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In Tajikistan most rural inhabitants don't have access to drinking water near their homes. This innovative project, initiated by UNDP and the European Commission's ‘ECHO' Programme, encourages Tajik migrant workers to earmark some of the money they earn abroad for the installation of drinking water facilities for their families back home. This should not only mobilize considerable funds, but also create an incentive for local inhabitants to participate in the construction and maintenance of water facilities.

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Efforts to provide rural Tajikistan with sustainable access to drinking water have failed for a number of reasons - chief among them that rural inhabitants have been unwilling to pay for them. People have stuck to the Soviet-era notion that water is a right that should be provided for free.

This is a critical problem in Tajikistan, where most rural inhabitants don't have access to drinking water near their homes. In the past, when international donors such as UNDP spent money to provide improved sources of water, the facilities soon fell into disuse because people in the village didn't take it upon themselves to make repairs, gather fees, clean the pipes and otherwise keep the water flowing.

That may now change. This August UNDP and the

European Commission's ‘ECHO' Programme initiated a project designed to encourage Tajikistan's large pool of migrant labourers to give some of the income they earn abroad for projects to install drinking water facilities for their families back home. The project will target 20,000 rural inhabitants, and it will particularly benefit young women, who must often skip school in order to travel long distances to get water for their families.

By getting locals to contribute their own money to the water projects, both organizations believe they will create an incentive for local inhabitants to feel invested in the construction and upkeep of clean drinking water facilities.

The project will tap a giant source of money. Between 500,000-1,000,000 Tajiks travel abroad - mainly to Russia - for seasonal work each year. It is estimated that their remittances contribute at least $600 million to the Tajik economy annually. This is a significant amount of money considering the state budget amounts to $542 million and contributions from international donors make up only $114 million.

The project has a precedent. A pilot initiative started in 2004 between UNDP and the International Organization for Migration has shown the incredible development potential of harnessing these remittances. Project activists managed to mobilize $7,000 for the renovation of schools, bridges and roads in two municipalities.

According to project organizers, it was surprisingly easy to mobilize considerable sums from migrant families in a relatively short period of time. To assist in this effort, Migrants Households Initiative Groups (MHIGs) were

organized. Each of these groups consists of five members drawn from local inhabitants. MHIGs advocated persistently among migrants and their families about the benefits of contributing to local development projects, as well as to gather the money. For each dollar that the MHIGs managed to raise, UNDP in the pilot project granted one dollar.  

The new project improves upon previous efforts because it emphasizes the active participation of authorities and local communities in identifying and choosing the water systems for rehabilitation.

Crucial to the project's success will be resolving ownership over the water facilities. In the old days water was provided for free by the state or collective farm, or in some cases by the local authorities. But now farms have been split up and no one knows who owns the pumps and the pipes. A new water code has been developed that will clarify responsibilities between owners, operators, local authorities, and users.

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