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FEATURE STORY

Kyrgyz Towns Now Better Places to Live

January 9, 2013

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Video: Kyrgyz Towns Now Better Places to Live.

The World Bank Communications Team in the Kyrgyz Republic offers this story.

Alexander Shehovtsev heads the water and sanitation utility in the small town of Kant in the Kyrgyz Republic. He has worked at the Vodokanal Company for over 20 years and knows its operations in minute detail. Alexander remembers when staff had to ride bicycles to the farthest edges of town to make repairs, and had only a few tools to fix emergency leaks.

Now, thanks to a municipal improvement project supported by the World Bank, Vodokanal technicians are much better equipped to tackle leaks and breaks. As a consequence, the water is cleaner. "As a company manager and a citizen of this town, I am happy that access to clean drinking water has improved," Shehovtsev says.

Fixing leaks is important. Small towns of the Kyrgyz Republic still lose 40% to 90% of all their piped water because their water distribution networks are old and crumbling. These numbers illustrate the catastrophic condition of local service infrastructure, installations, and equipment in small urban areas. After years of neglect, the need for rehabilitation is pressing; and in some places entirely new systems are the only solution.

Between 2005 and 2011, the World Bank supported Kyrgyz government efforts to improve municipal services in provincial centers through the Small Towns Infrastructure and Capacity Building Project. One of the most substantial operations in recent years, the project financed investments in 23 small towns with populations ranging from 9,000 to 70,000 people. The bulk was spent on rehabilitation and construction of basic service infrastructure, most of it on water supply and sanitation systems.

Results are impressive. For example, in Naryn, the water supply is consistent and almost uninterrupted. That is a vast improvement from before, when only a quarter of residents had a regular water supply.

Open Quotes

Results are measured not just by the number of pipes replaced and construction works done by sub-contractors. You should see the happiness in the eyes of the people who got clean drinking water. Close Quotes

Elmira Ibraimova
Executive Director, ARIS project implementing agency

For the towns that chose to improve their water supply services, on average the number of households with regular access to potable water nearly doubled--from 40.8% to 77.6%. Also, the number of households hauling drinking water from a river or stream declined by 15 %, reducing the risk of water-borne diseases, especially among children.

Elmira Ibraimova, Executive Director of ARIS, the project’s implementing agency, said people’s trust in donor organizations increased, as did their belief that their local governments cared about their needs.

"Results are measured not just by the number of pipes replaced and construction works done by sub-contractors. You should see the happiness in the eyes of the people who got clean drinking water," Ibraimova said.

Equipment was delivered to improve solid waste management in 22 towns, and sewers repaired in five. The project also helped to improve the efficiency of local governments and the financial sustainability of institutions responsible for public services. The introduction of a billing system for municipal enterprises increased collection of payments for water from 35% to 85%.

Public facilities also needed upgrading. Communities applied for and received small grants to fix cultural and recreation centers, sports clubs, swimming pools, and daycares for children. These investments are appreciated by the local population. Participating municipalities were required to finance 3% of the investment, and in many instances they exceeded that figure, and citizens contributed directly.

Natalya Korotkova, from the small town of Shopokov, said the mood of people has started improving. "We no longer look for opportunities to leave for the capital city. We make plans for a future in our home town."

Overall, investments and technical assistance financed under the project have had a positive impact on the lives of over 600,000 people in the Kyrgyz Republic.