Road Out of Poverty

Improvements to a key road artery in Tajikistan bring a host of benefits to impoverished communities: better access to schools, hospitals, and markets.

Khatlon—Thirteen-year old Farzona Satorova used to dread the short walk from home to her nearby school, especially in winter when she would sometimes arrive with her clothes and books covered in thick, sticky mud.

"It was very difficult to come to school," the sixth-grade student said, recalling that she often lost her balance in the quagmire churned up by rain and snow on the dirt road.

Things were little better in summer when Farzona and more than 600 of her schoolmates at Secondary School No. 23 in Khatlon province had to brave dust, sandstorms, and temperatures that typically reach 40 degrees Celsius or more. The province has a poverty incidence rate of 91%.

Exasperated by the trying conditions her students had to endure, school headmistress Amonova Saida approached a group of ADB executive directors visiting a neighboring town in 2005. They were monitoring a road project.

"I showed them the poor road condition to our school," she said. "I told them that students were coming to school very late and very dirty."

As a result of her initiative, ADB decided to include the 333-meter-long road in its Dushanbe-Kurgan-Tyube-Dangara-Kulyab Road Rehabilitation project, which began in 2001 and had paved over 90 kilometers of roads by the time it ended in 2006.

The project also rehabilitated five major sections of the highway linking Dushanbe—the capital city of Tajikistan—and Kurgan-Tyube and Kulyab cities, covering a total of 120 kilometers. This highway, built during the Soviet era and running through the country's main wheat and cotton producing areas, was devastated by civil war and had not been restored for more than 20 years.

"Prior to the rehabilitation, we received a lot of complaints about loss of time on the road," said Hakimov Nizom, Executive Director for Road Rehabilitation in the Project Implementation Unit. Before the work, travel time on the 100-kilometer Dushanbe-Kurgan Tyube section used to take two and a half hours; now it can be covered in just an hour.

Access to Medical Care Improved

The road improvements have also been a blessing for those seeking treatment from the government-owned medical center just outside Khurasan district.

"We used to see only a handful of patients each day. Now, around 40 to 50 patients come in everyday, and the number is increasing," said Dr. Mirzoev Orif.

One beneficiary is 25-year old Parvina Shukurova who came in for a post-treatment consultation on her inflamed tonsils, something she says she would not have done if the road was not good, even though she lives just two kilometers away from the center.

It is also good news for pregnant women, with some in the past forced to give birth at home because the poor road conditions made it difficult to get to hospital in time.

According to a 2006 survey, commissioned by the Ministry of Transport, 90% of respondents said that as a result of the rehabilitation work it took them less than half an hour to get to the closest health facilities, up sharply from 50% in an earlier survey in 2002.

The improvements have also lowered fuel costs for transporting medical supplies and boosted market access for agricultural goods, something that farmer and livestock breeder Aitov Mahmodmurod, who lives by the main road in Khurasan District, is grateful for.

"It now takes less time for us to go to the market," said the 53-year-old Mahmodmurod, who sells wheat and goats in the town market.

He noted that his income has improved as more people flock to the market to buy farm products and he has been able to buy a car and extend his one-storey mud hut from four rooms to six to accommodate his growing family.

Transport Volumes Increased

According to a Ministry of Transport study, freight transportation volume on the main highway reached 55.1 million tons in the first nine months of 2006, up sharply from around 28 million tons for the whole of 2000. Freight fares meanwhile have decreased by nearly 20% from 2002 to 2005 due to the faster flow of goods and improved quality when arriving at their destination.

Another study by the Ministry showed that overall traffic volume on the main road doubled between 2002 and 2005, rising between 8.5% and 24.9% annually, depending on the rehabilitated section. Traffic on rural roads has also increased.

As a result some residents living near the highway have set up roadside stalls selling petrol, fruit, vegetables, soft drinks, and bottled water to serve the growing number of drivers, some from as far away as Afghanistan. The 2006 study also shows that the number of small businesses along the route increased by at least 20% in just one year.

One vendor, 45-year old C. Solehov said he and his family have been able to take advantage of the increased traffic to sell baskets of pomegranates in order to supplement their income that comes mainly from cotton.

For Mr. Mahmodmurod, who has struggled to make a living as a marginal farmer, the road improvements promise a better quality of life for him and his family, especially his two grandchildren, now aged 3 and 4.

"My wish is that we can send our grandchildren to university someday," he said, noting that they would be the first in the family to do so.