Will Lynch, Save the Children’s Central Asia Country Director

WilliamLynchHeadshot05 Osh, Kyrgyzstan

June 16,

Sirens and occasional gunshots could be heard into
predawn.  Today, people remain afraid to venture far from their front doors and
streets or out of their neighborhoods. Traffic has picked up.  There are a few
more people on the streets.  But the dead calm follows many episodes of civil
unrest. A local doctor’s treatment tally tells the story of the last six days by
the number of gunshot wounds he’s treated each day: 12, 18, 8, 3, 2 and one so
far today.

We drove and walked to two Uzbek
malhallahs, Kotgon and Cheremushke, to get a better idea of the conditions. Men
are living in their neighborhoods, often staying with neighbors near their
burned out houses. Women have been sent to Uzbekistan or are staying in
mosques or large private houses that have been converted to shelters. Painted
at irregular intervals on the streets in two meter tall letters is the message

Men and women alike expect that they will be targeted
again. Rumors about renewed violence abound. They say they have heard they will
be attacked again. Some have immediate reasons to worry: One woman said a person
had remarked to her that she’d be killed as soon as the interim government

However, Save the Children’s Sadar Tokhbobaev said he
was part of a group organized by elders in the Kyrgyz community to break bread
and pledge peace with a neighboring Uzbek enclave. He said they will continue to
meet, but that the street barricades remain for now. Other Uzbeks told stories
of how their Kyrgyz, Russian and Tatar neighbors came to their defense and
stopped the looting and burning in their neighborhoods. It seems the level of
devastation on a street is partly a function of the neighborhood’s diversity. 

There was a strong need to show us what happened. To
have witnesses. We were forced to view the charred remains of two adults and an
infant who had been brought to a mosque. Another group let us through a burned
out compound to see the bones of another victim protruding from a charred metal
bed frame. The resting places of others, and their brief stories were related as
we walked the streets.

Families are separated in the shelters – women and
children in some shelters and some sections of shelters and men in other places.
There is an adequate supply of bedding for the time being, but use and winter
will make replacements necessary. There is piped water and latrines, but not to
serve the populations. The sanitary situation is deteriorating. The city water
supply seems adequate. However, toilets are overwhelmed and there are no hand
washing stations or other measures at the ad hoc shelters. Diarrhea among
children was a common complaint at each of the larger centers and in the
neighborhoods in general. 

The people we spoke to want to return and rebuild. One
90-year-old woman declared that if she were given a tent, she would move back to
her old home site and start the rebuilding process. There is no desire to move
to Uzbekistan.
Wives and children were
sent away for safety, not for good.

Commerce and charity continue. Deliveries of large bags
of noodles, canned fish, oil, candy and soft drinks was observed. There is an ad hoc pipeline. Along the street a two ton truck was selling tea, coffee, noodles,
flour, soap and other essentials to ready buyers at 30% above last week’s

Save the Children has some start-up funds, and we should
have an agreement signed with the World Food Program (WFP) on Friday to start
distributing food and non-essential food items over the weekend or early next
week. The first shipment of hygiene materials – soap, toothbrushes, towels and
sanitary napkins – arrive tomorrow. They will be assembled into 500 kits and
distributed at women’s centers during the weekend.

Image courtesy of: Lonely Planet