Aga Khan Agency for Habitat
Tajikistan · 24 March 2023 · 7 min
Water is fundamental to human development. Easy access to clean drinking water, along with toilets and information on hygiene, reduces diseases, enables girls in particular to attend latrine-equipped schools, and saves women and children from queuing for and carrying water for on average 90 minutes per day. Infrastructure such as irrigation canals, with equitable access, provides water supplies for agriculture and livestock. Energy generation and most industries are also dependent on reliable water supplies.
With two percent of its area covered by lakes, and almost a thousand rivers, Tajikistan has abundant fresh water. Over 95 percent of its electricity is supplied by hydropower. However, the remoteness of much of the Tajik population makes it difficult to provide and maintain water infrastructure. In 2019, the World Bank found that 43 percent of inhabitants lacked basic sanitation facilities, while 35 percent had no drinking water services. Meanwhile, floodwaters and mudslides from glacial lake overflows and surface water threaten lives: water is as much a hazard as a resource.
Pressure on shared natural resources, with the potential for creating conflict within and across national borders, is intensified by climate change. For example, research from the University of Central Asia (UCA) shows that while the population in Sughd is growing, the decrease in winter rain and the loss of glaciers threatens the availability of water in the Isfara River, vital for agriculture.
In response, the National Development Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan for the Period up to 2030 notes the need for irrigation and effective water management for agricultural development, the potential of hydropower for energy security, and the demands of the national economy and the growing population for investment in water infrastructure.
For almost three decades, AKDN has been working with the Government of Tajikistan and other international partners to improve access to water for drinking, washing and irrigation. The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has implemented 600 irrigation schemes to date. These have improved land management and raised farming productivity, helping around 720,000 people increase their food and income security.
Kishwar Abdulalishoev, CEO of AKF Tajikistan
A recent programme, “Improving stability and natural resource management in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan”, helped reduce conflict at the border by working with water and pasture organisations in cross-border areas to improve access to and management of irrigation water, drinking water and grazing lands. Over 100 sites were rehabilitated, comprising improvements to irrigation canals, drinking water systems, access routes to pasture lands and veterinary and watering sites for livestock.
The four-year Integrated Health and Habitat Improvement programme, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, constructed drinking water supply systems that serve almost 144,000 people in Rasht Valley and 42,000 people in Khatlon, alongside school latrines. The programme provided training on watershed management, soil bioengineering and natural resource management, strengthening local government capacity to sustain the improvements.
Jahongir Olimov, Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) project manager, Balkh, Khatlon
Our community engagement and infrastructure development experience is currently being put to use for Thrive Tajikistan, a five-year, USAID-supported project. The programme integrates health, nutrition, agriculture and economic empowerment interventions for vulnerable communities, aiming to reach 165,000 direct and 460,000 indirect beneficiaries. Water, whether viewed as a scarce necessity or in glacial flood form as an existential threat, is a significant element of the work.
Khatlon, which accounts for almost 80 percent of Tajikistan’s crops, is one of the driest regions. A growing population, inefficient irrigation and a decline in snow are exacerbating water scarcity. “Although we live at the edge of the Panj River, we have a critical water shortage,” says Karimova Shamigul of Chubek Village, Hamadoni, Khatlon. “We get water from channels of the river and store it in vessels. We’ve been drinking muddy water for years.”
Thrive is working closely with local governance and communities to provide clean drinking water, sanitation infrastructure and health and hygiene education for over 12,000 people. Households and institutions pay a water tariff to maintain the systems. “Now our problem is gone,” says Sulaymonov Yorahmad of Chubek Village. “Water is available here for 24 hours.”
Turdalieva Zebunisso, Surkhob Village, Farkhor District, Khatlon
Rasulov Safarkhuja from the same village explains how his family also used to collect and boil rainwater. On special occasions, they would pay 10 somoni ($0.90) for a 200-litre cylinder from a water truck. This would last three to four days. Thrive’s water supply system provides clean drinking water for 20-30 somoni ($1.80-2.70) per month. “Now we have water in every household, which is very convenient. My grandchildren and my children will not need to worry about the drinking water anymore and I will not worry for their health,” said Rasulov.
By the end of 2023, Thrive will have constructed 14 water supply systems that serve more than 41,000 people, and 14 school latrines for more than 8,000 schoolchildren and teachers in Khatlon and GBAO. Environmental sustainability is increased by the reduced leakage from the new pipes, the education provided about conservation and water meters that allow users to understand how much water they consume. Small user fees also lead to more responsible consumption and help the systems achieve financial sustainability. Plumbers in each village are trained on their operations and maintenance.
With population growth, industrialisation and glacial melt threatening long-term water supplies, creating a sustainable future must go beyond meeting the needs of the next couple of generations. The Aga Khan Agency for Habitat has undertaken habitat assessments covering 145,000 people, the information from which is being used to inform the planning, building and protection of water infrastructure. It is working with the Committee of Environmental Protection, Hydromet, and the Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defence to map and monitor natural hazards and watershed level risks. Their assessment of 37 glacial lakes for disaster response planning has informed more than 700 village disaster management plans and is helping other organisations model the water resources available. Thrive’s hydropower plant installation reduces deforestation and carbon emissions and improves the lives of villagers who no longer have to spend time seeking firewood, or contract breathing problems from the smoke.
This week, the Government of Tajikistan is co-hosting the UN 2023 Water Conference. AKDN has contributed to the Government’s preparations and is participating in events alongside government ministries and international partners.
AKF, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development and the University of Central Asia co-hosted an event, “Adopting the Water-Energy-Food-Environment Nexus for a water-wise energy transition”, with the Tajikistan Ministry of Energy and Water Resources and other partners. They discussed the increasing water storage gap that the world is facing, with a view to making better decisions about managing it.
AKAH participated in the Partnership and Cooperation for Water event and in a session on placing water at the centre of urban development. AKAH’s Chief Scientist, Deo Raj Gurung, explained how AKAH can incorporate scientific knowledge as well as drive practical solutions with communities, governments and other stakeholders. He commented that when scientists and policy makers engage with one another early in the planning process, they can ensure that the research is relevant to effective policy making.
2025 has been declared the International Year of Glaciers’ Preservation in an initiative sponsored by Tajikistan, demonstrating the country’s commitment to mitigating the effects of climate change for the region’s mountain societies. UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented: “My thanks to President Rahmon for Tajikistan’s leadership in putting the global focus on preserving the world’s glaciers… They represent the largest reservoir of fresh water on the planet – supporting our nutrition, health, economies and energy production. And nearly two billion people – one out of every four people on Earth – live in areas where glaciers and seasonal snowmelt supply their water.”