Water safety project: success stories in Tajikistan

WHO/Tahmina Alimamedova

Rural people show the result of their construction work near the Panjakent reservoir. Other improvements built by the community include fencing, ventilation pipes and a new chlorinator room

Achieving a sustainable and safe water supply has been an ongoing challenge in Tajikistan. To help respond to this problem, WHO launched a special water safety project in 2011, with two pilot sites in Panjakent and Hamadoni districts of Tajikistan. The project is being implemented with financial support from the German Environment Ministry (BMU) as part of the broader WHO/BMU seven-country initiative "Protecting health from climate change".

Water supply in Tajikistan

Despite the country's abundance of freshwater resources, insufficient attention has been paid in Tajikistan to ensuring the population's access to safe drinking-water, particularly in the rural areas. Most people living in remote villages and isolated settlements have to walk several hours to reach the nearest springs, making it very difficult to provide them with sufficient and safe water. Many of these families live in poverty and have very low living standards. 

Lack of a sufficient volume of safe water and transmission of waterborne diseases endangers the lives of people living in some of these rural communities.

Water safety project engages community in Panjakent district

At present, 22 water supply systems provide the population of Panjakent district with drinking-water. Ten combined systems ensure intake from groundwater and springs and 12 withdraw from open water sources. Only 75.4% of the region's population has access to safe water, 11.4% draws drinking-water from springs for domestic needs, 5.2% uses river water and 5.0% uses water from canals and ditches. (Source: State Sanitary Epidemiological Surveillance Service of the Panjakent District and of Dushanbe city). 

Navobod is a small village of 4581 inhabitants located in Panjakent district. A pipe for running water was built here in the period 1980–1989 to extract water from an underground source. Four available wells are out of service and in need of rehabilitation. Over the last decade, water withdrawals were made from a drained fountain, located more than 2 km from the village. In the summer when water production decreases and the population's demand for water increases, water intake has come directly from the river. This increases the risk of transmission of waterborne diseases, because the quality of untreated water coming from the rivers, ponds and springs is deteriorating with increasing contamination and pollution of the groundwater.

Implementation of a local water safety plan 

To reduce this risk, experts recommended that a chlorinator room be built and that the water be disinfected before being used by the population. 

These recommendations were incorporated in a local water safety plan (WSP) developed with WHO support. The community has established a multidisciplinary committee to help implement this plan, and to tackle the losses, shortages and other problems related to the water system in the area. 

Within the scope of the project, a WSP workshop was conducted in March 2011 for a group of local community leaders from Navobod village. Participants learned how to maintain the water supply system, how to apply key principles of water safety plans, and how to develop and implement them in small-scale water supply areas. In addition to gaining skills in this field, the participants were provided the opportunity to exchange visions, ideas and experiences. They also voluntarily organized a special Water Team Association, consisting of local representatives, including teachers, doctors, plumbers and community and religious leaders. 

Several participants at the workshop expressed their enthusiasm and support for the goals of the project: "As Director of the Water Team Association "Zairun" in Navobod village, I am very happy to have enough water for my family and for my entire neighbourhood. It is very important that we are protected from waterborne diseases. Having gained key knowledge at the workshop, I understand that I can apply this in practice and this gives me an opportunity to move forward and see that the results can be achieved," said Mr Fahriddin Boboev. 

Dr Temirov Amriddin, Doctor-in-Chief of the State Sanitary Epidemiological Surveillance Service (SSESS) of Panjakent, added: "We recognize the importance of the functioning of the water safety plan on a long-term basis to develop better health for every family living in Navobod village, reduce waterborne diseases, as well as incorporate the practices of WHO for overall development of the health system." 

Emonkulova Surayo, a housewife living in Hojagii dehkoni, Navobod village, concluded: "I want to thank very much all those involved in this process, because now I have enough water in my house for irrigation, cooking, cleaning and other household activities. Before, it was very difficult for everyone living on our street. I will also make all necessary efforts as a resident of the community village of Navobod to keep the progress ongoing and to achieve productive results." 

Water shortages no longer threaten the population of Qaragoch village, Hamadoni district

59.1% of the population in Hamadoni district has access to centralized sources of drinking-water, 2% of the population uses spring water, and 37% is forced to use water from open sources that are epidemiological hazards.  (Source: SSESS of Hamadoni district and of Dushanbe city). 

The population of Qaragoch village draws drinking-water from three springs, located at the foot of the mountains at a distance of 300 to 1000 metres from the village. Prior to the selection of these springs as a pilot site, the capping of springs was of poor quality, there were no barriers and the springs were accessible to persons and animals. Consequently there was a high risk of the spread of disease to the population, exacerbated by a low water production rate and a lack of containers for safe collection and supply of water, especially during the summer. 

In some places near Qaragoch village water sources are beginning to dry up, creating an additional challenge for hard-to-reach populations. Engineering skills and experience are also lacking within the community.

Impact of community involvement and individual commitment

Thanks to the water safety project, the capping of springs has been improved, a 20 m3 storage tank has been built and significant gains have been made by community members in increasing the volume of safe drinking-water provided. To ensure sustainability of the project, active members of the community organized an initiative group for future management of the water supply system.

"We realize that a WSP is something that we have to implement. This is our responsibility, and if we want to achieve the results, we must take action and the necessary steps! We provide our technical support to the community and our community provides their free labour for the services. If we want to change something in our village and see the results, we have to change firstly ourselves," explains Dr Makhmudov Olim, Doctor-in-Chief of SSESS of Hamadoni district).   

Dr Temirov Saidikrom, community leader of the WSP team of Qaragoch village: "Life in the remote mountains and hard-to-reach places is becoming difficult to sustain; especially the access to safe drinking-water is a major problem. We are trying to involve the community in our actions and mobilize our resources to implement the water safety plan. I am happy that we have this project and I think this is the only way to ensure that our neighborhood can have clean water." 

"It has not been difficult to get to know about the WSP. It is very useful for all of us, and it makes us feel really good that we are protecting our health and living in a different way!" says Mr Nabotov Saidamir, head of the local community of Qaragoch village. 

The discipline and duties required of all WSP team members represent a huge commitment and something that many people would decline to do, but Dr Temirov believes "This is our duty and serious responsibility; even it is difficult for all of us." 

Besides the activities carried out by the established WSP team, the rural population is also taking an active part in implementing the WSP. They realize the importance of protecting their health to ensure a better life. 

WHO guidelines

The development of water safety plans by water utilities is one of the recommendations of the latest WHO drinking-water quality guidelines. Incorporating lessons learned in Tajikistan and other countries, the water safety project will continue to develop water safety plans on a long-term basis.