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By Asyl Osmonaliyeva
BISHKEK – Unlawful new construction around Bishkek, which first became an identifiable problem in the early 1990s, has since grown in scale, and so have the problems associated with it.
Migrants from impoverished areas of Kyrgyzstan and those who simply lack a home have unlawfully built more than 4,500 houses – typically single-family dwellings – in areas lacking public transportation and infrastructure, often amid garbage dumps, over gas pipelines or near livestock cemeteries.
Reacting to protests by angry squatters, authorities have pledged to tackle the underlying problems.
Occupants of illegal housing projects point to the lack of water as a core problem. Bishkek Mayor Isa Omurkulov April 16 discussed the issue with representatives of the World Bank, who pledged to finance the construction of a new water pipeline serving nearly 50,000 people living outside the Kyrgyz capital.
Municipal plans are not limited to that, said Samarbek Bolotbekov, director of the Bishkek mayor’s Individual Construction Department.
“Two months ago, the mayor’s office in Bishkek approved its 2012-2014 Strategy for New Construction Development, which provides for drilling seven new wells, building four water intakes paving or repairing a number of roads and installation of water and sewage pipelines,” he said. “We also plan to install transformer substations and 120km of electrical transmission lines.”
Authorities also plan to arrange public transport, garbage disposal and other services for the squatter areas, according to Valentina Lisnichenko, acting chairwoman of the Bishkek city council.
Hospitals and schools key
Many new houses were built hastily in environmentally hazardous areas, construction specialist Abdukarim Mamasamatov said. “They often fail to meet safety requirements and are harmful to occupants’ health,” he said. “To make it all worse, because of the absence of nearby medical facilities, people seldom go to a doctor.”
The quality of squatter housing is something else the mayor’s office intends to deal with, Mamasamatov said. “This factor may play a role as the mayor’s office decides whether to approve (the existing new construction),” he said.
At present in Bishkek, “there are about 4,635 houses built unlawfully on land not designated for that purpose,” Bolotbekov said. “Of those, only 1,500 land plots can possibly be legalised, because the rest are situated in hazardous zones, from where residents are to be resettled elsewhere.”
“Of the 5,000 (unauthorised) buildings, about 1,200 are in restricted zones, where high-pressure gas pipelines, or livestock cemeteries, or waste dumps are located, meaning that local residents must be resettled,” he said. “We have appealed to the government to set aside other land where residents of the dangerous zones could move.”
Tuberculosis high among squatters
The squatters would benefit, because their makeshift settlements have the highest TB incidence in Bishkek, according to medical workers. Internal migrants account for nearly half of all newly diagnosed TB cases in the Kyrgyz capital, Marapat Moidunova, director of the Bishkek Centre for Fighting Tuberculosis, said.
“They moved to the capital in search of temporary jobs, but their low wages prevent them from renting decent housing – all they can afford are rooms with the bare minimum conditions for living,” she said. “City-wide, we annually diagnose about 1,000 new TB cases. TB incidence is statistically the highest in the districts where markets and newly built quarters are located and the lowest in the capital’s bedroom communities.”
Family Medicine Centres (FMCs) have recorded 137.0 to 150.3 TB cases per 100,000 in illegal resident areas, compared to 33.0 to 70.6cases per 100,000 in bedroom communities, or twice the norm Moidunova said.
More in- and out-patient clinics will be built, together with three more schools and two kindergartens, Bolotbekov said.
“It will take more than 2.5 billion KGS (US $53m) to see the project through,” he added. “It’s up to the government to provide the required financing.”
Sharapat, 58, a squatter living north of Bishkek, said she moved to the capital with her family – her husband and older children – from Naryn in search of work. During a wave of land grabs, they took over a plot near the Dordoi market and built a house. She doesn’t mind the waste dump smouldering nearby, she said, because “the wind blows the smoke away,” and her family hasn’t had any health issues.
“We put all we had into building this house, so we won’t move an inch from here,” Sharapat said. “If need be, we’ll block the road with our bodies.”