Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan: Border Residents Manage 'Mad' River
December 2005

ONE 'MAD' RIVER — PROBLEM OF TWO COUNTRIES The name Tentek-say — which translates as 'playful' or 'mad' river — says it all: It is unpredictable and a management nightmare. Complicating its management is a political boundary which criss-crosses two countries. The boundary separating Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan runs through the village of Chek-two-thirds of the settlement lies in the Nooken district of Kyrgyzstan and the remaining one-third is in Pahta-Abad district of Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has reinforced the right bank in its part of the border but the entire village of 4,500 people is prone to floods because the river does not have embankments in upstream Kyrgyz territory. The floods last year and early this year washed away the Kyrgyz part of the river bank submerging about 100 hectares of land downstream. Another 10 hectares were washed out in spring this year.

An estimate by Kyrgyz experts in 2003 said it could take almost US$ 31,000 to reinforce 100 meters of the Tenteksay. However, not having the money, the work was left undone. The estimate for reconstruction now is US$1.1 million. "It is a lot of money and because the government cannot help we are asking donors to come forward," says Jolchu Kolbayev, the head of Nooken regional water office in JalalAbad. "There is no point building reinforcements only in some sections because the river will wash it away again. We need money for reinforcing the entire 3.5 kilometers." Bank-overflow upstream in the Kyrgyz side of the border affects the downstream Uzbek fields and settlements. During the spring floods in Kyrgyzstan, even the Uzbek side had to declare an emergency and gear up for damagecontrol. Last year Uzbekistan even offered US$200,000 to Kyrgyzstan for reinforcing the right bank of the Tentek-say after the head of the Phata-Abad district Shukurrullo Sattarov requested funds from his water management ministry. But lack of funds for the whole project, again, prevented this work from being done. LOCALS MAKING DECISIONS TO SAVE LIFE AND PROPERTY Kyrgyz officials in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, created another hassle by not issuing visas to Uzbek workers after the political turmoil in March that resulted with a change in government in July. The locals, however, overcame the problem by facilitating bordercrossings without waiting for Bishkek to decide. "It was a fine example of locals and local officials from the two countries working to resolve the common problem rather than wait for the centre to act," says Aynura Balahunoba, who heads a Swiss-supported peacemaking project working with communities on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek frontier.

QUICK SOLUTIONS STILL NEED GOVERNMENT AID In an effort to bypass bureaucratic red-tape, local Kyrgyz and Uzbek authorities and the community are now trying to manage the border-rivers by supporting local water user groups. And there are early signs that the idea works. "The water user associations reinforced waterways in three districts this year," says Rahman Masalbekov, a coordinator of Swiss-supported project working with the Associations of Water Users (AWUs) in Jalal-Abad province and Kyrgyzstan. "Banks of rivers like Tentek-say need to be reinforced but we don't have the enough money to fund such projects, especially those across the border," Masalbekov said. One perennial headache is the unpredictable and intermittent Tentek-say. Being a minor river, getting necessary funds for reinforcing it is not a national priority, and the community does not have the money to pay for its upkeep. Until a few years ago, only about 800 meters of the river bank in Kyrgyz Republic was considered "dangerous". But the floods early this year have made about 3.5 kilometers of riverbank vulnerable to washout.

In April 2004, more then 1,000 workers and engineers crossed over to the Kyrgyz side and began rehabilitating 800 meters of riverbank. "The solution is only temporary because we need to reinforce the entire 3.5 kilometers to prevent overflow," says Jolchu Kolbayev, who heads the Nooken regional water office in Jalal-Abad province. The state government gave the Nooken regional water office US$20,000 in October for the Tentek-say bank repairs, which Kolbayev says, was simply not enough. ONE WATER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM FOR ALL Before the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, the two sides of Chek had an integrated irrigation canal, which, like the river is now was divided between two nations. Now there are clear lessons on what works and what does not. "It is possible to divide the land and create a political boundary but it is impossible to divide waterways and the related problems," says Alim Abdillajanov, a resident of the Kyrgyz-Chek village. "We may be two countries, but we need to revive the old water management system to resolve our problems."

_______________________________ Based on the article of Egamberdy Kabulov, Asia Water Wire journalist The views expressed in this article are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with ADB official terms. *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in December 2005: http://www.adb.org/water/actions/KGZ/mad-river.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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