Five hundred and fifty years ago Leonardo da Vinci wrote that “water is the driving force of all nature.” Where it is in abundance, we often take it for granted; but where it is absent, we suffer. Nowhere is this truer than in the now dry and deserted wastelands of the Aral Sea Basin, where an innovative new initiative, launched with support from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, is setting up the critical infrastructure needed to deliver clean and potable water to every home and school in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region within Uzbekistan.
Matilda Dimovska, UNDP Resident Representative in Uzbekistan, said the infrastructure has helped ensure at least 40,000 people in the area can drink water from their taps without getting sick. “This has been particularly important during a year when we are dealing with the worse pandemic in a generation,” she said. “Contracting the coronavirus while also getting sick from drinking unsafe water only worsens the impact of both and makes people even more vulnerable.”
Ms Dimovska also mentioned the initiative, which has been focused in the Muynak, Chimbay and Bozatau districts of Karakalpakstan, has been particularly important for women and children “who often bear the financial and time costs of obtaining clean water and disinfectants needed to protect their family’s health through the pandemic.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused adverse health impacts throughout Uzbekistan – only made worse by the shortage of potable water. This has limited people’s incomes, livelihoods and quality of life, particularly in the country’s most vulnerable rural areas. The communities in Karakalpakstan, for whom the consequences of the Aral Sea disaster had already limited their standards of health and access to clean water, and their rate of businesses development, have been among those facing the most challenges.
Canada’s representative in Uzbekistan, said the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives partnered with UNDP on this intervention because it has great potential to serve as a catalyst in Karakalpakstan by helping to ensure people maintain optimal health. “The people of Karakalpakstan have the energy and the willpower to drive their own development,” he said. “All they need is a little help to ensure with the right, targeted public sector investments.” The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) provides funding for small-scale, high-impact projects like this in more than 120 countries eligible for official development assistance (ODA).
There are two primary dimensions to the intervention to provide clean and potable water in Karakalpakstan. In the first, the project has installing new infrastructure to deliver water to the most-vulnerable districts of Muynak and Chimbay, while assisting the Bozatau district in taking better advantage of its existing water access. Work in the Muynak and Chimbay districts has included boring three artesian wells and connected submersible solar water pumps, not reliant on the main power grid, based close to local schools and providing access to water for 1,202 people. In the Bozatau region, four electric water pumps were installed in four rural communities, delivering water to 546 people.
The second dimension involves the installation of new water purification and hydrolysis systems in the Muynak, Chimbay and Bozatau communities. Eight new reverse osmosis systems (ROSs) are being used to purify groundwater for drinking and household use, benefiting 1,943 local people. The project has also installed seven sets of hydrolysis units, using the brine ROS by-product to make sodium hypochlorite, a safe disinfectant highly effective against the COVID-19 virus, for the benefit of around 1,748 people.
In addition to these installations, a 3kWt solar (photovoltaic) power station was installed in the Takhtakupir district, providing 195 people with an uninterrupted source of power for previously installed water purification equipment supporting the district’s Village Council of Citizens, known as ‘Kostruba’.
Notably, making potable water, disinfectant and power all more easily available in the targeted districts can help save time and money which they can otherwise invest into develop small businesses. The strengthening of Karakalpakstan’s small business sector is seen as essential both the region’s short-term recovery from COVID-19, and its long-term transition to climate resilient agriculture and green economic development in the face of on-going difficulties posed by the consequences of the Aral Sea disaster.
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