FSD has been active in Central Asia since 2003, especially in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. We have undertaken a range of activities, including mine clearance, destruction of weapons and ammunition stockpiles and environmental impact studies to assess levels of pollution at various sites. From 2017, FSD’s environmental remediation work in Central Asia has focused on tackling the identification, removal and remediation of obsolete pesticide (OP) contamination in Tajikistan.
FSD has conducted characterisation studies, environmental impact assessments and remediation operations at three priority sites in Tajikistan. In parallel, FSD has also conducted several socio-medical projects at affected sites with the objective of raising awareness about pesticide contamination and providing basic medical support and care to affected communities.
During its recent intervention carried out in collaboration with Tauw, a Dutch environmental consultancy, FSD took water and soil samples in affected areas to assess the severity of contamination in the three priority sites. Of the three, the village of Oykamar was identified as the highest priority for action. This village contains to no less than fourteen highly contaminated areas; this is explained by the fact that the site was previously an old pesticide distribution centre which was abandoned.
How is the presence of pesticides reflected in the daily lives of Oykamar residents? FSD conducted interviews with residents living near and on top of the contaminated areas.
Taif Mohamed, a father of two, lives twenty meters from a contaminated warehouse in Oykamar. While building his house, he noticed a strong smell that would not go away. Over time the situation became increasingly unbearable for him and his family. He explained that while digging the ground around his house, he had found strange yellow coloured patches of soil which turned out to be concentrated pesticides. He is certain that this was responsible for killing his cattle. As he states “I lost cows, sheep and rabbits; they are all dead. I only have one rabbit left”. Taif is not the only resident to have reported the loss of cattle and animals. Taif considers FSD’s work essential;“by cleaning up sites that were once arable agricultural fields and vegetable gardens, it once again allows local food production that has long since disappeared”.
Zolfia, another resident, shared how the pesticide pollution affected her family: “I have lived here for eleven years and I only really noticed the presence of pesticides five years ago; even if we gave our children enough food, morning, noon and night, sometimes they fainted at school”.
To date, Oykamar residents’ medical problems have not been formally proven to be linked directly to their exposure to the obsolete pesticides, and a causal link in complex field situations will always be difficult to prove. However, it has been shown that areas containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have detrimental effects on the health of people and animals living in their vicinity and on the local environment.
The overall objective for FSD in Tajikistan is to reduce the risks posed by POPs in contaminated sites, to improve the capacity, infrastructure and capability of the central Vakhsh waste depository (a site FSD recently upgraded to store contaminated soil safely), and to strengthen the capacity of the Tajik government to manage the problem.