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Alliance of Central Asian Mountain Communities: Bridges across mountains

Mar 29, 2011 / CIPRA Internationale Alpenschutzkommission
Sometimes the toughest challenges can be presented in the most tender way. On the plate in front of Antonio Zambon is a sheep’s head, braised for hours so that the meat is lovely and tender, eyes included. Expectantly, the Kyrgyz hosts watch their visitor from distant Italy. Quite a quandary. This rustic delicacy is not exactly to his taste; then again, the gesture is intended to honour him as the delegation’s oldest member.
Antonio Zambon (second from left) with colleagues from the Alliance of Central Asian Mountain Communities.
Image caption:
Antonio Zambon (second from left) with colleagues from the Alliance of Central Asian Mountain Communities. © CIPRA International / Andreas Götz
“In Central Asia respect for age and social cohesion is still intact,” says Antonio Zambon, 59, formerly mayor of Budoia and Vice President of the Alliance in the Alps network of municipalities. This is in contrast to the roads, schools, public buildings and private houses which, following the collapse of socialism, are in a deplorable state. With negative consequences, also for the environment. Because the houses are poorly insulated and the stoves antiquated, much of the heat energy is simply wasted during the harsh winters. On average people spend up to half their household budget on fuel.
International co-operation is to provide relief. Through personal contacts, CIPRA Director Andreas Götz and the alpine network of municipalities began to visit Kyrgyzstan in 2002. At a conference held there, mayors from Italy and Austria reported on the importance of exchanges between communities in the Alps, and how well they work. Antonio Zambon explained to his Kyrgyz, Tajik and Kazakh audience how his hometown was learning from projects in other communities: “It was new for them. Our biomass plant for example is inspired by a model in Vorarlberg, as is the school canteen, which serves organic food.” CIPRA’s basic idea of networking communities faced with similar problems in order to benefit from the solutions of others was a convincing one. The Alliance of Central Asian Mountain Communities (AGOCA) was founded unanimously.
The two community networks have been working together ever since. The key issue is how energy can be used in the most efficient way. “We can be of help here mainly with technical know-how,” says Zambon. But financial aid is also provided. In Kyrgyzstan around EUR 650 is enough to insulate an entire house.
CIPRA has been assisting its Central Asian partners ever since Director Andreas Götz first helped to get the project up and running seven years ago; the Alliance in the Alps also helps with words (on efficient stoves and alternative energies) and deeds (access to sponsors). AGOCA has learnt a great deal from its European partners. Inter-community excursions, in the Alps and Central Asia, are an important means of passing on successful methods for improving energy efficiency.
At first there were of course a few misunderstandings. “In Central Asia people see the future as a time where there will be as many new streets, dams and houses as possible. So at first they would shake their heads when we pointed out that too much infrastructure destroys the landscape,” reports Zambon. It took a while before his counterparts realised that the sort of rampant development the Alps has experienced could one day become a problem for them too. So the European partners provide assistance with a difficult balancing act between preservation and development, between traditional values and the modern.
Zambon, for his part, achieved this feat. A diplomatic solution emerged for the sheep’s head on his plate at the banquet in Kyrgyzstan: he tasted a morsel, then handed the dish to the elder member of the host family.

Source: Annual Report 2010 CIPRA International