Kyrgyzstan: promoting peace by improving access to water


The canal, which was completed in 2013, is already making a difference in the lives of many farmers in the area. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Today, Kyrgyzstan is a relatively peaceful country, but this has not always been the case. As recently as 2010, political turmoil and simmering ethnic tension between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities erupted into widespread violence, leaving more than 400 people dead, almost 2,000 injured and displacing more than 80,000 people from their homes.

Highlights

  • A UNDP project is helping to ease tensions among ethnic communities in Kyrgyzstan while providing access to water.
  • The programme involved cleaning canals and working with communities of 10,000 members to ease the potential for conflict and violence.
  • Water loss has been reduced by 40 to 50 percent and a canal helps irrigate larger areas of land for more than 3,000 people.

Across the country, UNDP has been working to ease these tensions by supporting efforts to manage conflicts. This has included helping local peace committees to resolve issues related to the management of scarce resources.

Zhapa-Saldy and Kyzyl-Ata, in the south of Kyrgyzstan, not far from where riots broke out in 2010, are two such communities. There, cross-border and multi-ethnic tensions are nothing new, with the approximately 10,000 residents scattered among small villages being a mixture of both Uzbek and Kyrgyz farmers. In recent years, one major bone of contention has been a shortage of both land and water, and the fight for control of this scarce resource is often fought along ethnic lines.

One particular irrigation canal, which served many different villages, had become clogged with reeds and trees, which greatly reduced its flow. Over the years, tensions surrounding the use of water had escalated and the canal, like many others in the region, had become difficult to manage and maintain as a result.

To help address the issue and provide a practical solution to the conflict, UNDP bought construction material and hired locals to place a concrete cover over the canal. Not only did this prevent water from evaporating, but it also prevented trees and other vegetation from clogging the water flow. For two months in 2013, about 70 locals helped renovate the canal, receiving food in return. Today, in these two villages, water loss has been reduced by 40 to 50 percent and the canal helps irrigate larger areas of land for more than 3,000 people.

The programme encourages communities that would normally lead separate lives to work together to agree on common challenges, achieve a common goal and share resources peacefully.

"This work was a good experience to resolve common issues for residents of the Ak-Tam village district," says Mirzapar Mambetov, a UN volunteer who managed the work in the field. "This experience will help the villagers in the future to constructively negotiate and resolve problems peacefully. All of these events give us hope that all problems will be resolved peacefully."

The canal, which was completed in 2013, is already making a difference in the lives of many farmers in the area. "The water now moves faster and can irrigate much larger areas of our farmland," says Artykbaev Rahmatilla the mayor of Zhapa Saldy. "It helps us avoid disputes because of a lack of water."