: / Central Asia and CIS

Kyrgyzstan Review, 10 years ago

[07.08.23] KYRGYZSTAN: Focus on Rising Ground-Water Levels in the South

The problem of rising ground-water levels in and around reservoirs in southern Kyrgyzstan continues to play havoc with the health and agriculture of rural people there. Lack of properly maintained drainage systems is cited as the root cause.
"This is the second house I have built here, but the wall falls down again," Haitbai Pazylov, a resident of the Kyzyl-Shark village in the southern province of Osh, told IRIN. "It is swamp now and nothing more. You can have neither garden nor orchard, everything withers on the vine," he said.
Such testimonies are hardly new. In the neighboring village of Savay in the Kara-Su District, over the past 15 years between 250 and 260 ha of arable land have become saturated, with some 250 homes rendered uninhabitable.
Local inhabitants in the area blame the massive nearby Kampyr-Ravat reservoir, which came on line in the early 1980s. "Now water has reached our toes - just dig with a shovel and there will be a puddle," one resident asserted.
According to Momunjan Israilov, the deputy head of the village council, a drainage system was built to deal with the problem, only to close up with silt, allowing the ground waters to rise again. "Nothing helps," he said.
In the Kara-Su and Uzgen districts of Kyrgyzstan, as well as the neighbouring villages of Kurgan-tepe District across the border in Uzbekistan, estimates of up to 1,000 ha of arable land have been lost, reflective of the cross-border nature of the problem.
Compounding the issue are reports of increasing health ailments as a result of the problem. Tokhtasyn Jalilov, a pensioner from Jany-Aryk village, complained of leg and back pains, as well as recurrent bouts of coughing. "Leg and breathing problems have become very common in our villages," Abdimomun Begaliev from Monol village told IRIN, adding that he had already received medical treatment twice this year at the provincial capital of Osh, only to find himself short of breath upon returning home.
Kamil Atakhanov, a local physician, confirmed that high humidity in areas of rising ground-water levels could indeed increase the risk of respiratory, vascular and rheumatic diseases. Moreover, diseases like malaria and dysentery were also typical of such places. "Swamps provide an optimal habitat for the propagation of malaria mosquitoes and various bacteria," he told IRIN. Moreover, the traditional diet of local people was also changing as the land was no longer capable of producing what it once did in plenty, he added.
Further south, in Kara-Bak village of neighboring Batken Province, some 300 ha of land are no longer usable due to water saturation. Ground waters began emerging after the drainage system - built 20 years ago during the Soviet era - broke down and stopped operating. To mitigate the problem, village dwellers have dug deep irrigation ditches and trenches to drain the water, an option which could prove hazardous to children in the area.
But some residents have accepted the difficult problem they face by buying rubber shoes and breeding poultry capable of living in marshy areas. "Where can I go? My fathers are buried here," 70-year-old Ashim Chotonov, living close to the Kampyr-Ravat reservoir, sighed as he coughed intermittently. "Water even disturbs those who have passed away, washing their graves away during high waters."
According to the Ministry of Ecology and Emergency Situations, there has been a noticeable rise in ground-water levels in the area, rendering thousands of once arable land unusable. "The soil structure is worsening," one scientist at the Osh Technical University told IRIN, citing destruction of topsoil, as well as extinction of flora and agricultural crops once found in the area. He estimated upwards of 185 settlements within the affected area were being impacted.
Biymyrza Toktoraliev, an ecology professor and member of the [Kyrgyz] National Academy of Sciences, maintained that building contractors had failed to properly forecast the implications of constructing such huge artificial reservoirs, as well as the parallel neglect of irrigation norms and drainage systems management.
Meanwhile, agriculture experts remain concerned over the rapid decrease of sown areas because of the phenomenon. According to the Osh provincial authorities, there is about 1 million ha of arable land, of which only 12 percent is being irrigated, and even this small proportion is decreasing. The rise of ground waters could bring about substantial economic losses, provincial officials warned.
In tackling the issue, a local NGO, the Youth Ecology League, favors a comprehensive approach. "Comprehensive hydrological and land-improvement works are necessary, which should be conducted systematically," NGO activists told IRIN. They also said that one-time actions could provide only short-term relief, underlining that all the activities should be carried out on a scientific basis. One option on the agenda was the cultivation of water-thirsty trees to "heal" the ailing lands.
According to Toktoraliev, the dimensions of the ecological problem are huge and of a trans-border type. "It is necessary to develop intergovernmental agreements and work out the issues of financing a number of urgent measures," the scientist said.
"If we don't act now, the dimensions of the ecological trouble can double or even triple in the near future," Alisher Satybaldiev, an experienced water specialist, warned.
Asked to comment on the situation, Adilet Abdibekov, the coordinator for environment programs at the UN's Development Program (UNDP), told IRIN from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, that he had called on the environmental and agricultural agencies, as well as social affairs services, to tackle the problem on a comprehensive basis, noting that the increase of ground waters was exacerbating poverty in rural communities.
According to the UN official, some local people themselves lacked interest in addressing the problem and reducing its negative effects. Not only that, but farmers in the Ferghana valley were expanding cultivation of water-resistant crops like rice, despite the warnings of environmental bodies. Abdipekov said the government should be aware of the situation and step in, noting that UNDP was developing projects to tackle the issue.
IRINnews, August 07, 2003

More on the issue: