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Poverty, and an inability to effectively manage the ever-present risk of natural disaster, increase the vulnerability of rural communities to extreme events in Tajikistan. Mountains dominate the landscape, with less than 10 % of Tajikistan’s land area suitable for intensive agricultural production.
For those who choose not to emigrate for work opportunities abroad, agriculture provides the key source of income and sustenance for a population that is largely rural. This reliance is likely to persist for decades to come. Variability in weather, however, increases the uncertainty of a harvest. Naturally, therefore, expansion of land under agricultural production into marginal areas within fragile watersheds is on the rise. Together with the need for wood to support heating and cooking needs, there is increasing pressure on forested areas. As a result, extreme weather events increase the exposure of communities to loss of life, livelihoods and property given persistent threat of landslides, mudflow and glacial lake outbursts.
Caritas Switzerland initiated its engagement in Tajikistan in 1996, with relief work in the aftermath of a protracted civil war. The country programme has since evolved into a holistic response to contemporary challenges that affect well-being within rural communities. Through judicious application of evidence, participatory learning and sound environmental underpinnings, the focus is on improving agricultural livelihoods within mountainous environments, while simultaneously reducing vulnerability to natural disasters. Within the framework of a food-water-energy nexus, contextually relevant and effective land, water and forest management systems are improving the capacity for rural communities and governmental authorities to adapt to climate change.
We concentrate our efforts on fragile watersheds
Watersheds are areas of land where all water flows into a single stream, river or larger body of water such as a lake or ocean. They are an effective unit for management of water resources for multiple uses. Healthy watersheds provide communities with a source of clean water as well as a supporting habitat for flora and fauna to thrive. In Tajikistan, the underpinnings of poverty have unfortunately led to an imbalance between the human imperative for food (agriculture) and energy (wood for heat and cooking) and, on the other hand, environmental and ecological processes that support the ability for natural systems to recover from the impact of changes in weather and long-term climate change. This has naturally led to increased vulnerability for communities within fragile watersheds, as manifested in increasing threats from natural disasters.
We pursue a nexus approach
There is a need for balance between human imperatives for well-being and natural environmental process to sustain healthy watersheds. Participatory dialogue with communities and regulatory agencies aim to assess inherent trade-offs, as well as synergies, that exist between agricultural production, human well-being and environmental (ecosystem) services within fragile watersheds. In embracing the notion of a water-food-energy nexus, contextually relevant approaches are jointly developed and implemented for effective management of these often-competing interests, while ensuring the integrity of environmental (and ecosystem) services.
We utilize evidence-based decision-making processes
Decision making at all levels of the country programme is evidence based. This is achieved through sound applied research and synthesis of experiential evidence in context. Development of tools, processes and inherent capacity to put this knowledge into practice is undertaken within the lens of a food-water-energy nexus. Current initiatives are informed by and continue to inform further development of: participatory M&E systems, information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D), outcome mapping exercises, photomonitoring of sentinel sites within target watersheds (to assess changes in vegetative cover), and contextually relevant tools to assess changes in sedimentation within runoff streams as well as soil health.
We form strategic partnerships to leverage investment
Our programme collaborates closely with communities, governments at the local, district and national level, civil society organizations, NGOs and strategic research partners. Modalities for collaboration often include significant co-financing agreements. Agreements with international institutes of higher education permit students to utilize existing projects and catchment areas as a laboratory for learning and dissemination of knowledge. Engagement of international agricultural research institutes open avenues for access to new technologies (e. g. improved seed varieties, machinery). These are often based on agreements that are underpinned by free access to international public goods.
We foster knowledge dissemination and policy dialogue
We pursue a multilevel approach to good governance and influence on policy relevant discussion. At local and district levels, we actively involve water, energy, land and forest users, as well as relevant local and district government authorities in the planning, implementation and supervision of project initiatives. Our initiatives empower key personnel within national systems for subsequent system management, operation and maintenance. Lessons learned in the field are shared with strategic research partners, and other like-minded development organizations, to distill knowledge that is free and easily accessible. Knowledge gained from more than two decades of engagement in the field of management and governance of natural resources has proven to be relevant for development organizations and research institutes within Tajikistan, Central Asia more broadly; and of interest globally to countries with relevant challenges within similar environments.