Highway to Prosperity

Along the Bishkek-Osh road, Kyrgyz Republic—Truck driver Pavel Koniushenko knows only too well what the Bishkek-Osh road was like. For years he drove his Volvo truck across the mountains along the pitted gravel road, travelling sometimes just a few kilometers an hour.

The road was so bad, it was quite unprofitable to deliver goods from the southern part of the Kyrgyz Republic to the north of the country and into Kazakhstan and Russia. "Just imagine a gravel road going through mountains," says Koniushenko.

After almost every trip along the main north-south road in this landlocked, mountainous country he had to make repairs to his truck. "Once a year we had to do a complete overhaul of my truck which cost US$15,000. That's a lot especially when you add the price for gas," he said.

To travel along the old road you needed almost 1,000 liters of fuel to cover the 620 kilometers. Now that the road has been rehabilitated with the help of ADB, you only need 700 liters. As for repairs to his truck, Koniushenko says: "I do repairing once in 3 years now."

Before the road was rehabilitated, high transportation costs led to high prices for the products transported along it.

Vegetables and fruit from Osh in the south were twice as expensive in the northern city of Bishkek, the capital of the Kyrgyz Republic. Long delays meant that many of the goods perished along the way.

The road was so difficult and dangerous that trucks had to drive between five and ten kilometers an hour in some places and it could take up to a week for some trucks to complete the journey which now takes less than a day.

Today, an average of 120 trucks travel the road every day, according to Talatntbek Koposbaev, who checks that trucks stay within the prescribed weight limit and collects tolls to maintain the road. Koposbaev says that since the road was rehabilitated, the number of trucks using it has increased by an estimated 30 percent.

He has also seen a marked increase in the number of private cars, especially foreign cars from Tajikistan in the south and Russia in the far north, using the road, evidence that the rehabilitated Bishkek-Osh road has also assisted in promoting regional cooperation.

Goods from Osh are going not only to Bishkek, but to Kazakhstan and Russia as well. This road has opened the Kyrgyz Republic to new investment opportunities and linked it to the rest of the world.

Aleksei Karpuk brings goods from Germany via Russia and Kazakhstan. "I come here almost every month. The road is good now," says Karpuk. "It means that trade between the Kyrgyz Republic and other countries has the chance to increase."

The road coming from the southern part of the Kyrgyz Republic to the northern borders has improved opportunities for social integration within the country as well.

Saltanat, now in her 70s, remembers a time when it was difficult for southerners like her to study or work in the northern part of the country.

While her son did manage to study at a good university in Bishkek, "it was very hard for us to visit him or send him clothes or food," Saltanat says. Now, a family like Saltanat's can do the journey by road in about 10 hours.

The impacts of the road are far-reaching. According to official data, around 75 percent of the population of the Kyrgyz Republic benefits in some way from the upgraded road.