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Kyrgyzstan: Showcase Highway Project Stuck in Funding Jam

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BISKEK:The Issyk-Kul highway was supposed to demonstrate that Kyrgyzstan was capable of completing big projects single-handedly, without foreign funding. But three years after its start, construction is now at a standstill, the money has run out and laborers are complaining of unpaid salaries.

The project was designed to expand and improve an existing stretch of road that leads eastward from Balykchy to Korumdu. The route is how visitors reach the lakeside resorts that constitute the core of the country’s tourism industry, which accounts for about 8 percent of economic activity in the country. For most of its current 100-kilometer length, the surface is pot-holed and uneven. Adding to the hazards, many safety-averse drivers are tempted into perilous passing maneuvers on the busy road.

At a projected 6.8 billion som (around $100 million) — an amount equal to $15 for each Kyrgyz citizen — the country was to get a road of which it could be proud. The plan had been to get the highway ready in time for the 2017 Nomad Games, a showcase sporting event intended to impress unseasoned outsiders.

For Tynybek Turgunaliyev, a laborer who has been working on the project for the past two years, the reality has been more bitter. The salary delays began in August. “My daughter is doing her fourth year at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, I have to help her out,” Turgunaliyev said. “Four months ago I took out a loan for 100,000 som to pay for my daughter’s fees.”

Turgunaliyev said he is one of the lucky ones as his wife has a job at a bazaar and is able to help out.

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