Tackling Natural Disasters in the Ferghana Valley

October 16, 2003

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[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on the website of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs IRINnews

ANDIJAN, 16 Oct 2003 (IRIN) - Emergency preparedness and tackling natural disasters in the Ferghana Valley needs a regional approach, experts told IRIN on Thursday.

"The problem of natural disasters is an issue for all the parts of the Ferghana Valley, because it is surrounded by the Tien-Shan and Pamir Mountains. There is a risk of landslides and earthquakes," Nilufar Begibayeva, Mercy Corps's natural disaster preparedness project instructor, said in Andijan, an Uzbek town on the eastern edge of the Ferghana Valley.

"The situation on natural disasters is a little bit better this year compared to the previous one," Vladimir Huraliev, Mercy Corps's national project officer, told IRIN in Andijan, adding that in some cases there were incidences of rising ground waters.

However, Begibayeva warned that there was no guarantee that destructive earthquakes like the one in 1966, which swept away the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, would not happen again. "It is always more difficult to deal with the consequences [of a problem] than to prevent it in the beginning."

According to some sources, there were a number of earthquakes in April and May of this year in the Uzbek part of the valley, but no damage or casualties have been reported. "In some villages we observed houses that were ramshackle and very exposed to earthquakes and floods," Begibayeva said.

Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan share the densely populated Ferghana Valley with its population of some 10 million. Before the days of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union, the valley was a single region, but Soviet planners divided it up into a patchwork of territories among the three nations.

Mercy Corps's project on disaster preparedness in the valley has been trying to address the issue of emergency preparedness in the region by training local communities on how to react to disasters. The year-long project was launched in June 2003 and is funded by ECHO. It is being implemented in all three parts of the valley as an initiative embracing it as a single geographical region.

"The project is very important to our republics [of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan]," Huraliev noted. He also said that the emergency situations ministries of the three states were unable to undertake such training due to lack of personnel and funding.

"We surveyed 22 communities that were mostly exposed to natural disasters at the beginning of the project. Then we chose the 10 most problematic ones [in Uzbekistan] that were supposed to cooperate with 10 communities in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and 10 of Tajikistan," Begibayeva said.

One of the communities is Pakhtaabad District, where there is a risk of radioactivity due to its proximity to uranium waste dumps in the Mayly-Suu District of southern Kyrgyzstan. In neighbouring Jala-Kuduk District there is a risk of landslides and floods.

"Disasters can affect all the republics [in the region]. Therefore we chose those ones located in border areas, and one of the aims of the project is to facilitate cooperation between border districts," Huraliev said. For example, if something happens in Namangan Province, it will take a long time until the relief or rescue teams come.

Some districts in Namangan in Uzbekistan, on the border with Kyrgyzstan, were 120 km away from the provincial capital and more than 450 km from Tashkent, the disaster expert pointed out, adding that hours or even days could be wasted in an emergency waiting for help from a distant city or capital. "Local people should be ready for disasters and help their neighbours [across the border] as well," he said.

In case of emergency, local communities covered by the project are supposed to assist each other, as they are only about three km away from each other. They would help each other until assistance from the capital comes.

"We will organise three regional conferences at the level of emergency ministries," Kobuljon Yunusov, a project instructor at Mercy Corps, told IRIN. Senior emergency officials would thereby have an opportunity to discuss and develop mechanisms for cooperating on the issue.

"There might occur problems in providing technical help, like transport and technical equipment, as customs can stop us. Therefore they have to develop mechanisms that would allow rapid cross-border assistance without any [such] problems," Huraliev said.

The project on local population empowerment for natural disaster preparedness in the Ferghana Valley is due to be finalised in June 2004. The project's budget exceeds US $400,000 for the whole valley, of which some $120,000 will be allocated to the Uzbek part of valley, this comprising Andijan, Ferghana and Namangan provinces. More than 200,000 people living in 10 communities in the three provinces are expected to benefit.