Although climatic disasters in Tajikistan may cumulatively account for more destruction and human casualties, there is a clear perception that seismic risk presents the greatest single hazard – and one from which no part of the country is immune. Roughly two-thirds of Tajikistan’s national territory appears in the highest category of risk on the 1999 Global Seismic Hazard Map.
Alongside the earthquake hazard is climate change – a destructive cycle of drought-flooddrought and generally topsy-turvy seasons. This plays havoc with agriculture and horticulture, even when it doesn’t cause an event actually classifiable as a disaster. In the decade to 2007, there were an average of 14 major flood-events (and 21 major earthquakes) a year.
Tajikistan is the poorest of the former Soviet republics – 127th out of 187 countries in the latest (2011) Human Development Index of the United Nations Development programme (UNDP). This is only just behind its immediate neighbour to the north, Kyrgyzstan, at 126, but compares unfavourably with Kazakhstan (68), Turkmenistan (102) and Uzbekistan (115).
By one estimate, before the world financial crisis that began in 2008 a higher proportion – 45 per cent – of Tajikistan’s gross domestic product comprised remittances from migrant workers than in any other country. An economic downturn in Russia and a depreciation in the value of the rouble caused a fall in the dollar value of remittances to Tajikistan of 31 per cent in 2009 over the previous year – US$ 800m or one sixth of GDP.
Tajikistan also has the highest rate of population growth in Central Asia: 1.83 per cent per annum in 2001–2, compared to the next-highest rate, Kyrgyzstan’s, at 1.43 per cent, and an average for all five countries of 1.19 per cent.
In 2003, with the assistance of the National Society’s long-standing donors like the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Partner National Societies (PNS) like the Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish Red Cross, the first of what are now 11 Disaster Management Centres (DMC) were set up in Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan (RCST) branches in strategic locations around the country, including all the capitals of the three oblasts and Dushanbe.
The rationale for this was the sheer frequency and severity of disasters the RCST had to deal with.
The National Society’s disaster management department was recreated from scratch in the same year, when the European Commission’s disaster risk reduction (DRR) projects also got underway with the first of what are now six completed rounds of projects.
The DMCs vary considerably in the size of the areas they take responsibility for. There is a division of opinion in the DMCs over whether to accede to recent advice from Dushanbe not to respond to “small-scale” disasters – mainly house fires – in order to preserve their very limited disaster preparedness (DP) stocks. Some DMC interviewees were reluctant to accept any distinction between small-, medium-, and largescale disasters.
Yet at a typical DMC, disaster stocks can easily be whittled down to zero over the course of a few months by responding to all small-scale disasters; they are expensive to replace – a complete family kit, not including a tent, costs around US$ 350 in Tajikistan.