Energy and Infrastructure
The cessation of the provision with subsidized goods and fuels to these remote mountain areas after the collapse of the Soviet system had far-reaching consequences for transportation, energy supply and public infrastructure. Maintenance severely suffered due to the lack of equipment and financial means, prices for imported commodities sharply increased and the local natural resource base regained importance for people's livelihood during the past decade. Large investment is needed to rehabilitate the extensive infrastructure and to reestablish infrastructure maintenance systems.
The energy sector has been particularly affected by the disintegration of the Soviet system. Provision of subsidized fossil fuels and decentralized electricity generation at diesel power plants formerly met the high demand for energy resources. The sudden stop of external energy supply forced people to rely on locally available biomass fuels as their main source of energy leading to severe consequences for the population's livelihood and the mountain ecosystem. High labor input of around six hours daily are needed per household to gather sufficient firewood, shrubs and dung for heating and cooking. Although remote settlements are connected to electricity infrastructure, energy supply is by far not sufficient. Electricity supply is usually irregular and unreliable especially in winter, when demand is highest and water shortage constrains hydropower generation. To tackle this problem in the Tajik Pamirs numerous micro hydropower stations (MHPS) for decentralized electricity supply have been constructed since independence. However, electric power from the MHPS is often only sufficient for lighting purposes and does not relieve pressure from overtaxed fuel wood sources. Shortage of energy supply not only results in the degradation of the natural resource base and negatively affects the health of the (female) population, but also hinders the economic development of the Pamir-AlaiMountains. Provision of adequate and affordable energy resources is a very urgent issue. Imported fossil fuels such coal, diesel oil and petrol are too expensive to cover the demand. Therefore it is essential to foster local renewable energy resources, invest in alternative energy technologies and take demand-side measures to reduce energy consumptions.
Drinking Water Supply
Nival and glacial melting provide cold and pure water to the mountain settlements. Drinking water is commonly directly derived from brooks or irrigation channels, whereas only few settlements have water supply systems fed by springs. At higher altitudes, water quality is usually not an issue. Still, water is scarce in selected areas and springs with high mineral contents are sometimes the only available drinking water source. Dependent on the location of the village and the land use type within the watershed, drinking water sources at lower altitudes may be polluted by domestic or agricultural sewage. As reported, water fetching at outdoor taps or irrigation channels is a troublesome task in winter. There is thus a great demand for indoor water tap systems. In the Kyrgyz Alai selected settlements will benefit from installations of water taps within the "Taza Suu" project financed by the Asian Development Bank. However, completion is challenged by people's low ability and willingness to pay a share of 5% of the costs. Remote households are often not connected to the settlement's infrastructure. The need for extensions of existing water supply systems was frequently mentioned by the population in the pilot sites.
Irrigation channels are in most areas of the Pamir-Alai Mountains a necessity for the cultivation of crops, legumes and even orchards. Extensive irrigation systems with channels running over several kilometers in debris slopes provide water also to exposed and remote arable lands. Water is a scarce resource and its supply usually depends on melt water provided by brooks. Cold weather in spring may delay the first melting and thus cultivation of arable land. Sophisticated water distribution schedules ensure adequate supply for different purposes (irrigation, drinking water, hydropower) and equal circulation to the families' croplands. Still, disputes or conflicts about the distribution or use of water sources between several households, settlements or communities occasionally arise. Irrigation infrastructure is prone to damage by natural hazards such as land slides, avalanches or rock falls demanding costly and frequent maintenance work. For larger irrigation systems this task cannot be satisfactorily performed by the local population. Moreover, lack of construction material such as cement leaves large sections of the channels without concrete coating. Water channels are therefore a frequent source of erosion and land slides. Support and assistance in proper maintenance and construction as well as in the extension of irrigation systems to access additional croplands is highly needed.
Transport InfrastructureLike other infrastructure roads and bridges severely suffer due to poor maintenance and frequent land slides, avalanches, debris flows or floods. Major transport links such as the Pamir Highway are paved and allow relatively fast transportation, whereas subordinate rural roads are difficult and time consuming to pass. Low state budget for infrastructure maintenance, expensive fuel and lack of equipment result in the continuing deterioration and temporal blocking of transportation routes. Non-governmental organizations try to fill the maintenance gap by initiating rehabilitation projects for bridges and roads. Still, some remote villages are not accessible by car but only by footpath crossing dangerous rope bridges. Since there is no public transport private mini buses and taxi services connect the settlements with district or oblast centers. However, private passenger and cargo services are expensive for the local population, often reaching prices of about 25% of a teacher's monthly salary for a ride to a main market place. It is obvious that the high transport costs force mountain dwellers to switch to traditional means of transport such as donkey, horse or foot.
Information Flow and Communication Infrastructure
Limited accessibility does not only constrain passenger traffic but also the flow of valuable information to the settlements in the area. The inhabitants complain about the existing information vacuum resulting in legal unawareness and further isolation. Although phone connections though of poor quality, mail service, newspaper delivery, TV sets and radio are available to some settlements, information such as most recent market prices or events occurring in the country reach remote areas only with a delay of up to 10 days. Access to information and communication services is difficult and especially constrained in winter when unreliable and poor electricity supply prevails. To foster local economic development and ensure sustainable land management it is essential that high value information on supply and demand as well as on laws, legislation, responsibilities and duties trickle down to the local level. Improved regional radio and TV broadcast as well as high technologies such as internet and mobile communication could considerably fill the information vacuum in this remote region.