Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

16 October 2024

World Food Day

Charymukhammet Redzhepov

“The reservoir… stores cool fresh water, and water in the desert means life!”


Charymukhammet Redzhepov is officially retired, but it hasn’t stopped him from teaching at his local secondary school in Bukri, a village in central Turkmenistan.   

Living here makes him a gumly, a term reserved for people in the Karakum desert, “which literally means ‘sand dwellers’”, he explains.   

Wedged between Iran to the south, Uzbekistan to the north, and the Caspian sea to the west, the Karakum desert covers nearly three quarters of Turkmenistan, and Bükri lies at the heart of it.   

“Relatives visit us rarely,” says Charymukhammet. “Guests come even less often as our place is very hot. The sand can heat up to 70 degrees!”   

But what's worse than the lack of visitors is the the acute shortage of fresh water, he says.   

While villages in the southern Karakum benefit from a large canal system, those who live further noth, like Charymukhammet, largely rely on wells and whatever rainfall they can catch in winter and spring.    

"A drop of water is a grain of gold!" he says, repeating a well-used local saying. “All the village residents dreamed of having plenty of water for a long time.”   

They’ve come closer to that dream thanks to a new sardoba in the school’s courtyard, a covered water reservoir that catches both rainwater runoff and dew from the air. Dateing back to Silk-road times, the dome-like structures with a hole in the ceiling protect against heat and evaporation while allowing air and water to flow in.   

“The reservoir volume is only 60 m3 but it seems huge to us as it stores cool fresh water,” he says. “And water in the desert means life!”    

The sardoba now covers most of the school's day-to-day water needs. Additionally, it allows them to plant more plants around the school that protect against the hot, drying winds.  

His student now garden the village too,” he says, making their environmental education more practical.   

“We explain to the students how much proteting the environment and desert plants means for the life of people in the desert,” he says.    

“Schoolchildren are now rushing to biology lessons because they know they’ll be engaged in useful activities - planting trees and watering them from the sardoba.”