Often referred to as the ‘House of Water’, Tajikistan has been a water rich country- accounting for about 60% of Central Asia’s water resources. However, according to a 2018 UN study, Tajikistan ranks 156th among 177 countries in the world in terms of its population’s access to drinking water. Only 51.4% of the country’s population has access to clean drinking water.
Tensions over water exists on the borders of Kyrgyzstan as well. Due to an ongoing conflict over water access between the neighboring villages, Tajik residents have to travel great lengths, even across borders at times, in order to collect water for cooking and cleaning. It is to be noted that according to the Tajik Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, the country is home to some 1,300 lakes and over 900 natural rivers and streams.
According to a report published by Circle of Blue, many reasons account for Tajikistan’s failings. However, the World Bank notes that the primary reason is likely poor infrastructure. Most of the country’s piping, which transports water, was built by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. The infrastructure has not been updated.
According to a World Bank report, “One in four households in Tajikistan does not have access to sufficient quantities of water when needed. Service is interrupted for long periods because of breakdowns in water supply infrastructure.”
Residents in Konibodom in northern Tajikistan know the consequences of polluted water. Only 45% of the population has access to drinking water. “We have a very difficult situation,” Abdumannon Mukhiddinov, a resident of Konibodom told the Circle of Blue. “I’ll bring water from afar, since the quality of the water [here] is bad and impossible to drink it. I mainly use it for watering trees and bathing the children,” he added.
According to the World Bank, women and children have been facing challenges as a consequence of this. Women and girls in rural areas are supposed to queue every day for hours in front of water pipes in order to get access to clean water. This also goes on to an extent where young girls are forced to miss school at times.
In 2015, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Léo Heller visited Tajikistan and called on the government to step up its efforts to provide clean water to all of its citizens. One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals remains to ensure all the citizens have access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation. Each government is obliged to create the conditions necessary to provide that. But, as a poor country, Tajikistan has often turned to outside investment to help it fix its water infrastructure.
According to the Circle of Blue, two years ago, the Fergana news agency analyzed the quality of the multimillion-dollar projects of the water supply system in Dushanbe. It noted that foreign donors allocate millions of dollars for the water supply system in Dushanbe as well as to other cities and regions of Tajikistan. The agency cited excessive spending on foreign experts and transparent conduct of business by local leaders and quoted an anonymous source who alleged corruption in multi-million dollar water supply projects. The government has not responded to the allegation. Yet despite its water abundance and the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in improving Tajikistan’s water access and supply, millions of Tajik residents still struggle to access running water, clean water remains out of question.