In 2011, SROCA covered five countries in Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The region was hit by a succession of small- to medium-scale emergencies that took place amid political uncertainty in countries with long-serving administrations, some of which face growing insecurity ahead of the 2014 withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
The political situation in Kyrgyzstan remained fluid. Fortunately, presidential elections held in October did not cause a major crisis, and the country witnessed its first peaceful transfer of power since gaining independence in 1991.
Crises elsewhere, although small-scale, highlighted the region’s volatility and vulnerability. Usually stable Kazakhstan was shaken by three terrorist attacks that killed seven people, and by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake near Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, in May. This forced people to sleep outside or flee town. In July, a military arms depot exploded in Turkmenistan killing at least 15 people.
Access to information and affected people was limited, creating a major constraint for humanitarian organizations in the region. Access to the explosion site in Turkmenistan was severely restricted. There were similar access problems in Uzbekistan: no humanitarian organizations were allowed into the affected area after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck the Fergana Valley in July. Fourteen people were killed and hundreds of houses destroyed. Kazakhstan blocked several news sources and social media in the first days after riots erupted in west Kazakhstan in December.
Central Asia receives limited donor attention and has a lack of humanitarian actors on the ground (except for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). Access to national decision makers on preparedness and response is sporadic and varies considerably from country to country.
In 2011, SROCA supported Kyrgyzstan’s transition from humanitarian relief to early and longer-term recovery. SROCA facilitated three contingency planning exercises ahead of potentially troublesome events; guided the development of an early recovery strategy, gathering humanitarian actors to draw lessons from the 2010-2011 humanitarian response in Kyrgyzstan; and produced a final report on the Kyrgyzstan extended and revised Flash Appeal.
The Government of Kyrgyzstan expressed deep appreciation for the humanitarian community’s collective work. The disaster management authorities participated in the contingency planning, working with SROCA to provide information on humanitarian funding streams and overall baseline data. The working relationship with the Government of Kyrgyzstan stands out in Central Asia as one of the most productive and mutually trusting.
SROCA continued building strong regional networks and promoting cross-country disaster preparedness. A three-day INSARAG/UNDAC awareness training event drew disaster management nationals from all five Central Asian countries and two from the Caucasus. Kazakhstan voiced strong interest in joining INSARAG and UNDAC. In August, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement on establishing the Central Asian Center for Disaster Risk Reduction and Response (CACDRRR). SROCA initiated CACDRRR in 2008 and actively supported the centre’s establishment. Tajikistan is expected to sign in the near future.
SROCA also focused on encouraging humanitarian coordination leaders—RCs, HCTs and cluster leads—to respond more effectively to sudden and slow-onset emergencies. It co-facilitated a simulation exercise in Kazakhstan in July with the participation of the Government, the Red Cross movement and UNCT agencies. The lessons from this exercise formed the basis for updating the contingency plan. SROCA also started the Uzbekistan contingency plan review. Crisis communications workshops were organized in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, leading to the establishment of crisis communications groups endorsed by the respective HCTs.
SROCA worked with emerging donor governments, particularly Kazakhstan. The office began issuing quarterly regional humanitarian funding updates. They highlighted Kazakhstan’s role as the region’s main donor, with over $58 million provided in kind over the last five years.
As of January 2012, the office coverage was expanded to include Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Regional Office for Caucasus and Central Asia (ROCCA) will cover two highly seismic regions that have a total population of 77 million. ROCCA’s strategic priority areas for intervention in 2012 are as follows:
Build disaster awareness, analytical capacity and response preparedness of National Disaster Management Offices, and key local and international humanitarian partners.
Support governments and humanitarian partners in coordinating disaster preparedness and response and improving access to international funding.
Develop regional coordination networks to increase cross-border and inter-agency collaboration on disaster preparedness and response.
Ensure regional Member States’ integration into international response mechanisms.
Advocate increased support of Member States to international humanitarian funding mechanisms.
Strengthen information management in disaster preparedness and response by developing standardized and inter-agency-based tools and products.