Obi Garm, Tajikistan—No sign indicates where a major ADB road project tapers off in Rasht district, Tajikistan. But close your eyes and it is easy to tell. Smooth concrete road abruptly gives way to jarring, rutted terrain, and vehicles heading east from the capital Dushanbe begin a 60-kilometer (km) crawl.
Drivers coming in the other direction have endured a long, sandy potholed stretch of road. On arriving at level asphalt, they stop at an impromptu car wash to throw buckets of brackish water over their dirt-encrusted vehicles.
This bumpy transition from concrete to dust can be found in the village of Obi Garm, some 95 km east of Dushanbe. It marks the juncture between two phases of a major ADB road rehabilitation scheme that will connect the capital with the Kyrgyz border some 340 km to the northeast.
Upon completion, the Dushanbe-Kyrgyz border road will have benefited from three ADB investments totaling about $118 million. Work on the initial phase - from Dushanbe to Obi Garm - began in 2003 and was completed in 2008. Work on the second phase, which includes the 45 km heading east from Obi Garm, is scheduled to begin in mid-2010. Work on the third phase - the rehabilitation of the final 120 km stretch leading to the border - began in 2008 and is scheduled to finish in 2013. Targeting a region with a poverty incidence estimated at 90%, the ADB-funded road upgrades have had immediate impacts.
Residents of Obi Garm speak of how the upgraded road leading to Dushanbe has changed their lives. "You cannot appreciate how much the population here appreciates this road," says Safir Karimov, a village resident. "Before, people only went to Dushanbe when they had to," he said. "Now, people are willing to go all the time because they can."
Nusratullo Ishanjanov, an engineer with Tajikistan's Ministry of Transport and Communications, describes how travel time between Obi Garm and Dushanbe has been cut in half, meaning cheaper transport costs for everything from people to produce. "This is a largely agricultural region, and therefore most of the products that come from here are perishable," he said. "Improved roads help get fruits and vegetables to the market more quickly," said Ishanjanov, "and bring down the cost of doing so, as well."
When the entire road is complete, vehicles will be able to drive from Dushanbe to the Kyrgyz border in 6 to 8 hours, a jaunt compared with the 24 hours it took before ADB-financed road improvements got under way.
In the meantime, drivers traveling between Obi Garm and the Kyrgyz border will have to continue to endure dirt, dust, and delays. A few kilometers down the unpaved road, a solitary figure shovels dirt. Cars and trucks crawl by. What is he doing there? "Filling all these holes," says Said Saidov, who works for the local district authorities. "My job is to pack them, to fill them with earth."
Said's job is important. Even in its current state, the Dushanbe-Kyrgyz border road is one of the most significant trade routes in all of Central Asia, a transport link connecting landlocked Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic with the People's Republic of China and beyond.
The road—concrete and dirt sections alike—is one of six Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) transport and trade corridors that crisscross the entire region. The CAREC network links the region with the vast markets that surround it: the People's Republic of China and Japan to the east; Pakistan, India, and the Persian Gulf states to the south; Europe to the west; and the Russian Federation to the north.
"This investment perfectly showcases ADB's commitment to poverty reduction in Tajikistan and to regional cooperation in Central Asia," said Makoto Ojiro, ADB's country director for Tajikistan. "Improvement of the Dushanbe-Kyrgyz border road along with rural roads reduces Tajikistan's isolation and has remarkable direct social impact on the poor."