Identified, prioritised and selected by the local community, key infrastructure projects – such as water systems and schools – have been under construction in Khorog, the largest town in Eastern Tajikistan, since October of last year thanks to an EU-funded grant.
AKF, in partnership with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDPSP) and the Government of Tajikistan, has been working alongside communities in a series of building projects designed to help stimulate the local economy and create jobs in the face of an economic downturn and the global pandemic.
Eastern Tajikistan, with its mountainous landscape and vulnerability to natural hazards, is home to some of the most marginalised communities in Central Asia. The need for critical infrastructure as well opportunities to improve socio-economic conditions are essential and in high demand. Determining what this infrastructure would be has been a matter of continual consultation between communities and the implementing partners involved. Local people having a say in the development of these facilities is essential to ensure that the work meets local needs and is sustainable.
The projects selected by locals in Khorog include both educational and leisure facilities for improving the quality of life – a school, a sports stadium and several playgrounds – as well as more critical infrastructure, like a water supply system and riverbank stabilisation measures. Manzura Bakhdavlatova, AKAH’s Project Manager, commented: “We knew that for it to truly have value for the communities, it needed to have their input from the very start, and what we are witnessing now through the community’s control over the construction work and its quality, is that sense of ownership of these projects.”
The projects also enjoy local and regional government support with much progress being made even during the pandemic. Yodgor Fayzov, Governor of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), recently visited the construction sites remarking, “these projects will greatly improve the wellbeing of residents across Khorog town.”
“The construction team and the workers are learning from each other, and there is a real exchange of experience and skills which is amazing.”
Key stakeholders are regularly engaged in the projects including through site selection, facility design, and continual feedback and consultation. Their commitment is palpable. While the pandemic has brought new challenges to the work, around 150 community members involved in the construction chose to “Stay and Deliver”, under strict precautionary measures, to ensure these projects were completed.
Muyassar Mamadov, head of a Mahalla (community) Committee in one of the districts where a playground is being constructed, emphasised how much this project has lifted community spirits during the pandemic. Further, he explained the positive impact of local people being involved in the construction work: “We focused on selecting local constructions firms with a good reputation and skills to ensure these facilities would be built to a high standard. At the same time, we felt it was important to employ economically vulnerable people from the area to support them during the pandemic. I would like to thank AKAH for identifying a qualified local construction company and we are very satisfied with their work. The construction team and the workers are learning from each other, and there is a real exchange of experience and skills which is amazing.”
“My close relatives were infected with coronavirus and, with my help, they were able to purchase medication in time for their treatment. I feel very relieved to be employed during this time.”
The steady income provided to those employed by the project, including vulnerable youth, has been a lifeline during the pandemic and the economic downturn it has brought. Dovar Soqibekov, a project worker told us: “My close relatives were infected with coronavirus and with my help, they were able to purchase medication in time for their treatment. I feel very relieved to be employed during this time. It is a great support during the economic crisis and to the most economically vulnerable groups of people, like labourers who do not have a steady income.”
Construction at the sites has continued, despite COVID-19, but with strict precautions and safety measures in place
Of the nine total projects underway, Kholiknazarov Okhirnazar, a local government representative, is particularly pleased about a new playground and modern sport facilities telling us, “[the playground] will enable youth and children in our neighbourhood to spend their free time actively and safely. It will provide a space where we can gather, giving us a sense of real connection and belonging.” Excited by these changes, some in the local community are even volunteering their time to help accelerate construction.
Manzura Bakhdavlatova, AKAH’s Project Manager, remarked further on the true nature of the programme’s achievement – one that is beyond the physical infrastructure itself: “The accomplishment for us is not only in completing the project, but rather the sense of ownership, community spirit and involvement, and stewardship that we have seen coming out of this process … (and) the way the government and civil society are working together.” Even during these trying times, these projects demonstrate how how institutions, communities, and individuals can come together to create hope and optimism for the future.
This assistance forms part of various other efforts of AKF and its sister agencies, AKAH and MSDSP, and partners including the EU, are providing as a crucial support to the Government of Tajikistan. The facilities that people need to live better quality lives in GBAO are a key element of the network’s longstanding mission in Tajikistan.
The 1,800,000 EUR project is funded by the European Union. Implemented over the period of 18 months, the project aims at fostering peace and stability in Khorog Town by improving highly-demanded public infrastructure and services, strengthening confidence in local authorities, and generating temporary employment opportunities through construction work.