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In Uzbekistan: New Water Systems for Two Ancient Cities

Bukhara and Samarkand Water Supply Project

August 6, 2013

Map: Projects in Uzbekistan

Bukhara is an ancient stop on the Silk Road, a center of trade, culture, and learning. Though the city’s infrastructure is not as old as the minarets and madrassas of the center city, it is a decades-old legacy of the Soviet Union and it is falling into disrepair.

The deterioration in the delivery of basic municipal services has big implications for city residents. Both Bukhara and Samarkand faced serious public health risks because of the decrepit water supply system. And the cost, for average water users, of the ineffectual and not always-safe water supply, was high.

From 2002 to 2010, with support from the World Bank, Bukhara and Samarkand have improved and updated their water systems. The improvements are aimed at protecting public health, streamlining water costs, and raising living standards.

Open Quotes

Tourists in other countries may use water, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In Bukhara, water was a big problem, although it is clear that the water for the touristic center is especially important. The more visitors, the more employment, more trade and more developed services. The tourism business needs a constant water supply. These days, a steady supply of services like waste water and electricity is the best advertisement for Bukhara, and tourism is climbing, steadily, by about 5 percent a year. Close Quotes

Kamil Niyazov

Kamil Niyazov
Owner of Omar Khayyam hotel, Bukhara

Clean Water Means Money

Niyazov Kamil owns Bukhara’s Omar Khayyam hotel. He says a new water system is crucial to bringing tourists – and their money – to the historic center city.  “As long as I can remember, there has always been a problem with the water supply,” he says. “The pipes were laid a long time ago, and there are a lot of ancient monuments around, there was always a lack of water. Water quality was another issue; I wished it had been much better.”

But that’s changed. After years of starts and stops, the population in the project areas now has access to piped water service, with noticeable improvements in water quality and constancy. Drinkable water runs from city taps 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  And people here are delighted with the change.

Because of the steady supply of water, Niyazov Kamil plans to build more rooms for his hotel. Back in 2005, when he decided to open a hotel, he thought about building expensive private tanks because the water was so bad, unreliable, and often full of sediment. It kept foreign tourists away.

“Tourists in other countries may use water, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In Bukhara, water was a big problem, although it is clear that the water for the touristic center is especially important. The more visitors, the more employment, more trade and more developed services. The tourism business needs a constant water supply,” he says.  These days, Kamil says, a steady supply of services like waste water and electricity is the best advertisement for Bukhara, and tourism is climbing, steadily, by about 5 percent a year.

Open Quotes

After the project was completed and the pipes replaced, the water has become much cleaner, sweeter, and much tastier. Now, fewer people are complaining about the causes of diseases of the stomach, or about different infectious diseases. Close Quotes

Munira Karimova

Munira Karimova
Bukhara resident

Sweet Water in a Dry Land

Many residents are especially happy with the way their water tastes now. Some used to complain of a strong salty taste to the water, which flowed through a decaying water plant and old, rusty pipes. “After the project was completed and the pipes replaced, the water has become much cleaner, sweeter, and much tastier. Now, fewer people are complaining about the causes of diseases of the stomach, or about different infectious diseases,” says Munira Hashimovna Karimova, a Bukhara resident.

In both Bukhara and Samarkand, the project replaced aging pipes and water mains, rehabilitated water intakes and treatment plants, cut down leaks, and modernized billing and collection systems.  It also aimed to get private sector involved in water supply services provision piloted under the project.  But, despite many delays and challenges, the new systems currently bring reliable, drinkable water to about half a million people.

Moving on from clean water, the World Bank has now joined Bukhara and Samarkand in improving the other side of the system – both cities are now working to upgrade their waste water treatment systems.