Helping Others Grow Along With Us

On August 19, the United Nations marks World Humanitarian Day, an opportunity to pay tribute to humanitarian workers the world over. The day has been celebrated since 2008 to honour those who bring assistance to millions worldwide and celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work.

Celebrating “people helping people” around the globe, we can’t help but mention Kazakhstan’s joining the international humanitarian assistance movement and the country’s aspiration to give a helping hand to people in need. Today, Kazakhstan is ready to provide humanitarian aid and is already taking confident steps toward promoting peace and security in the region and beyond. While Kazakhstan has provided an estimated $100 million worth of humanitarian aid to other countries so far, its assistance to Afghanistan has been perhaps the most sustained and concentrated.

According to statistics, Kazakhstan has been providing assistance to Afghanistan through different projects intended to help that country’s peaceful development. Since 2002, Kazakhstan has sent about 20,150 tonnes of food products worth $17 million to Afghanistan and has allocated $2 million to ensure the rule of law and support the country’s law enforcement agencies.

In 2010, Kazakhstan’s government launched a $50 million educational programme for the citizens of Afghanistan. Once completed, the programme will provide 1,000 Afghan students a chance to receive a higher education in Kazakhstan’s universities. The project will continue until 2019 and until 2020 for those studying medicine. As of now, 836 students from Afghanistan have enrolled in Kazakh universities. The most recent group of students was formed in May 2014, in Kabul. In response to high demand on the Afghan side, the government of Kazakhstan is now reviewing the option to prolong the terms of the educational programme.

Among the most important initiatives of Kazakhstan in its effort to help resolve the crisis in Afghanistan is the idea to set up a  Disaster Response and Risk Reduction Centre in Almaty, a regional intergovernmental coordinating body aimed at strengthening regional and international cooperation through regionally coordinated disaster response activities. It will promote an integrated approach to preventing emergency situations and create a joint early warning system and mechanisms for mutual notification of hazards related to emergency situations. More importantly, it will help ensure regular communication between the member states, the international community, civil society and other stakeholders on better preparedness for natural and man-made disasters.  It is envisaged that this centre will work in concert with another proposed entity, a UN regional diplomacy hub, also in Almaty.

Naturally, Kazakhstan wants to systematise its humanitarian assistance and development assistance efforts. The country is now working to create what is now being provisionally called KazAID – the Kazakhstan Agency for International Development. The agency is modelled after the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and also looks to the official development assistance experience of Japan, Korea and Slovakia as examples.

The government and parliament of Kazakhstan have already started work on the legislation to set up such a structure. A draft bill providing a legal basis for KazAID has been introduced to the Parliament and will be considered once the Parliament resumes its session in September.

In an interview with The Astana Times in July, UN Resident Coordinator and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Kazakhstan Stephen Tull said the initiative of Kazakhstan couldn’t be more relevant to the needs of the region and that the UN and the international community strongly support the country in developing its aid programmes.

“Kazakhstan was maybe in the top five contributors of assistance in Central Asia in 2009-2011. KazAID is not just humanitarian assistance. It is hard today to differentiate humanitarian and development assistance, but the main thing is, there are many areas where Kazakhstan right now can help with development assistance … [e]nvironmental projects, energy efficiency or renewable energy projects,” Tull said.

“It’s because Kazakhstan is going through many changes itself that it is in a great position to help other countries to go through these changes. We also have this civil service hub – an international hub for civil service – based here in Kazakhstan. It’s actually an international hub with different countries – 22 different countries are part of this hub. It shares experiences. What works in one place might work in another place for civil service reform. Kazakhstan can help share its experience because it has made a very good progress in civil service reform,” he said.

As people mark World Humanitarian Day, there is hope that next year there will be even more reasons to celebrate this day in Kazakhstan and more people who can call this day their professional holiday.