"Be patient". How residentials areas are incorporated into Bishkek but left with the same problems

August 12, 2023
Вид на северные жилмассивы Бишкека


August 12, 2023
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"Sadyr! Sadyr! Sadyr!", chants the crowd near the Government House on the Old Square, demanding President Sadyr Japarov to come out to them. The participants of the peaceful protest are residents of the "Ak-Ordo" residential area, or more precisely, that part of it which is not yet within the boundaries of Bishkek. They are asking the president to issue them "red books"* for the land and to incorporate their part of the new development into the capital.
* The "Red Book" is a document confirming the right of land ownership. The "Green Book" grants the right to use the land for a period of 5 to 49 years, while the "Blue Book" is exclusively for agricultural purposes.
Sadyr Japarov visited this residential area six months later and promised to resolve the residents' problems. However, according to him, before incorporating new developments into the boundaries of Bishkek, issues with plots and documents need to be resolved. For this, the residents, who have endured many years, must be patient for another year or two.

Around Bishkek, for over twenty years, dozens of residential areas have existed. They grow, develop, and, if lucky, become part of the city. Meanwhile, problems such as lack of water or transport accessibility accumulate there year after year.

Journalists from Peshcom studied how Bishkek expanded through new residential areas and whether the city's infrastructure is keeping up with this process.

How Does Bishkek Grow?

Over the last 24 years, the area of the city has increased by one and a half times. Now, it covers more than 187 square kilometers — almost equivalent to seven thousand Dolon Omurzakov Stadiums (formerly Spartak Stadium).

The city's population has also grown by one and a half times during this period. Currently, more than 1.15 million people officially live in Bishkek. Of these, over 200,000 reside in urban residential areas.

Officially, 57* residential areas are within the city limits, with the majority located in the Pervomaisky and Sverdlovsk districts — 20 and 16 respectively. All residential areas of Bishkek occupy almost 30% of the capital's area.
* According to the data from BishkekGlavArhitektura (BGA) as of June 2023, there are 57 residential areas and quarters within the administrative boundaries of Bishkek. In addition, there are plots included by the department in the list of residential areas, the boundaries or names of which BGA does not specify — we do not count them.
Bishkek suburbs - urban sprawl

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Within 20 years, new development sprawled out on all sides of the city

Thanks to the study of land use change data obtained through the Landsat satellite program, it's possible to see how the suburbs of the capital have been developed since 2000. Most of the new buildings are already part of Bishkek, while other areas could potentially become part of its boundaries*.
* We cannot visualize where the current boundaries of Bishkek are today. According to the response from Bishkekglavarhitektura, the last time the commission clarified the city's boundaries was in 2019, after which all documents were transferred to the city hall — they have not yet been approved there, and the materials on the city's boundaries are considered "for official use" and are not subject to distribution.
Our analysis shows that the rapid urbanization process and population growth are outpacing infrastructure development. As a result, city residents face problems such as lack of access to water, absence of gas, or comfortable transportation.

Water Shortages

Residents of new developments in Bishkek and nearby villages often find themselves without drinking water, especially in the spring and summer.

This summer, people even began to block roads in protest against water shortages. In early June, residents of the "Archa-Beshik" residential area blocked Zhayil Baatyr Street, and in mid-July, the village of "Selektsionnoe" in the southwest of Bishkek did the same. In response to the latter protest, the police detained three people.

The city hall believes there are several reasons for the water shortage: due to the growth of residential areas and the construction of new high-rise buildings, the number of consumers is increasing, and due to the destroyed irrigation canal system, people use drinking water for irrigating household plots.

The number of consumers of drinking water from Bishkek Water Utility is over 775,000, although their actual number may be higher. Already, officially, residents of Bishkek consume 11.6 million cubic meters of drinking water per month — almost ¼ of the volume of the Lower Ala-Archa water reservoir near the capital.
Lower Ala-Archa Water Reservoir

Each month, residents of Bishkek consume nearly 1/4 of the volume of the Lower Ala-Archa Water Reservoir

The actual consumption of water eventually exceeds the permissible norms, at least by twice.
This load on the water supply system leads to constant interruptions in water supply. The problem is also affected by the poor condition of the engineering networks — the system was built during Soviet times. Now, the wear and tear of the water pipeline is 80%.

The head of Bishkek Water Utility, Taalaybek Orozov, admits that due to the "geometric progression of the growth of Bishkek" and the increase in water consumption, the water currently extracted from several water intakes is not enough. Therefore, in his opinion, it is necessary to build new water intakes, which requires money and "government-level support." The department also adds that it is necessary to install water meters.

Considering that the currently extracted water is already insufficient, in the future, the growing residential areas may be left without it.

Gasification ≠ Gas in the Home

In addition to clean drinking water, the municipality is responsible for providing people with access to energy for cooking and heating, primarily natural gas. However, the process of bringing gas to the outskirts of the city only began recently — in 2016.

