Aid workers in Tajikistan have welcomed a Saudi-funded project to reconstruct a stretch of road damaged by landslides and mudslides over the years. The road is a vital link between the remote eastern Badakhshon Province and central areas and is critical for food aid deliveries to Afghanistan from Central Asia.
"The road is the main access route to Badakhshon and northeastern Afghanistan, so the quick implementation of the project is welcomed by the aid community," Valentin Gatzinski, the head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, told IRIN.
The government of Saudi Arabia is providing a loan of about US $6 million for the project. An agreement was signed in Dushanbe between Tajik Finance Minister Safarali Najmuddinov and a Saudi engineer, Al-Shaui Muhammad, late last week, the Tajik news agency, Asia Plus reported. The money would be allocated over a period of 25 years at a minimal interest rate with a seven year grace period.
The news agency also reported that there were also plans to reconstruct the entire road with funding from the Kuwait Development Fund, OPEC and the Tajik government.
The Kulob-Qala-i Khum stretch of the road marked for repair is a narrow dirt track, but because of climatic conditions it is not blocked in the winter by snow like other mountain roads. But mudslides or landslides, however minor, can block the road for several months, preventing all vehicles, including four-wheel-drives from travelling on it.
Gatzinski noted that there were only three supply routes into Badakhshon, creating an urgent need for repair and rehabilitation. One of the longest routes to the province is through the Kyrgyz city of Osh. The second is through central Tajikistan, but this route is often blocked by snow for months during winter. The third is the Kulob-Qala-i Khum road, which is to be rehabilitated under the current project. "This road needs to be upgraded and secured against landslides as it is the best of the existing opportunities and is not blocked by snowfall," he maintained.
With a population of 220,000, Badakhshon is the poorest province in this most vulnerable Central Asian country, which is affected by a whole host of humanitarian problems, such as a severe lack of income-generation opportunities, as well as being prone to natural disasters.