Kyrgyzstan: A new bridge and a safer future

29 Apr 2013

10 April 2013, Taldyk, Kyrgyzstan: A man fishes by the new bridge built by UNDP, WFP, local authorities and community members. Cars can now cross over the river, and people no longer fear being cut off by the Spring floods. Credit: OCHA/Z. Nurmukhambetova
Preparedness and coordination build resilience along Kyrgyzstan’s flood-prone rivers.

Every spring, melting snow causes rivers across Kyrgyzstan to break their banks, flooding crops, orchards and homes. More than 3,000 rivers throughout the country pose a serious risk to people living along their banks.

The village of Taldyk sits next to the Mashrap-Say River in the south of Kyrgyzstan. It is home to 3,562 people. Taldyk’s only connection to the rest of the country – to markets, schools and healthcare – was across a decades-old wooden bridge spanning the river. Spring floods often cut off the village and damaged property and crops.

In 2011, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kyrgyzstan, working alongside the local authorities, began a process of helping over 100 villages like Taldyk to protect themselves against recurrent disasters. UNDP, the local authorities and the residents of the village agreed that the immediate priorities were to build a new bridge, and to strengthen and raise the river banks.

A stronger bridge and sturdier shores would allow easier and more consistent access to essential healthcare for those villagers living with disabilities, for pregnant women, and for people in need of medical attention. In addition, 200 schoolchildren would no longer risk their lives on the way to school every day. The villagers welcomed the initiative enthusiastically.

“We provided all the tools we had to speed up the works,” explained one village elder. “Our own men built the bridge and every family contributed money (about $21) to the construction work. The World Food Programme (WFP) ran a Food For Work scheme for the most vulnerable villagers.

Almas, a 38-year-old father of four, took part in the construction of the bridge and reinforcement of the banks. “The river is unruly in this area,” he says. “I lost my crops and apple orchard to it.” Almas says the flour and vegetable oil he received for his work helped his family as he re-established his crops.

“Projects like these are possible thanks to joint efforts of so many people,” explains Mira Subankulova, UNDP’s Programme Manager in the provincial capital, Osh. “The June 2010 civil unrest in Kyrgyzstan reinforced the message to humanitarian organizations that more can be achieved when we work together.”

Three years ago, more than 100 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in an eruption of violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic groups in southern Kyrgyzstan. OCHA was called upon to coordinate the work of over 90 UN Agencies and humanitarian partners. Cooperation between the affected population, local authorities and humanitarian actors was key to helping people resume their normal lives.

OCHA continues to be actively involved in preparedness efforts, and in response to smaller-scale disasters through the local Disaster Response Coordination Unit, which is the leading inter-agency platform for key emergency responders in Kyrgyzstan, including the Government.

“It is great to know that the work we all did in 2010 inspired our partners to continue to work together to help people and make them more resilient in the face of the many natural hazards that can disrupt their lives,” says Marcel Vaessen, the Head of OCHA’s Regional Office for the Caucasus and Central Asia.

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