The Promised Water
How the problem of access to clean drinking water is being solved in Kyrgyzstan – «Yntymak» report
Access to safe drinking water in Kyrgyzstan is a problem affecting all regions of the country. Despite donor funding and various government efforts in this area, the number of settlements that have zero access to drinking water is continuously increasing. This situation is observed not only in remote villages, but near major cities as well. Many villages do not have even a single drop of safe drinking water. Attempts to investigate a systematic approach to tackle this problem are examined by looking at various case studies of villages in the country.

villages in Kyrgyzstan

live without any access to safe drinking water

require major repairs in their water supply systems
The Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Department under the State Agency for Architecture, Construction and Housing and Communal Services

The Kyzyl-Oktyabr ("Red October") village is in the Uzgen district of southern Kyrgyzstan, 50 kilometers north of the regional center, Osh. More than 2,800 residents live in Kyzyl-Octyabr, majority working in the agriculture sector, with some involved in private businesses. Life in this settlement and in neighboring villages is similar: families struggling to survive on a daily basis while others are building new homes nearby.
The most pressing problem in this village, though, is the lack of drinking water. In Soviet times, there was better water infrastructure and access, but after its dissolution conditions have deteriorated. For a long time, and until recently, the main source of drinking water was through an aryk (irrigation canal).

Aryks in Central Asian countries are small irrigation canals, which have been used for irrigation since ancient times. Water from the mountains flows along small irrigation ditches but can become contaminated with clay and debris on its way down to the villages. Livestock in villages drink water from these ditches, while people wash their clothes and dishes, as well as discharge sewage. All these factors contribute to unsafe water conditions.

Initially, aryk water was to only be used for irrigation and other household needs, such as washing clothes or dishes. In many villages, however, aryks are the only source of water for residents and end up being used for drinking and cooking as well. These unsanitary conditions lead to many health problems in rural areas, such as intestinal infections.
Over the past twenty years, residents of Kyzyl-Octyabr have taken collective steps to resolve this problem. Since they have been using the same water source as livestock, their health has been negatively affected. Their water conditions are far from desired, but there is not much they can do without more support.
When and how did they try to solve the problem of access to drinking water in Kyzyl-October village
In 1990, a water intake station that pumped water from underground was built in the center of the village. However, the commission from Osh assessed that the quality of this water did not meet standards and might be dangerous for human health.
Pipes with drinking water were laid from the neighboring Jalpak-Tash village in the early 2000s. The water was supplied for only 3-4 days, however, because a landslide covered the spring which was supplying the water.
Since 2014, with support from the Central Asian Water Users Alliance, active efforts are being made to supply the village with good quality drinking water.
In 2001, a national project called Taza Suu was initiated to address the shortage of drinking water in Kyrgyzstan, attracting foreign investment of around $90 million USD. Unfortunately, Kyzyl-Octyabr was not covered by this program, and the project was suspended in 2012.

In 2014, local residents made efforts to address the shortage using their own resources. At the same time, a grant from the Polish government was provided through the Central Asian Water Alliance. The cost of constructing a new water supply system was estimated to be around 3.7 million KGS (approximately $70,422 USD), of which 117,000 KGS (approximately $2,227 USD) were provided by the Kyzyl-Octyabr authorities. Local residents collected and contributed around 1 million KGS (approximately $19,033 USD).

Resident of Kyzyk Oktyabr village: "Before, water was taken from different sources. Some would fetch water in the morning – they thought that water would be cleaner in the morning. Some would install a "pumper" – they would pump their water, but that wasn't clean either. Those who had transportation could bring water from neighboring villages. That's how people were living here for 20 years. But since the water supply system was built two years ago, there have been no problems whatsoever with water."
The Kyzyl-Octyabr village currently has thirty-seven water pumps, and some residents have even laid water pipelines to their homes. The Rural Public Association of Drinking Water Consumers, Water Users Association of Toguz Bulak (WUA Toguz Bulak) was established with financial assistance from the Central Asian Water Alliance. Its purpose is to teach villagers how to properly use drinking water.

The WUA requests around $1 USD per month from each resident to help pay for the expenses related to the drinking water supply. Part of these funds is used to pay for the pump's electricity, while another portion pays the salaries of two employees of the WUA Toguz Bulak.
Since 2001, the government of the Kyrgyz Republic has been actively attracting donor funds to address problems related to the water supply throughout the country, with USD $89,6 million allocated toward the Taza Suu project over a span of thirteen years. These funds were intended to supply drinking water to 1,000 villages. In reality, however, not all villages received new pipelines, and only around 600 settlements reaped the benefits of these funds.

Corruption in the implementation process of the Taza Suu project has been repeatedly raised at governmental meetings. Between 30-40% of the allocated $69,5 million USD have disappeared, and representatives of the authorities at various levels recognize that there has been misuse of the loans and investment. In 2010, eighteen criminal cases were initiated against firms who used funds to install poor quality equipment and pocketed funds for themselves. As a result, in 2012 donor organizations like The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) refused to finance the project at all.

