In the Kyrgyz Republic: A New Road Ties Trade and Towns Together
June 20, 2013
The World Bank Communications Team in the Kyrgyz Republic offers this story.
Fast, efficient roads bring people, produce and even fresh ideas from region to region, from country to country. In a stretch of the southwestern Kyrgyz Republic, even the construction work on a refurbished road is generating new opportunities and a sense of optimism.
Arsen Minbaev, for example, has opened a gasoline station simply in the expectation that a newly refurbished road will bring business his way. This is an isolated corner of the country, and nowadays, about 5,000 cars and trucks a day use the road, but Minbaev believes that number is sure to increase.
Linking 18% of the Population
Refurbishing this highway is of crucial importance to the 18% of the Kyrgyz population who depend on it. Many of those living near the road are among the poorest in the country. For just over 350 kilometers, the road winds its way through the Ferghana Valley, linking small villages and towns with Osh, the second largest city in the country. The road, called the Osh-Batken-Isfana highway, is one of the country’s six strategic road corridors. But it was in terrible shape.
Fixing the road is a Kyrgyz government priority. The new road, built with support from the World Bank, allows trucks to carry produce from the fertile south to northern markets. Shorter stretches mean patients can get safely to hospitals and children to school.
In hot months, the rutted and jarring old road sent clouds of harmful dust over nearby villages. In the winter, cars and ambulances got stuck in the mud. The new road cleared the dust and nowadays patients can get care on the way to the hospital, instead of simply trying to survive the ride. "Today roads are in better condition, in the past they were not like this and during a bumpy drive you could puncture veins. But not anymore," says Rasul Samidinov, an ambulance medical assistant.
"There is so much hope for this road construction," says Minbaev. "Farmers will be able to take their produce to market quickly and under better conditions. Health clinics and hospitals will come closer."
After completion of the reconstruction, we can easily get to Kadamjai in 25-30 minutes along a smooth road, while in the past it took as long as one and half hours.
Time is Money
Imamadin Bekenov, a local entrepreneur, thinks the new road will revitalize the area. "Our links with urban areas will be improved. Investments, from here or from outside, will finally pour in, transport flow will increase. This means more people will come and go and more services will be required. Residents of Bishkek will no longer have shockingly high prices for our Batken apricots in their markets."
The improved road is already knitting the people of this region more tightly together. Muradzhan Ikramov serves as the deputy head of the Alga Village Administration. "After completion of the reconstruction, we can easily get to Kadamjai in 25-30 minutes along a smooth road, while in the past it took as long as one and half hours."
Abdimat Aimiraev says the road is a boon for his business in the Batken city market. "In the past," he says, "it took two days to transport stock from Bishkek, but now they deliver it in one day." And Abdilamit Azizov, a truck driver, agrees that the pace of life has picked up. "In the past it took me four hours to get to Batken. Yesterday I got to Batken from Khalmion in an hour and ten minutes."
In addition to the faster exchange of goods and people, the road is also creating a new local economy. The construction brings jobs to about 250 local people, like Anvarjan Abdurakhmanov, who does anything, from street cleaning to pothole repair. "I agreed to take this job immediately when it was offered to me. I am the only one employed in my family, and my earnings will allow us to have a decent life for the next few months."
Along with job opportunities, gas stations, coffee shops and small markets are growing with the increased traffic. "It seems that this road has become a kind of Silk Road," says Gulamzhan Mamasalieva, who started a roadside coffee shop. "Since the start of the road reconstruction, people have started their own businesses."
In the past, it took two days to transport stock from Bishkek, but now they deliver it in one day.
Local Jobs Mean Revitalization
"Fewer people will leave the region, more will come back, as life starts to show signs of development," agrees Berdigul Pataev, an excavator working on the new road. "When construction comes closer to villages, at least 20 young people from each community are employed. This is the most critical issue. This year, at least, they will not leave their families for seasonal work."
And the jobs are open to everybody, regardless of gender or ethnicity. "Local residents work side by side, ethnic origin does not play any role here," explains Nizamiddin Akbaraliev, who works to promote social equality. "These works and interactions can eliminate mistrust and prejudices."
It seems that this road has become a kind of Silk Road. Since the start of the road reconstruction, people have started their own businesses.
Keeping Drivers and Pedestrians Alive
Another key part of the road reconstruction effort is safety, for both drivers and pedestrians. The Kyrgyz government plans to create a national road safety strategy. So far, simply paving the road and clearing the dust has improved visibility and, therefore, safety. People living along the road agree, though, that driver education is important. Drivers breaking traffic laws or in dangerously dilapidated cars caused 90 percent of traffic accidents between 2006 and 2009. This emphasis on road safety comes at a time when governments, international agencies, civil society organizations and private companies from more than 100 countries are launching the Decade of Action for Road Safety, with the goal of saving five million lives between now and 2020.
But the very existence of a smooth, streamlined and efficient highway cutting through the Kyrgyz Republic is only the beginning. Ultimately, the government hopes, this road will be a link, a central Asian trade route between the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan next door.