Uzbek theatre group teaches contemporary drama
Egypt announces arrest of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist cell
Afghanistan supports disaster victims
Friday prayer attacks kill 20, injure about 50
Tajikistan upgrades highway system
Reduction of transport costs, dangers, inconvenience foreseen
By Negmatullo Mirsaidov
KHUDZHAND – Tajikistan is about to complete a major transportation project that could improve lives and increase prosperity.
In early July, workers joined the southern and northern halves of the Shakhristan Tunnel in Sughd Oblast, part of the strategic North-South highway. It’s the second tunnel through mountain passes between Tajikistan’s north and south. Workers finished the first one in the Anzob mountain pass in 2006. Shakhristan, at 2,700m above sea level, is scheduled to open by September 25. The 5km tunnel will connect Sughd Oblast to the south year-round.
“The building of modern highways … is part of the state’s national strategy of developing economic potential and raising living standards,” said Kokhir Rasulzoda, chairman of the Sughd Oblast government. “This tunnel is particularly important for those who live in the Zarafshan Valley, who experience great difficulties in winter and spring with transportation, trade and food supplies.”
The builders still have a tonne-and-a-half of dirt to excavate from the tunnel and to pave it and finish lining it, according to the oblast government.
Zarafshan Valley no longer a dead end
In Soviet times, Tajikistan had great difficulties feeding the population of two major regions, the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast and the Zarafshan Valley in Sughd Oblast, during the winter as highways through the mountain passes were closed from November to May because highway crews couldn’t keep them clear of avalanches.
Attempts to drill a tunnel through the Gissar Ridge in the 1970s failed. Only after independence, with technological progress, more investment and more specialists, did workers manage to drill the 5k Anzob Tunnel linking Dushanbe to the Zarafshan Valley. After that, they turned their attention to Shakhristan, which connects the valley to the Sughd Oblast capital, Khudzhand, and shortens the distance to Dushanbe by 20km.
“This is a unique structure, which meets the latest international standards,” said Dzhumakhon Zukhurov, first deputy minister of transport and communication. “It will provide safe two-way traffic and good road quality, lighting and ventilation, which we didn’t completely succeed in doing in the Anzob Tunnel.”
Every year, authorities handle 5 to 10 avalanche emergencies in the Shakhristan Pass, some fatal, according to the Sughd Oblast office of the Ministry for Emergency Situations and Civil Defence. This year was no exception, with six avalanches and six deaths between January and June.
“We consider the most dangerous areas to be those where huge masses of snow pile up and can thaw and fall into a ravine,” said Zafar Ashrapov, a ministry official. “These sectors are mostly at an altitude of 3,000m. Many drivers try to get through the pass even when it is banned.”
The tunnel will prevent such problems, providing safe transport through the mountain passes, Zukhurov said.
Economic benefits of tunnels
The tunnels will bring major benefits, according to specialists.
“With the introduction of the new tunnels, not only has the distance between Dushanbe and Khudzhand been shortened by 20km, but also travel time,” said Rakhmonberdi Tuychiyev, head of the Road Use Department of the Sughd Oblast Road Management Directorate. “Previously, cars took 12 hours to cover the route and trucks up to 24 hours. Now it’ll be 4½ and 7 hours, respectively. This will save a lot of money ... during this energy crisis.”
The Shakhristan Tunnel and other transport corridors that Tajikistan has built since independence also give Tajikistan easier access to Pakistani seaports, useful for the mountainous, landlocked country in boosting trade.
“We intend to submit recommendations to the government on the need to develop transport infrastructure along the highways and to improve the legal foundation, with the aim of developing the country’s trade potential,” said Anna Shukurova, director of the NGO Union of Professional Consultants of Tajikistan.