Focus on Penjikent

Penjikent is a city with 5000 years of history on the old paths of the Silk Road, located in the northwest of Tajikistan. It is part of the Sughd Region which is Tajikistan´s richest province after the Capital District. But still, almost 20 years after Tajikistan´s independence from the Soviet Union, Penjikent is not able to follow the slightly positive development of the Sughd Region. The only road connecting Penjikent to the rest of the country practically non-existent; it is a dirt road along the Zerafshan River that is closed during winter and life-threatening during summer. An emergency airplane service is available during winter, for those who can afford.

Girl in Penjikent

During Soviet times, Penjikent was a suburb-town of Samarkand, which is only 59 km (37 miles). All main traffic routes to Penjikent also connected through Samarkand, avoiding the high Zarafshan Mountain Range and unstable river banks. The frozen relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan made this efficient and well developed connection between Penjikent and the rest of the country impassable for most Tajiks. A woman from Penjikent said that, especially in winter, Penjikent feels nowadays like a prison: ´we have television and radio but there is no way to leave the city. We are locked in for several months´. This seclusion threatens Penjikents weak economy; today a gold mine run by Chinese is the only remaining industry besides agriculture.

I want to put the focus on the two development assistance organizations I have visited recently in the region: ´German Agro Action´ (Welthungerhilfe) and the Danish ´Mission East´ currently focus on the sparsely populated Zarafshan Valley with Penjikent being its economical and administrative center.

Water analysis for Mission East, near Penjikent

Mission East is operating from two locations with the project headquarters being in Penjikent and a smaller branch operating from Ayni. The main objective for Mission East in Penjikent is improving health and sanitation standards to decrease water caused diseases and child mortality rates, especially in rural areas where even basic medical care is hardly available. Their project focuses therefore mainly on implementing safe drinking water supply and distribution systems and on conducting trainings on sanitation issues for the local population of small villages. This training includes methods of gathering, treating and storing drinking water as well as pushing sanitary improvements. Besides constructing drinking water systems, Mission East develops and implements existing and new methods of improving sanitation standards. An example for implementing new concepts is the concrete ´off stream site´ for watering cattle. The idea behind these off stream sites is separating animals from drinking water sources as their defilement is a main cause for diseases. Apart from this new design, Mission East continues the project of equipping kitchens with floor screed for families with children up to three years.

A detailed article about their work and their ideas is going to be published by next week on

Woman near Penjikent, taking water from a well

The German Agro Action in Penjikent is currently supporting two very different projects in the Penjikent District: an eco-tourism project for the Zerafshan Valley and a project for integrated water and resource management, mainly in the surroundings of Penjikent. Their approach towards support of water distribution has changed over the years; they are focusing on extending and repairing irrigation networks and establishing water user associations in order to ensure sustainable operation of the systems for the long-term.

Their eco-tourism project is a joint venture with a local NGO based in Khudjand, the capital of the Sughd Province. The project is also supported by the German Development Service (DED) who granted the position of a consultant that is experienced in eco-tourism projects. Their progress and success are remarkable; tourism projects were installed in all along the Zerafshan River, at its banks or in beautiful valleys of the stunning mountains on both sides. Today, a visit to the beautiful region with its hospitable people is a delightful and remarkable adventure, supported by the spadework.


So look forward to the upcoming series on focusing on the Zerafshan Region!


August 13 2009, Cornelius Stiefenhofer.