Experience of a lonely soldier… The difficult path towards social accountability in the water sector
By Bakhadur Khabibov
“The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.”
― Albert Einstein.
I am feeling myself like a soldier who never despairs and is always ready for challenges in the arena of social justice. Actually, it is rather a struggle, a long, continuous fight for equity, human wellbeing, social justice and accountability. To this end, I have been working full time for the last 14 years of my life, hardly had any vacations and have been maneuvering together with my team between imposing government representatives and open-hearted local community leaders, between scarce resources and strict donors, between close friends and closer foes, free romantic volunteers and expensive, serious consultants. What has changed since then? Not much, except that that we are feeling the wind of change blowing and we no longer have the feeling of loneliness for we have joined the GPSA.
For many decades now, Tajikistan has gone through critical energy, water and sanitation issues, which have had serious consequences on the population’s wellbeing. First, it has faced a challenging energy situation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Due to the breakup of energy relations with former Soviet Republics, Tajikistan, an oil- and gas- dependent country, faced an energy crisis and started to limit electricity supply drastically, leading to massive violations of consumer rights, unequal distribution between urban and rural areas, high levels of corruption, , aggravated by weak governance and the absence of transparency and accountability.
In 2003, to promote social accountability in the energy sector, the Consumers Union of Tajikistan (CU) started to run campaigns focusing on consumers’ rights in the energy market. This was a long and difficult process -which is still ongoing- during which new concepts and new levels of relations between the government, the state-owned company and consumers were developed. The CU fought on many fronts to boost transparency and accountability in the energy sector and ultimately managed to facilitate a better communication between providers and consumers, helping to improve electricity supply. Transparency is also about to improve as the main electricity supplier, Barqi Tojik, will be launching a new website publishing economic, technical and legal information of the electricity sector, as well as providing Q&A interactive sessions. Finally, we have been noticed and we have been heard…
Since 2012 we’ve started a new campaign on drinking water and promoting sanitation. Though more than 60% of Central Asian water resources come from Tajikistan, only 57% of the population has access to safe sources of fresh water and about 30% to improved sanitation. The problem is particularly serious in rural areas where fresh water supply only reaches about 40% of the population, and improved sanitation no more than 10%. Although the whole water sector had to be restructured after its independence, Tajikistan’s water industry is still mismanaged and outdated. The financial and infrastructure problems are aggravated by weak governance, as well as low levels of public awareness on their rights and opportunities to make service suppliers accountable. Besides, the reform process occurred without a simultaneous effort to involve citizens in shaping economic change and educating them about their rights and responsibilities under a free market system. For that reason, we partnered with Oxfam Tajikistan for a GPSA grant.
The project we work on with the GPSA and Oxfam GB, TWISA (Tajikistan Water and Sanitation Improving Social Accountability), aims to help people and water institutions to improve the sector’s management and governance to ensure better and fairer access to safe drinking water and sanitation, especially in rural area. Since social accountability concepts have just emerged in the sector, we faced the need to reach and capacitate all levels and sectors of society. To this end, Oxfam and CU have been and will be focusing on four main components in the next 4 years:
-Develop gender-sensitive service quality indicators in the water and sanitation sector (WSS) and disseminate their use in 5 project operating areas, before expanding their use nationally. We already have created a multi-stakeholder working group which is reviewing and updating performance indicators.
-Elaborate a civil society-based monitoring framework (with a gender approach) and consolidate new and existing monitoring mechanisms. The mechanism we have started to elaborate involves relevant national stakeholders and international experts from GPSA member-organizations.
-Strengthen consumers’, service providers’ and other stakeholders’ capacity, assisting them in taking an effective part in a constructive dialogue. So far, we have organized outreach and awareness raising workshops for target districts population with the aim to teach them how to exercise their right to water and sanitation and to be a responsible consumer. Also, we have gained support and active collaboration from governmental stakeholders (water ministry and agencies, ministry of health, Ombudsman, antimonopoly and standard control bodies, committee on women and family affairs, among others).
-Develop and maintain knowledge and establish learning processes for stakeholders across project components.
The GPSA provides us with new opportunities, global support, new methods and approaches, and it allows us to meet and interact with the same enthusiast people with high levels of commitment. Things that we were doing lonely and blindly when we were dealing with electricity now turn to a global effort in terms of drinking water and sanitation. What did I win in the whole process? I am going to have a full month vacation. I may allow me this, I am not alone any more.
 From 1995 to 2010, about 85 percent of the country population had access to electricity for only 3-6 hours on a daily basis (from October to April), the remaining 15 percent (in Dushanbe area – capital of country) had access to electricity during 24-7 hours.
The Consumers Union of Tajikistan is a national, non-profit, civil society organization working for consumer rights protection. For more information on the organization, click here.
CU contributed to the changes to the national legislation and worked on awareness raising. We even sued electricity suppliers and implemented innovative techniques for improving transparency of power outages (using crowd sourcing to display regional outages), contacted donors and international expert institutions – generally we did everything necessary to move on to successful social accountability initiatives in the energy sector.
Electricity supply went from 3-4 hours a day to 6-12 hours a day in areas with the limited electricity supply.
 So far, Oxfam and CU have organized 2 workshops. The reports of the workshops are available here.
About the Author
Bakhadur Khabibov was the executive director of the Consumers Union association of Tajikistan, from 2002 to 2013. He is now chairman of this organization, responsible for strategic organization development and fundraising. In 1998, Bakhadur graduated from Khujand State University, department of economy with a specialization in ‘control and analyses of economic activity’. In 2014, he completed a one-year non-degree program with the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, in the University of Washington, Evans School of Public Affairs, Seattle, USA. Bakhadur is the author of more than 40 publications such as “Basics of consumer knowledge”, “Restructuring and managing of privatized enterprises”, “Drinking water: rights and responsibilities in free market environment”, “How to protect your rights”, “Directory on consumers’ rights protection in field of residential services: law comments, court practices, legal acts”, “Reform of residential block management system: experience of countries in transition”, “directory on consumers’ rights protection: law comments, court practices, legal acts”, “Electricity governance in Tajikistan: institutional and case study; applying the EGI indicator toolkit to Tajikistan”, among others.
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