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Kyrgyzstan Table of Contents


Transportation and Telecommunications

For reasons of commerce and national unity, Kyrgyzstan urgently needs improved systems of transportation and telecommunications, neither of which has received adequate attention since the 1980s. Some projects did, however, benefit from substantial foreign investment in the early and mid-1990s.


The failure to develop Kyrgyzstan's internal communications has exacerbated the republic's tendencies toward regional division between the north (dominated by the population center of Bishkek) and the south (dominated by the population center of Osh). The two regions are separated by sparsely populated, mountainous terrain (see fig. 2; Topography and Drainage, this ch.). Transportation problems have been exacerbated by the country's energy dependence, which includes the import of 100 percent of its gasoline supply. The republic's road and railroad systems are divided into two parts. The northern part is integrated with the transportation networks of Kazakstan, and the southern part is integrated with the networks of Uzbekistan. Three government agencies are responsible for transportation: the Ministry of Transportation, the State Civil Aviation Agency, and the Bishkek Railway Department. Kyrgyzstan is part of a large-scale project to coordinate development of the transportation infrastructure in the heartland of Asia, sponsored by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. The agency plans to spend as much as US$1.5 trillion between 1993 and 2000 to facilitate trans-Asian railroad and highway connections.

In 1990 Kyrgyzstan had 28,400 kilometers of roads, of which 22,400 were hard-surfaced. Some 371 million passengers and 43.9 million tons of freight traveled by road in 1992, accounting for 95 percent and 72 percent of total passengers and freight, respectively. The Karakorum Highway, a Chinese-built road from Ürümqi, at the eastern end of the Tian Shan in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, to Islamabad in northern Pakistan, has a connector to Bishkek, which is 1,900 kilometers from Islamabad (and 3,500 kilometers from Karachi on the Arabian Sea) by that route. A planned connector from Osh via Sary-Tash would cut 200 kilometers from those distances. In 1994 the condition of the country's roads was made a state secret.

Although Kyrgyzstan imports 100 percent of the gasoline it uses, government subsidies have kept gasoline prices relatively low because of the economic role of the nation's roads; in early 1995, tariff increases pushed the average price to roughly US$.30 per liter. The subsidy system has meant that supply is quite erratic and unpredictable; an acute shortage occurred in April 1995, raising the black-market gasoline price above US$.50 per liter.

In a country where 95 percent of freight moves by truck, the gasoline shortage has largely isolated the more remote provinces, and it has made ambulance, fire, and police services difficult to maintain. In at least one town in Osh Province, officials responded to the fuel shortage simply by shutting off all services, leaving the people without light, heat, or power. Public transportation has been doubly burdened because the gasoline shortage has restricted use of private cars and crowded an increased number of riders onto a reduced number of buses. In some cities, such as Kant and Naryn, the city bus services simply stopped running, making it almost impossible for people to get to work. Naryn's solution was to replace the municipal buses with horse-drawn omnibuses.

Rail transport plays a minor role, with a total of 370 kilometers of track, mostly in the north, providing links to Russia via Kazakstan. In the Soviet system, all rail freight moved along this corridor. Short lines in the south connect towns with the Ursatevskaya-Andijon Line in Uzbekistan. In 1992 some 1.7 million passengers and 5.5 million tons of freight were transported by rail. A rail link from Ürümqi to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, was opened in 1994, widening Kyrgyzstan's export possibilities. In 1995 a spur of that line opened from Ashgabat to Bandar-Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran. Although a proposal has been made to build a north-south rail link connecting Balychki with Kara-Keche, the money for such a project is not expected to be available in the foreseeable future.

In the early 1990s, available air transport facilities were inadequate. The national airline was formed from a share of the aircraft and personnel allocated from the Soviet airline Aeroflot. Manas, the international airport at Bishkek (named after the mythical national hero), was modernized in 1988 to make it the most modern commercial airport in Central Asia. A second international facility is located at Osh, and about twenty-five usable local fields supplement air service. Manas Airport originally offered flights to fifty cities in the CIS, including regular service to Moscow and Tashkent, and charter flights to China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. However, that facility has been almost unused since 1991. The shortage of jet fuel has forced Kyrgyzstan to rely almost completely on the Almaty international airport, four hours by road from Bishkek, for international connections, and the availability of air transport greatly decreased in the early 1990s. The loss of air services has exacerbated the country's tendency toward a north-south split.

Data as of March 1996

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Kyrgyzstan Table of Contents