A bridge collapse severs villages from the outside world


July 30, 2011

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    Mercy Corps Tajikistan  </span>
    The collapse of a 50-year-old bridge over the Khingob River in Tajikistan. Mercy Corps is working with local communities on a solution to reconnect isolated villages to the rest of the country. Photo: Mercy Corps Tajikistan

On July 18, a 50-year-old suspension bridge over the Khingob River in Tajikistan collapsed when a truck carrying food and other supplies was crossing. The driver and three passengers were able to escape the truck with only minor injuries, but the bridge was destroyed.

More than 2,500 people on the south side of this wide, fast-flowing river are now cut off from the rest of Tajikistan. To the south, they are surrounded by high mountains. The only way to cross the river is a narrow footbridge that requires a five-mile journey on foot through dense vegetation along the steep slopes of the river valley.

The immediate economic and health impact on the nine isolated villages is severe. Dozens of shops have now run out of supplies, according to the head of the jamoat (municipality). Food, fuel, medicine and other supplies can only reach this region by foot or pack animal. Any medical situation that cannot be handled by the small hospital in the jamoat center requires evacuation by the aforementioned five-mile journey and then a three-hour drive to the hospital in the district center of Tavildara.

Pregnant women with complications and others requiring specialized medical care face a very dangerous situation. During a Mercy Corps assessment, an elderly woman was seen reaching the footbridge after walking for two days to reach it.

Others are also affected: another 18 villages on the north side of the Khingob River (about 2,500 people total) are now cut off from the jamoat center, which was also the center of commerce for the whole area. With no access to the hospital there, residents of these villages must drive up to five hours to reach the district center.

Mercy Corps staff were the first ones on the scene after the bridge collapsed. A Mercy Corps vehicle took the injured driver and passengers to the hospital when they reached the shore of the icy river. The District Governor, Jamoat Chief and community leaders have requested urgent assistance from Mercy Corps to help them construct another river crossing.

The best available option is to construct a vehicle bridge three miles upriver from the site of the collapse. This would provide access by light vehicles to the cut-off communities and begin to address their most immediate needs. Engineers from USAID and Mercy Corps’ Tajikistan Stability Enhancement Program (TSEP) assessed the site within three days of the bridge collapse and are drawing up plans in coordination with the District Government.

The project is a very high priority and is expected to be a joint effort between the affected communities, local government and Mercy Corps.

Although current Mercy Corps projects in Tavildara focus on improved governance and economic growth through agriculture, employment and infrastructure, Mercy Corps also understands the importance of a rapid response when a disaster threatens the health and livelihoods of thousands. Our teams in Tajikistan will continue to work closely with the affected communities and local government to recover from the loss of their link to the outside world.