.
These grants were provided by major donors, such as the EU, the Swiss State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO) and the Global Environment Facility and have been used to make the investments possible and to go further with know-how transfer.
Here’s one example of what this means on the ground. Kant, a municipality of over 22,000 people, is some 20 kilometres east of Bishkek. Its water supply was old and prone to leaks and bursts. The EBRD and SECO have invested €6.3 million in the rehabilitation of the water supply system since 2013 and the preliminary feasibility study for the work was supported by the EU.
“By the end of this year the people of Kant will have uninterrupted access to water. In the past, we had to do a lot of repair work and people were not happy about the situation. Now, we are installing a distribution network and optimising the water and wastewater tariffs. The water losses will be cut by up to 80 per cent and this is a very good result,” says Erkin Abdrahmanov, the mayor.
In 2019, the EBRD is planning to do more to support water supply projects in small towns such as Kerben, Isfana and Nookat.
And we are also working to preserve water resources from contamination by Soviet-era abandoned uranium mines with the support of the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia (funded by the EU, the USA, Switzerland, Belgium and Norway).
I am very proud to be playing a small part in this international effort to improve access to water in the country of my birth.
Altynai Nanaeva works for the EBRD in Bishkek.