Tajikistan: Interview with the Deputy Minister of Emergencies

Report
from The New Humanitarian
Published on 07 Jul 2003
DUSHANBE, 7 July (IRIN) - With a landscape dominated by mountains, Tajikistan is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and landslides. Such disasters regularly create emergencies in the former Soviet Central Asian republic. As the country's Deputy Minister of Emergencies and Civil Defence, Abdurahim Radjabov faces daunting challenges with little resources in hand.
In an Interview with IRIN, Radjabov maintained that the rising water levels in Sarez lake could threaten millions in Tajikistan, as well as in neighbouring Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The lake was created by an earthquake in 1911, which toppled a mountain into the flow of the Murghab river high up in the Pamir mountains of the eastern Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast or province (GBAO). He also called for increased international cooperation in disaster mitigation.

QUESTION: What are the major tasks that your ministry undertakes and what projects do you have now?

ANSWER: The major tasks of the Ministry of Emergencies is predicting and prevention of natural disasters, and the alleviation of their consequences. In this regard, we are running a number of projects, including training, providing humanitarian assistance to the population and dealing with rescue issues, in conjunction with the Tajik geology, hydro meteorological and seismological services.

We have offices and branches across the country at all administrative levels - in cities, provinces and districts. On a nationwide level we are cooperating with different ministries and government departments. In addition, we are always in contact with international organisations and NGOs.

We train government personnel and citizens in dealing with emergencies, disaster mitigation and protection from nuclear weapons. We regularly conduct joint training with the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Security and border guards.

Taking into account our climate and geographical location, we have got plenty of work, especially this year because of the many natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and mud-slides that have impacted the country.

Q: What areas of Tajikistan are particularly prone to natural disasters?

A: All geographical zones of our country are prone to natural disasters, but the most vulnerable zones are districts in the western Garm area, GBAO in the east, mountainous regions of the northern Sughd province such as Ayni, Panjakent, Istravshan, Shahriston, and Ganchi districts. These areas are constantly threatened by disasters, including floods, avalanches, earthquakes, heavy rains, storms and landslides.

Q: Are you satisfied with the manner in which the emergency created by the recent floods in northern Tajik district of Panjakent was handled?

A: Speaking about Panjakent, we are not completely satisfied. The major merit of our workers was that they were able to reduce and avoid human casualties. Our lifesavers knew about the threat, and mobilised all means to evacuate the inhabitants from dangerous zones to safer areas.

Although most people were evacuated, three people still died, and housing and infrastructure suffered huge losses. Our major task was to coordinate the activity of other ministries and services in order to clear up the consequences of these floods.

We informed the world about the disaster through mass media, appealing to international agencies such as the UN World Food Programme, the United Nations Children's Fund and the Red Cross etc, and they helped. We are also cooperating with the Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team (REACT) group of humanitarian agencies, who also helped us. As we have got good relations with the ministry of emergencies of the Russian Federation, they sent us tents, blankets and medicines.

However, I am not satisfied with our current mean of achieving this, especially money, communication equipment and key life-saving medical equipment. We also have insufficient food and medicines in stocks.

Q: With water levels constantly rising in the Sarez lake, there is a possibility that the water would eventually overflow the natural dam, and people in many neighbouring areas would be affected. What are you doing to mitigate this threat?

A: Everybody knows that Sarez is a giant natural dam with 17 billion cubic metres of water. This poses a possible threat to one million people in Tajikistan, another one million in neighbouring Afghanistan, more than 2.5 million in Uzbekistan, and an estimated two million inhabitants in Turkmenistan.

Our workers are constantly working in the Sarez zone, observing and monitoring the water levels. The project on Sarez lake risk mitigation is being carried [out] with the World Bank and the Swiss government.

Very soon we will be holding a tender to instal an early warning and monitoring system. We need to choose companies with experience in this field. The Sarez zone is of strategic importance and is very dangerous. The lake still threatens the population. The exact objective information from the area will be obtained after installing a system of early warning.

Q: The Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE] recently started a demining project to clear the country of mines and other unexploded ordnance. What is your ministry doing to clear these and rehabilitate the nation from other consequences of the five-year-long civil war between 1992 and 1997?

A: We initiated the mine-action work in the country, and we are looking for partners. We are now working on making a map of dangerous zones with the help of Ministry of Security. We have raised the issue by taking part in the conferences and cooperating with OSCE people. Together with the Red Cross, we are conducting informative awareness trainings for the population. There is no clear plan of action for demining yet, and we need money for that. Although the agreement [with OSCE] was signed, work has yet to begin.

Q: With a relatively weak communication infrastructure, what kind of an early warning system do you have, and do you need increased international support to improve it?

A: The communication systems that our ministry have are really weak. We have only ordinary telephones, simple radios, and the Codan wireless system. The last one is usually used in the Sarez zone. We should create a crisis centre for the coordination of our other services, but we have no finances and are looking for donors.

Q: Do you receive enough international assistance in general and, apart form finances and equipment, do you need training for your staff?

A: As I said earlier, we need increased international assistance at all levels, particularly in the area of advanced training for our personnel. Sometimes we receive new equipment, and we need to know how to use it. The Sarez lake risk mitigation programme includes some training activities as well.

Q: Is the cooperation with the REACT group of humanitarian aid agencies useful for you?

A: As you know, the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is leading REACT. Of course, we lack means and are short of expertise. REACT is helping us with specialist expertise in assessing an emergency situation and providing immediate aid.

Q: What are your immediate priorities for the future?

A: We are having meetings with Commonwealth for Independent States [CIS - former Soviet republics] countries to discuss the possibility to creating a common natural disaster mitigation strategy. As emergencies are a universal and common humanitarian issue, I think there should be one international disaster mitigation system. At least such systems should be compatible.

[ENDS]

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