Tajikistan: From reconstruction to development
Nearly twenty years after the end of its brutal civil war, Tajikistan has been able to avoid total collapse and seems to be enjoying levels of development not seen since the Soviet era.
In 1996, a year before the peace agreement was signed, the U.N. launched an ambitious rehabilitation, reconstruction and development programme that helped displaced people return to their communities and has reintegrated former combatants into civilian life.
“It was extremely challenging to do the work,” explains Mubin Rustamov of UNDP Tajikistan, speaking of the UNOPS-executed programme. “These combatants had neither formally been demobilized nor disarmed. They were left to drift and would have trouble being reaccepted into their communities. They were at risk of becoming armed gangs.”
“We worked to come up with incentives for them to voluntarily go back to civilian life and find a face-saving way to rejoin their communities,” he added.
In 2002, UNDP took over the management of the initiative, and began to focus on post-war reconstruction and recovery in both government and opposition-controlled areas. Local self-help organizations managing small revolving funds improved rural livelihoods and living conditions and established the foundations for a healthy microfinance sector in the country.
Over 4,000 ex-combatants directly benefited from the programme, which allowed them to return to civilian life and obtain training and jobs. The ex-combatants were also able to participate in the rehabilitation of their communities from the ravages left in the wake of the civil war.
The programme then shifted its focus towards local economic development and community self-governance. Over the years, it transformed itself into a nation-wide implementation platform for UNDP’s work, allowing it to roll out new local initiatives without having to set up new structures. These partner networks are still present and being used for a variety of needs, including reducing disaster risk.
In a highly symbolic example of its work, the programme helped people in Shaartuz, situated in the southwest of the country, to repair and clean up a once highly frequented public park.
“We didn’t want to do it at first, because there were much greater humanitarian and recovery needs to address, but the people insisted that their top priority was the park,” said Jan Harfst who headed the programme from 1997 to 2002. “Finally we understood that having their park back would in a way bring closure to the war and breathe new life in the community.”
Tajikistan has now enjoyed more than a decade of continuous peace, no small feat given its turbulent geographical position. If its current development efforts are any indication, it seems that the best the country has to offer the world is yet to come.