Tajikistan’s Pyanj River Basin has always been a difficult place to live. For generations the hardy local people have scratched a living, based on subsistence agriculture, alongside the river once known as the Oxus. Descended from Persians – for which Tajik is the Persian word – they are among the poorest people in the poorest of the Central Asian states, where 92% of land is mountain and the rest is floodplain.
In recent years, the effects of climate change have brought floods, landslides, rockfalls and violent winds that routinely destroy crops in the Pyanj River Basin. For communities where many of the men have left to work in Kazakhstan and Russia, such natural disasters take people very close to the brink.
In 2012, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) commissioned us to carry out a project that it was managing on behalf of the Climate Investment Fund (CIF), which grants money to countries most at risk from the volatile and changing climate.
WYG Project Director, David Kelly, describes our work: “As part of the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), we carried out all the preparation and feasibility studies needed to enable the CIF to provide an essential grant to Tajikistan.
“As well as looking at technical feasibility in irrigation, water supply and flood protection systems, we also worked with local people, making sure that women and children – the most vulnerable groups – were very well represented.”
Reinforcing Local Infrastructure
Initially focusing on infrastructure, our program looked at ways of helping make it more resilient to shocks in a volatile climate. The local people were excited that someone was finally listening to them and doing something useful. “The water supply is very bad, and it would be very helpful to do something to make it better”, was their universal chorus.
David Kelly adds: “As well as the hard infrastructural advice we also designed into the project a lot of capacity building for the local economy, showing people how to use the irrigation networks better, for example, or teaching them about low energy technologies and approaches. The project will give a lot of training so they will have knowledge as well as equipment.”
Creating social impact
In a country where approaching 50% of GDP is generated abroad, cash – even in relatively small amounts – has the potential to make the biggest difference to individual lives. As part of our project, we worked with micro finance institutions to design a scheme that will assess individuals and communities, and provide them with finance through small or medium sized loans from a revolving fund seeded with capital from the CIF grant. Ranging from $200 to a few thousand dollars, the loans are intended to fund diverse activities to help people build their own climate resilience; as David Kelly explains: “In some cases the loans will help farmers to buy more resilient seed to improve their crop yield, in others they will help people set up business such as handicrafts and basket making.
“One community told us that it wanted to invest in cows and a bull as a way of reducing their dependence on arable farming.”
David concludes: “Climate change is real, be it man-made or not, and it is having a clear impact in many parts of the world. Our technical and development expertise, in partnership with finance from banks, donors and other institutions, is making a real difference to communities who most need it.”