To find out which residential areas have gas and which do not, we studied reports from "Gazprom" and news summaries.
It turns out that as of 2023, at least every fourth suburb in Bishkek is NOT gasified.
Gasification of residential areas in Bishkek

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Most residential areas in the north of Bishkek are not connected to the natural gas supply

Moreover, the presence of a gas pipeline in a residential area does not mean that all residents can immediately use it.

"Gazprom" — the main gas supplier in the country — lays pipes only along the streets, and residents must bring it to their homes themselves. Since such a service costs from 30 to 100 thousand soms (including the boiler, from $350 up to $1200) per house, the city hall began meeting with residents of suburbs and offering them concessional loans for gasification.

In residential areas without gas, people are forced to heat their homes with coal, often of poor quality. They also use rubber, fabric, and industrial waste for heating. All this is a major source of air pollution in Bishkek — this conclusion was reached by researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute in 2022.

Therefore, the issue of gasification remains relevant even in those residential areas where gas has already been laid along the streets. Breathing deeply in winter in Bishkek, we probably won't be able to do so anytime soon.

Lack of Transportation

Only by taking a minibus to a residential area during rush hour can one truly experience the hell of Bishkek's public transport. Residents of new developments who commute to and from work on them have it tough. Despite Bishkek being surrounded by residential areas from all sides, paved roads there appear at a snail's pace. According to the city hall, the absence of roads is one of the reasons why buses and trolleybuses do not travel to distant residential areas.

Trolleybuses are the most environmentally friendly, convenient, and spacious urban transport available in Bishkek today. Currently, the capital has only 10 trolleybus routes, serviced by about 125 vehicles.

We mapped all the trolleybus routes and stops in Bishkek and found that they are mainly concentrated in the city center. Only a few trolleybuses go to the residential area districts, but as a rule, they do not go deep into them.
At the same time, according to city building code, stops should be no further than 500 metres from the house or within a 6-7 minute walk.
Access to trolleybuses in Bishkek's residential areas

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Trolleybuses are mostly inaccessible to residents of residential areas

It turns out that in 42 out of 57 residential areas, it is impossible to walk to the trolleybus stops.
In the remaining 15 residential areas, the accessibility of trolleybus stops covers no more than 20% of the area. For example, if you live in the southern part of the "Ak-Orgo" residential area, it would take you 25-30 minutes to walk to the nearest trolleybus stop..

The situation with buses is slightly better. There are 25 bus routes in Bishkek, serviced by about 257 buses. They reach many residential areas and even go deep into them. However, residents of 12* out of 57 new developments in Bishkek cannot use this mode of transport either.
* Several residential areas are located along bus routes, but there are no stops near them — in such cases, for the purposes of our analysis, we consider that residents cannot use the buses. However, we understand that boarding and alighting along these routes may occur in unauthorized places.
Accessibility to buses in Bishkek's suburbs

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One in five housing estates outside walking distance to bus routes

According to our analysis, only residents of a few new developments in Bishkek can walk to a busstop without covering more than 500 meters — they live in the small residential areas of "Chelyabinsky," "Izmailovsky," and "Habitat" in the north of the city. These residential areas are located close to the Bishkek City Center and are near streets with heavy traffic.

In the remaining residential areas, the accessibility of bus stops covers no more than 55% of their territory.

Another issue with public transportation is the shortage of vehicles in the city. According to the city hall, Bishkek needs at least 1,500 buses and trolleybuses. Currently, there are four times fewer.

Пока что, самый многочисленный городской транспорт — это маршрутки. Микроавтобусы ездят и в жилмассивы, но поскольку их нельзя назвать комфортным и безопасным транспортом, предназначенным для перевозки пассажиров, их маршруты мы не анализировали.

Is There a Solution?

Problems with water, gas, and transportation are just part of what people living in the constantly growing residential areas of the city and its suburbs face.

The fact that the municipality is already falling behind the pace of their growth indicates that much more attention needs to be paid to construction control and infrastructure planning.

The Bishkek Development Program until 2026 states that unorganized development hinders "progressive" urban development. "The issue of developing the peripheral parts and residential areas of the city, especially in terms of providing engineering, transport, and social infrastructure, is acute," the document notes.

However, the solutions to these problems are described there in general terms — to comply with construction norms, lay pipes, build roads, and social facilities.

At the same time, taking into account all the listed problems and planning the growth and development of Bishkek's infrastructure could be helped by a new General Plan for the city. The municipality undertook its development in March 2023. Will the city hall take into account previous mistakes?
Authors: Alexey Juravlev, Altynai Nogoibaeva, Aigerim Ryskulbekova
Data editor: Savia Hasanona
Text editing: Savia Hasanona, Rada Valentina kyzy
Cover Photography: Anna Karamurzina
Authors: Alexey Juravlev, Altynai Nogoibaeva, Aigerim Ryskulbekova
Data editor: Savia Hasanona
Text editing: Savia Hasanona, Rada Valentina kyzy
Cover Photography: Anna Karamurzina
The article was created by fellows of the data journalism program of the Media-K Internews project in Kyrgyzstan, implemented with the support of USAID in the Kyrgyz Republic. The mentor of the program is Savia Hasanova. The opinions and conclusions in the material do not necessarily reflect the views of Internews and its partners.