Bringing potable water and better sanitation to rural communities in Uzbekistan improves people's lives and empowers women to take charge of their lives.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Uzbekistan experienced severe financial and institutional constraints resulting in the deterioration of much of its basic infrastructure services. At that time, 70% of Uzbekistan's rural communities had access to piped drinking water. By 2005, water supply had progressively declined, with two of the poorest provinces, Novoi and Kashkadarya, having only 30% coverage. Sanitation facilities were also inadequate.
"This project released the women from the servitude of fetching water. Due to taps being connected to houses, sanitation has improved significantly. This, in turn, improved the health conditions of women in the project areas."
- Liping Zheng, ADB project officer
Budget constraints, institutional capacity and limited skills prevented the repair of aging facilities or the building of new ones. They also limited the efficient operation of existing infrastructure.
Women, and sometimes children, traveled long distances to fetch water from contaminated sources or purchased bottled water in the market. Unclean drinking water and poor sanitation resulted in illness through water-borne diseases, which in turn led to people taking time off from work or school, increased care burden for women and extra medical expenses for families that could ill afford it.
"Some women fetched water from streams 4 to 5 kilometers away from their houses," says ADB's project officer Liping Zheng.
Thanks to the ADB-supported rural water supply and sanitation sector project, things have changed in the country's Kashkadarya and Novoi provinces. Time saved from water collection and caring for the sick can now be utilized for income-generating activities, meeting community responsibilities and leisure, while children too have more time for study and play.
"This project released the women from the servitude of fetching water. Due to taps being connected to houses, sanitation has improved significantly. This, in turn, improved the health conditions of women in the project areas," says Mr. Zheng.
The project also strengthened institutional capacity. Chlorination facilities were constructed to ensure clean, safe drinking water. Wastewater drainage facilities were built in many villages; latrines and septic tanks installed in schools and homes resulted in reduced waterborne diseases in 7 districts in Novoi and 12 districts in Kashkadarya provinces. Despite the introduction of water tariffs, poor families have reduced costs and increased savings from fewer work days lost, lower medical bills, transport and storage costs.
The provision of infrastructure was complemented by health and hygiene awareness programs to maximize health benefits. Good hygiene practices were promoted through posters in schools and public areas in villages showing the close links between water, sanitation, hygiene, and health. The messages were reinforced through training workshops attended by both men and women.
The rural water supply and sanitation sector project also addressed one of the issues negatively affecting development in the region: that of women's absence from the planning and running of community services. This was done in two steps. First, key staff of implementing agencies were provided gender sensitization seminars, while training was provided to women health workers and school teachers involved with hygiene education.
Second, Drinking Water Consumers Unions (DWCUs) were established to encourage community participation and empower villagers to make decisions about water supply, sanitation, and hygiene education schemes that affect their lives. Village women in the project areas were trained in planning, decision making and financial management.
The extensive training program helped women to develop skills for water quality monitoring, ensure the safety of those who operate the chlorination facilities and set tariffs and manage accounts for water supply services. In total, 47% of the trainees under the project were women. Among other things, women developed skills as bacteriologists, billing service inspectors, accountants, financial analysts, and pump station engineers. At the end of the project, women held 56% of the management positions in the DWCUs.
In poor rural areas of Uzbekistan, the project delivered clean water and improved sanitation facilities, better understanding of health and hygiene and technical training for women in water supply planning, operation and maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it has helped empower women to take better charge of their lives.