Community Water Management in Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan: Strengthening the Role of Women

"Our Dream is to Have a Bath Once a Week"

Billur Gungoren is Awarded the Columbia University Willma & Albert Musher International Fellowship

The second recipient of the Willma & Albert Musher Fellowship is Billur Gungoren, a Columbia University School of Social Work PhD candidate specializing in Social Policy. The Fellowship has supported Ms. Gungoren's work in the Ferghana Valley, Kyrgyzstan. Learn More About Kyrgyzstan

Ms. Gungoren initiated and managed a project titled "Community Water Management in Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan: Strengthening the Role of Women",  in collaboration with the International Secretariat for Water (ISW). The ISW is an international NGO based in Montreal, Canada. The aim of the three-year project was to build the capacities of local civil society organizations to find creative solutions to the worsening water problem and to ensure leadership roles for women in community water schemes. This work is reported in a publication titled "Quenching the Thirst: A People's Approach to Water and Sanitation in the Ferghana Valley" which was written by Ms. Gungoren and Gabriel Regallet (Deputy Secretary General of the ISW). This report is a publication of the International Secretariat for Water with support of Netherlands Organization for International Development Cooperation (November 1999). The Fellows work is part of this International Secretariat for Water effort.

The work supported by the Fellowship has as a specific aim the building of two bathhouses in two villages in southern Kyrgyzstan. The two villages of Sary Bulak and Mangit are home to 4,000 people who live in extreme hardship. Both villages are located in the Fergana Valley that witnessed two devastating conflicts since 1990. Both villages have over a 90 percent unemployment rate and are exposed to various water-related diseases that killed many children during the last decade. Despite the difficulties they face, these proud people continue to work hard to better their lives and to ensure a better future for their children. In 1998, both villages, assisted by an international non-governmental organization, participated in a community water management program that brought them safe drinking water. Prior to this initiative, there was no drinking water system in Sary Bulak and only 10 percent of the population had access to water in Mangit. Now, the newly built water system provides safe water to everyone in Sary Bulak and almost to 90 percent in Mangit.

Understanding the crucial link between water and health, a health and hygiene education and behavior change program was initiated in both villages targeting school children, parents, village elders, and religious leaders. During one of the health and hygiene training programs in the summer of 1998, one participant from Mangit expressed the ideal hygiene situation in her village in these words: "Our dream is to have a bath once a week." Now that these villages have access to water, it is possible to build public bathhouses. However, this concern still has not been addressed. In Sary Bulak, the existing bathhouse is in unrepairable condition and there has never been a bathhouse in Mangit.

The Fellow's program in Kyrgyzstan was developed in consultation with community leaders and representative of two non-governmental organizations active in Sary Bulak and Mangit. Sary Bulak branch of Ata-Jhurt NGO has four female leaders who are keen to take the responsibility to build and manage the bathhouses. "Kindness to Women" NGO is comprised of almost 2,000 female teachers and its Mangit branch is dedicated to overseeing the operation and maintenance of the bathhouse. In both villages, the bathhouse will also have an annex for a hairdresser, which does not exist in the village. Once built, the bathhouses will not only address the public health concerns but also will create jobs for the unemployed women of both villages. To the extent possible, labor for construction will be sought from the unemployed population. The bathhouses will charge a nominal fee for the residents; however, free service will be provided to disadvantaged people such as elderly with no income, orphans, and lone mothers with many children.

The most important achievement of the project is overcoming the inertia and lack of initiative observed in a majority of the population in Kyrgyzstan -- a legacy of Soviet times. People, still today, look for the government to solve their problems and they do not have many opportunities to assume individual and collective responsibility. The objective of the Fellowship program are as follows:

Since receiving the Willma and Albert Musher International Fellowship Ms. Gungoren has been awarded the International Research and Exchange Board's Individual Advanced Research Grant for her dissertation research which is being conducted  in Kyrgyzstan. In addition, she is an alternate winner for Fulbright Hays Dissertation Abroad Program. Also, Ms. Gungoren won an international competition on research by the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, which will permit publication of her report on Kyrgyzstan in a forthcoming book.

During 2001 Ms. Gungoren conducted an evaluation of her Fellowship  project spending considerable time in Kyrgyzstan. During this time she has engaged in discussions with the Kyrgyz government and the World Bank. She reports that the World Bank  is providing a $45,000,000  loan to the Kyrgyzstan government to improve rural water systems. The experiences of this project has contributed to this effort. Ms. Gengoren reports "We were able to convince them the value of community based and gender balanced approach to water and if all goes well, I may be involved in bringing water to 1000 new villages. Our 6 villages are doing well and they are self sufficient NOW. Dreams come true I guess."

The Willma & Albert Musher Program is pleased to have supported Ms. Billur Gungoren in her important work which is ongoing.