Meanwhile residents of Kyzyl-Oktyabr village independently solved the problem of access to drinking water themselves
Previously, local residents always drank aryk water with caution, but now there are no doubts about water quality. Jumali Sopuev, chairperson of the youth committee in Kyzyl-Octyabr says: "We have unanimously done the most important thing – laying clean water pipelines—because we care for our children. In the next two years, we are planning to connect each house to a pipeline and install a water pump. We want to create all the living conditions available in large cities here in our own village."

Ideas and objectives from the Taza Suu project will be implemented as part of another Ala-Too Bulagy (Ala-Too Spring) project, for which the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank are ready to provide $94,2 million USD. This time, Kyrgyz authorities have promised to use donor funds for the intended purpose, as agreed with donors in advance. Askarbek Toktoshev, Director of the Republican Drinking Water Supply Department assures: "We promised the donors to use all funds for the intended purpose, which is supported by appropriate agreement. We guarantee that everything will be according to plan and in line with the law."

The Ala-Too Bulagy project was launched in 2017. This project will supply drinking water to 140 settlements in Osh, Jalal-Abad, Issyk-Kul and Chui oblasts by 2020. In addition to donor funds ($94,2 million USD), $3 million USD will be allocated from the state budget toward the project as well. Only 200 million KGS ($2,9 million USD) is allocated from the state budget annually to supply the population with good quality drinking water, while $71,5 million USD is provided every year for control of various infections and diseases caused by the consumption of poor quality water. According to the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic, up to 70% of cases of infectious diseases are directly related to consuming dirty water.

Kanybek Isabaev
Executive Director of the Public Foundation “Environmental Development”
Over the past twenty years, the population has been trying to resolve problems with access to drinking water. Village residents dig water wells or obtain water using pumps or by collecting rainwater, but the extent to which this water meets sanitary health and consumption standards is a matter up for debate. If this situation persists, the health risks for the entire population will increase, a major threat for the country. Moreover, the effects of global warming may reduce the amount of water in rural areas.

To solve this issue, relevant ministries and government should work together and programs in this sector need to be revamped. Rural residents lack the political and social capital to address this problem head on, so local authorities and governing leaders should take initiative and prioritize coming up with solutions instead of sitting around waiting for donor funds from the outside.

The majority of Kyrgyz villages do not have access to clean drinking water, in some of them the water supply system is obsolete and it requires major repairs.
When were the water pipes laid?
Majority of villages are supplied drinking water according to a fixed schedule:


More than 1,500 Almalyk village residents have no clean water in the winter and summer. But, it wasn't always like this. In 1964, water was supplied from the Jatan village of the Nokat district and was accessible to every house but stopped in 1994, as the pump mechanism became obsolete and the pipelines broke. Equipment was meant to arrive from Tashkent, but a delivery was never made and equipment has disappeared.

Now, village residents bring water from Osh, 25 kilometers away. Many people buy two tons of water for 500 KGS and use rainwater for washing and watering livestock, sometimes drinking this water as well. Last year, the city administration of Osh estimated that it would cost 37 million KGS ($545,000 USD) to lay a new water pipeline to Almalyk. Thus, residents' appeals for a new pipeline continue to fall on deaf ears.


Water meters have been installed in Osh but are not yet operating. The meters are intended to save water: information from the household meters on water consumption will be transmitted to local authorities online to help restrict uncontrolled tap water usage. This will save water for irrigation and agricultural usage.


Water meters are also being installed in the Jalal-Abad city—approximately 9,000 with 620 control cabinets—with a similar system of online calculation of water consumption as in Osh. Residents will pay monthly based on their water meter receipt.

Yusup Kamalov
ecologist, chairman of the Union for Aral Sea and Amu-Darya Protection
It is recommended that while waiting for help, we should continue seeking solutions ourselves. A wide range of equipment is currently available at the market. Practically anyone can assemble a water purification unit. Appropriate concessional lending would provide a strong support for private entrepreneurship. At the same time, sanitary and epidemiological inspections should strengthen control over these facilities.

It is worth highlighting the issue of decentralising the treatment of wastewater. If each rural household, such as a farmstead (there are many such households in Central Asian cities), were to purify water using privately installed units and then reusing this water, they would develop a more responsible attitude towards the purity of water. Also, for example, local inventors and researchers are not engaged to their full potential. Everybody is waiting for high technologies to be imported from abroad. Such technologies are expensive and there is a risk of downtimes when parts break. There is a need therefore for supporting local initiatives.

People involved in this project: (Uzbekistan): Dariya Osmanova, Romina Tulyakova, Saida Sulaimanova
Tiroz (Tajikistan): Hurshed Ulmasov, Sultondzhon Usmanov, Natalia Dorofeeva
Yntymak (Kyrgyzstan): Asanbek Karakozuev, Alisher Isamov, Kubanych Zhusanov, Zhanybek Derkenbaev, Adina Dosumbetova, Aleksandr Shabalin