As Uzbekistan continues the annual cotton harvest that is largely responsible for the Aral Sea’s demise, officials in Tashkent are boasting that a recent donor conference raised close to $3 billion to help save the endangered lake, once the world’s fourth-largest.
Verifying Uzbek government claims is never easy, and conference attendees are not hurrying to confirm or break down the impressive figure. But an event for the Aral Sea did take place in Urgench, a city not far from the Aral’s receding shoreline, on October 27 and 28. Addressing the conference via pre-recorded video, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon demanded better international coordination to “mitigate environmental catastrophe” reported uz24.uz, an Uzbek outlet. According to the independent Uznews.net, the conference was organized by the authoritarian state in conjunction with the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea, a regional club, which critics say has done almost nothing since it was set up in 1993.
NASA satellite photos released in late August show that even a partial replenishment of the water-starved Aral is unlikely: The lake’s eastern tranche has completely dried up for the first time in history.
One of the more impressive success stories of the last decade has been the growth of the Turkish Cooperation and
Coordination Agency (TIKA), Turkey's foreign aid agency. From being a country that frequently received international assistance, Turkey has gone on to become a quite interesting and dynamic player in the foreign aid field. As academic Saban Kardas points out in a very interesting report for the German Marshall Fund, TIKA's development assistance funds shot up 27 fold over the last decade, today standing at some $2.3 billion, with Turkey now playing a leading development role in a number of countries, particularly in Afghanistan and Somalia.
More interesting, as Kardas writes, is the mix of humanitarian and foreign policy goals that lie behind Turkey's growing foreign aid program. From his analysis:
While in some cases, Turkey’s assistance is motivated by
purely global humanitarian considerations and takes the
form of technical assistance or development credits, in other
cases, Turkey supports cultural projects and works toward the
goal of reconnecting with the countries with which it shares
a common, cultural, and historic heritage. The emphasis
that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu places on Turkey’s
historic responsibility towards civilizational kin has provided
added impetus for channeling aid to specific regions.
In addition to carrying out technical assistance projects
that are intended to bolster ties with the countries in
the Ottoman-Turkish cultural zone by contributing to
their economic and political development, some projects
supported by Turkey focused on the discovery or restoration
of historic artifacts or monuments in a geography
stretching from Mongolia to the Balkans. Similarly, Turkey
You can’t fault Kyrgyzstan’s parliament deputies for generosity.
The Zhogorku Kenesh voted today to give up one day’s salary to aid earthquake victims in Japan. Judging by the number of Lexus SUVs lined up outside the parliament building, the total should round up to a nice useful sum.
But wait a minute.
Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg reported recently that deputies’ monthly salaries only amount to a frugal 18,000 soms ($380). Do some basic math and you get the thrifty sum of just over $1,500 going to Japan.
Kyrgyzstan likewise sent 3 tons of water to the devastated Asian country. Bishkek offered a team of its emergency service workers, but rumor has it that the Japanese politely declined.
The best thing Kyrgyz parliamentarians could do to help Japan at this point is to keep buying those Toyota Lexus SUVs.
The cheapest new one available on the carmaker's American site costs no less than $38,375 -- almost exactly 100 times as much as a deputy makes in a month.
At a donor meeting today, Kyrgyzstan's leaders revised upward the amount they say is needed to get their economy back on track. The new magic number: $1.2 billion, or over 25 percent of Kyrgyzstan's GDP (roughly $4.7 billion in 2009, according to US government figures).
That's a lot, though the UN has backed up this figure as have the usual Bretton Woods supranational suspects, including the International Monetary Fund. Certainly the economic projections are disheartening. At the conference, provisional President Roza Otunbayeva said Kyrgyzstan's economy would shrink by 5 percent this year thanks to the recent bout of instability. Finance Minister Chorobek Imashev said the country faces a budget shortfall of $619 million.
Observers in Bishkek wonder how the country will handle such a huge cash infusion. As Inside the Cocoon noted yesterday, Kyrgyzstan isn't exactly a fiscally clean place. In fact, it's among the most corrupt countries on the planet.
And what about reconciliation initiatives involving Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan? Government officials framed their appeal to the international community in a way that sounded as if Kyrgyzstan had just suffered a natural disaster, rather than inter-ethnic conflict.
Before international donors and local officials gather tomorrow to discuss a financial aid package for Kyrgyzstan, one figure is already getting attention: $1 billion. Yep, the damage from the recent violence and political turmoil, and subsequent economic collapse, cost exactly a billion, says newly appointed Senior Vice Prime Minister Amangeldi Muraliev.
But Muraliev did not pull that number out of thin air. The sonorous figure is floating around the international donor community and is expected to be center stage during the July 27 donor conference in Bishkek.
“The preliminary assessment for the country’s needs … are about $1 billon,” said a Bishkek-based source at one of the major multilateral donor organizations.
Kyrgyzstan certainly has huge financial hurdles ahead. The World Bank estimates the country’s GDP, on track to grow 4.5 percent before the April uprising, will actually shrink by 3.5 percent in 2010.
It will be interesting to see how the government itemizes its request, and how donors respond. Kyrgyzstan ranks in the top 20 most corrupt countries worldwide by Transparency International. So far, the UN, in its most recent revised flash appeal, has sought just under $100 million.