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Tajikistan is the poorest of the former Soviet republics and ranks as one of the poorest of the 15 Central Asian countries. Widespread poverty and the geopolitically critical location drew the international attention to the small landlocked country, which borders Afghanistan, Kirgizstan, China and Uzbekistan.
After the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the years following the civil war, public service delivery declined and the impact of the income poverty could only be mitigated by remittances from labour migrants to Russia. These remittances constitute currently 50% of the GDP. In remote areas, mother and child mortality rates and illiteracy are high. Food insecurity is a serious problem with 2.7 million out of a population of 8.1 million people classified as undernourished. The percentage of undernourished people more than doubled over the last decade. Economic freedom is ranked as one of the worst in the world. Poor governance in general and the lack of a functioning regulatory mechanism for natural resource management is responsible for livelihood strategies which are often made at the expense of the natural environment. In terms of climate change, Tajikistan ranks as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. Climate change is likely to pose additional and significant risks for the rural poor who depend on the natural resources for their livelihood. The severe problems favour the surge of extreme Islamist movements as the disillusioned turn to fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. A re-defining of cultural identity is leading to conservative values and practices, including early marriages and having a high number of children, which, in turn, leads to an uncontrolled population explosion. A combination of factors brings forth problems like domestic violence and high divorce and suicide rates.
The work of Caritas in Tajikistan tackles the underlying factors for poor governance and poverty. Caritas is convinced that for a positive development, government and civil society have to partner up and find forms of fruitful collaboration. The civil society has to be empowered and enabled to create its own representation mechanisms to hold the government more accountable. Government institutions have to be enabled to provide effective public services. Public-private sector partnerships have to be pursued in order to develop the local and national economy. This is done by providing technical and organisational support to farmers, women organisations and social enterprises, through providing capacity building to governmental officials and developing productive value chains with public and private engagement.
Considering the changes in the climate globally and the alarming rate of environmental degradation and depletion of soil and water resources in Tajikistan, Caritas’s rural development programme is directed towards enhancing practices of sustainable land use and water management and improving the resilience of rural communities as well as their adaption to climate change. The programme seeks to combine livelihood benefits with disaster risk reduction by pursuing synergies between income generation/increased incomes on the one hand, and sustainable natural resources management on the other hand. A special focus is given to lighten the heavy workload of women, left behind by their migrant husbands. The programme not only transfers technical knowhow ("how to") adapted to the socio-economic and agro-ecological circumstances at hand, but also addresses the political framework conditions by using the policy space at the local level and scaling up to higher levels.
Caritas' development programme is inspired by important lessons learned in Switzerland on how to overcome poverty. Pasture management (Alpwirtschaft) and integrated watershed management, two important elements in the programme, rely on the successful realizations of how to manage the “commons” (pasture, forest, Allmend) in Switzerland in the late 19th century. This management of the “commons” reduced the negative impact of human interventions on nature and build – together with other elements (such as insurances) – the fundament for the takeoff of Switzerland during the 19th and 20th century.
The program’s social justice component is further based on the notion of inclusiveness and care for the most vulnerable parts of society. In natural resources management this values are upheld by ensuring that women and the elderly have equal access to program resources and benefits. In the area of education, we pursue a cost effective inclusive education approach.
The program evolve in line with the National Development Strategy 2015 of the Tajik government, sector laws and policies (e.g. inclusive education, food security and water sector reform) and along guiding concepts of multilateral and bilateral donors. It aims at contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the Hyogo Framework for Action (Disaster Risk Reduction) and seek to create synergies.
At present, Caritas Switzerland in Tajikistan has 47 staff and 8 projects with a total financial volume of CHF 2.4 million annually.
Short history of Caritas Switzerland presence in country
Caritas Switzerland began its engagement in Tajikistan in 1996 with relief work in the aftermath of the civil war. Development cooperation in Tajikistan’s Khatlon region was launched with the “Local Development Muminabad Project” (2000-2010), which involved all development stakeholders of the district for a whole decade in participatory development planning and in poverty reduction. Since 2005, Caritas Switzerland has been involved in a number of pioneering projects in the areas of integrated watershed management, disaster risk reduction and integrated development with a focus on land use and development planning with livestock and pasture management components. In the context of the “Income Generation for Rural Women in Muminabad Project” poverty reduction and legal-economic empowerment with a focus on rural women has been addressed with sustainable results. Caritas Switzerland has been promoting a participatory integrated development approach in all its projects.