The Alai Mountain Ranges

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Geographical and Biophysical Characteristics

The Alai Mountains are located in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and can be defined as the area covered by three principal geological formations: (1) The Alai range with maximum elevation of 5,500m asl stretches approximately 350km in north-east to south-west direction. It is bordered by the Fergana range to the East and merges to the west into the Turkestan, Zeravshan and Hissar ranges in Central Tajikistan. (2) The Trans-Alai range closing the Tajik Pamirs to the north runs over 200km in east-west direction including glaciated peaks over 7,000m such as famous Peak Lenin. (3) The AlaiValley, a plateau at 2,800m altitude and with an extension of 30km to 180km, is located between the Alai and Trans-Alai ranges (see project area map). The Alai region is characterized by continental high mountain conditions. Glacial melting and precipitation amounting to 300-550mm from autumn to spring define the typical water regime (see precipitation map). Summers are dry and warm with maximum temperatures of 32° C contrasted by very cold winters with a minimum of -30° C. The predominant vegetation is high mountain meadow steppe and mountain forest meadow steppe. Remote valleys are still covered with Juniper forest growing at altitudes of 3,000m. The vegetation period ranges from 240 days to 160 days at higher altitudes varying with temperature and water availability. Arable land is a scarce resource in this mountain landscape. Crop land amounts to only 0.5-1.1% of the total land area, whereas mountain slopes with scrub and meadow plant communities suitable for pasturing cover between 35% and 53% (see land cover map). Like the Tajik Pamirs the AlaiMountains is home to unique wildlife species such as golden eagle, snow vulture, snow leopard, wolf, Marco Polo sheep and ibex.

Local Societies and Livelihoods

The political delineation of the Alai Mountains is more difficult compared to the Western and Eastern Pamirs, since the administrative entities also at lower levels still encompass lowland areas or neighboring mountain ranges such as the Turkestan, Zeravshan and Hissar. Politically, the AlaiRanges are broadly covered by Osh and Batken Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan, and the districts of Tavildara, Jirgatol, Tojikobod, and Rasht in Tajikistan. With regard to the implementation of mitigating measures it is reasonable to include only the mountainous areas of Osh and Batken Oblast as well as to discard the tight geographical definition of the Alai in Tajikistan and include neighboring mountain areas within the abovementioned district boundaries into the project area. The oblasts in Kyrgyzstan are further divided into municipalities covering areas of 300-2,000km2 with three to six settlements at altitudes of 1,200-3,300m asl. Population density considerably varies between the different regions from 2.9 to 22.4 persons per km2. The main forms of livelihood are based on livestock farming, hay making and primarily rain-fed agriculture in the Kyrgyz Alai, whereas the population in the Tajik Alai practices irrigation agriculture and livestock breeding. Cultivation of potato, barley and wheat allow only minor surplus yields for realizing in local markets. However, together with the sale of dairy products and livestock they constitute the main sources of income for the mountain population. An average household in Kyrgyzstan cultivates around 0.68ha of rainfed and irrigated land and owns two cattle, one horse and 12 sheep or goats. In contrast, families in the Tajik Alai with 0.35ha of irrigated land and one cattle, 0.5 horse and five sheep or goats have less assets to sustain their livelihood (see accessibility and livestock maps).

Local Economy

The settlements in the Alai Mountains are economically oriented towards Osh, with around 220,000 inhabitants the second largest city of Kyrgyzstan, and Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan with 575,000 dwellers. Although local economies are basically subsistence-oriented, main markets in adjacent urban centers are important sources for supplies and occasionally also for the realization of cultivated goods. Agriculture is the predominant economic sector amounting to 87-99% of the gross domestic product in the project area, followed by the service sector with 0.5-13% and the industrial production with 0.04-3%. However, most people living on subsistence production are not professional farmers. Employment possibilities are scarce and monthly salaries of teachers or medical personnel only correspond to a bag of flour (50kg). Additional sources of income such as remittances from family members with seasonal occupation in larger domestic or CIS cities are thus essential to sustain livelihood. Distances to main markets constitute between 80-280km and prices for daily required goods are consequently high in mountain communities. Comestibles such as rice, sugar or flour to complement subsistence production cost between USD 0.33-0.75 per kilogram. Kyrgyzstan is connected with Chinese markets providing considerable supplies to Central Asian states over two passes at the eastern extent of the AlaiMountains.

Energy, Infrastructure and Public Services

High mountain ranges with large glaciated areas and deeply incised valleys create favorable conditions for hydropower use. Several large dams and decentralized run-off-the-river schemes constitute an important domestic energy resource providing electricity also to remote areas in the Alai mountains. However, power supply is not reliable and irregular especially in winter when water discharge and hydropower generation are reduced. Compared to imported or locally available fossil fuels, domestic electric power is relatively cheap amounting to 0.5-2 US cents per kWh. Besides coal and diesel oil, local renewable energy resources such as firewood and dung still cover a considerable amount of the demand. Prices for energy resources significantly vary between the Kyrgyz and Tajik Alai: Dwellers of the Tajik part pay almost twice as much as their neighbors for coal (USD 65.8 vs. 36.3/ton) and petrol (USD 0.82 vs. 0.48/liter), whereas dung is even offered at fivefold prices (USD 39.5 vs. 7.3/ton). Infrastructure for basic public services such as education, health care, information and communication is widely available in the settlements of the AlaiMountains. Still, schools, medical points, libraries, post office and phone connections are object to unsatisfactory quality and prone to continuous deterioration. Primary and secondary education is provided in almost every village, while higher educational service (university) is offered in Osh or Dushanbe. Maintenance of transportation routes to these mountain areas with frequent natural hazards is extremely costly and can commonly not be guaranteed. There is no regular public transport, but private minibuses and taxis provide shuttle service between the settlements and urban centers at prices varying between USD 14-16 to Dushanbe and USD 6-19 to Osh.