The 11 September attack on the US has had one positive effect: it has put Central Asia on the map, and reminded donors that this region needs long-term support to eradicate the poverty fuelling ethnic conflict, religious extremism and administrative authoritarianism. There are now signs that more aid will be channeled to Central Asia to sustain long-term development.
"We have not been able to succeed in attracting major donors in Central Asia in the past because they had urgent agendas in other parts of the world. This time they have realised they cannot overlook this region," UNDP Deputy Resident Representative for Kyrgyzstan Yuri Misnikov told IRIN on Thursday.
Kyrgyzstan’s foreign debt equals its GDP, and the country, one of the least developed in the region, is highly dependent on foreign aid.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is one of the major players in the development of the Kyrgyz economy. EBRD develops large infrastructures, but also deals with small-scale projects.
"The actual crisis [has] had an effect on the bank's shareholders, who are now fully conscious of the correlation between poverty, unemployment, lack of economic perspectives and terrorism potential," the EBRD head of office for Kyrgyzstan, Fernand Pillonel, told IRIN on Thursday.
Politically, Central Asia has given signs that it supports the US-led fight against terrorism, a fact that also encourages donors to enhance their aid.
"The fact that Central Asian countries offered support to the US, despite immediate threats related to possible terrorist retaliation acts, showed the international community that these countries are committed to transition, are committed to further progress in the integration to the global economy and international relations," Pillonel added.
The efforts being made by Central Asian states need to be acknowledged and should be
rewarded, experts believe. "The West should not repeat the mistake it did 10 years ago when it
pulled out from Afghanistan after the Soviet troops left. Today it must honour Central Asian states’ involvement, and take [up their] responsibilities for long-term support to eradicate poverty," the UNDP resident representative for Kyrgyzstan, Ercan Murat, told IRIN on Friday.
"The main risk is that some countries could be left aside [in the efforts to stimulate] economic growth. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have basically no natural resources, and the international community should focus specifically on those two states," Pillonel stressed.
"Kyrgyzstan is usually overshadowed by Tajikistan, which suffered from a terrible civil war, and therefore attracts more donors," Misnikov pointed out.
Unlike Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which have based their development on oil, gas, gold and diamond resources, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are struggling, because their natural resources are very limited. However, the main obstacle to the development of all these countries is political; their governments lack clearly set-out priorities for promoting a transition to a market economy and stimulating the development of civil society.
"The main problem is the lack of regional cooperation. Each country blames the other one for not responding to their demands. Yet the donors want to work in a regional frame," Misnikov said.
Once sharing a united economic, political and cultural environment within the former Soviet Union, each of the Central Asian states has opted for a very different path since they gained independence 10 years ago, in spite of the fact that because most of the problems they encounter on the way towards development and the alleviation of poverty - such as access to water, land and energy resources - demand a regional approach in order to arrive at effective solutions.
"I would say the five dangers for Central Asia are: social instability due to poverty, drugs problems, HIV infection, disputes on water resources and energy, and ethnic issues. There is no way one country can solve any of those issues without the full integration and cooperation of its neighbours," said Murat.
Donors are aware that only a regional approach can be effective, and try to render the projects they support conditional on a minimal degree of interstate cooperation.
"There is a lack of political will to cooperate. Nevertheless we support cooperation at community level on cross-border issues, and emphasise a regional frame at policy level in our interaction with the Kyrgyz government. This is the only way changes will happen and affect the daily
life of people in Central Asia", Murat concluded.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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