ASTANA – As Kazakhstan develops as a regional player and establishes its national development aid agency as a donor, international development and aid organisations are keen to establish more strategic partnerships and more dialogue with the country. Among these is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“We have good cooperation with the government of Kazakhstan but we are trying to get even more structured dialogue,” ICRC Vice President Christine Beerli told this newspaper on May 21. “We think that Kazakhstan is a regional power with a lot of impact and we would like to have a real strategic dialogue with the government on what is going on in the region, but also beyond.”
The ICRC has an ongoing dialogue at the ministerial level, Beerli explained. “We are very pleased, also, to see the development of this KazAID department [KazAID is the working name of the country’s nascent official development programme]. We have had exchanges on that topic with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before and we think this is a very positive development and I think that we will be also in contact with this agency.”
The two organisations are already considering how they might work together in the region and further afield. One of the first possibilities for a KazAID project might be in Ukraine, Beerli noted. “We heard before that the Kazakh government is interested in having a proposition from our side on how they could channel help into Ukraine.”
The ICRC operation in Ukraine is one of their biggest at the moment, she said. “And the situation in Ukraine is still very difficult, with a lot of internally displaced people, with a lot of refugees … with a lot of destruction after the fighting. The nation is in a really dire situation.”
The ICRC is helping with water supplies, sewage systems, reconstruction, medical aid – and they have discussed with Kazakhstan the possibility of joining forces to do more in the conflict-torn region. “I think that we will propose a project and this will perhaps be one of the first projects proposed for KazAID. We’ll see what will happen. At least, we discussed it and we got the request, and [were asked to] submit a project, so we’ll see.”
There is also the potential to cooperate on projects in Africa, Beerli said. “As we saw with the [AEF] panel on Africa, that’s also a declared interest of Kazakhstan, to invest and to be active in development on the African continent.” With the ICRC’s delegations around Africa, particularly in areas of violence and conflict, “We’d be able to produce quite a lot of insight into situations in the field – and that’s also what we were discussing with the government of Kazakhstan, that we could have a structured, strategic dialogue on these topics but also of course on more humanitarian diplomacy topics.”
Earlier, Kazakh officials had said the initial primary focus of the country’s emerging official development assistance system would be on countries in Central Asia, such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as Afghanistan, which are willing and eager to accept such assistance.
Regarding their work in Central Asia, Beerli said she cannot predict what will happen in the region, but that her organisation is on the ground and will go where there is need. The ICRC is in constant dialogue with Central Asian countries in which they have operations, such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and on a more strategic and diplomatic level with countries like Kazakhstan and Russia, she noted.
“What we can do is say where we see needs, because our work is extremely needs-based and we try to be there when needs are the greatest and where people are the most vulnerable. And we will try to make proposals when we think there is a big need in the region, we will try to submit a proposal and see what will happen,” Beerli said. With Kazakhstan an important regional power, she said, they hope to open an ICRC headquarters in Astana, to help facilitate dialogue and diplomatic contacts. “[The headquarters agreement] has been signed, but we’re still waiting for it to be ratified. We hope it will be soon!”
In the Kazakh capital for the Astana Economic Forum on May 21-22, Beerli brought a specific message to the development community: in your eagerness to work with the private sector and use development aid to harness investment, don’t forget about the world’s most vulnerable people, who live in conflict zones that are not going to be attracting capital in the near future.
“The most vulnerable people and the poorest 20 percent of people worldwide are living in situations of conflict and situations of violence,” Beerli said. And where these people are – in Yemen, Syria, Somalia or South Sudan – there is no hope, at the moment, of attracting investment or raising money through taxation. “That’s where I think the public money has to go first, because there will not be investment money there and there will not be taxes there,” she said. “Afterwards, we hope, these countries will come out of these very difficult situations, and then development money, taxes and investment will click in and go further on.”
Then, of course, development and the private sector can work together to help countries develop their economies. But there should not be a dichotomy between humanitarian and development aid, Beerli repeated. “We should not think of it as a competition. They should work hand in hand, because where you have the biggest need in these conflict areas you have to strengthen the resilience of people. Only afterwards can development come in and … build on the ground, together with humanitarian aid. I think there we will have to discuss much more with development agencies and with donors, so they see there is a convergence.”