The outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in Tajikistan has amplified its multi-faceted vulnerabilities and precariousness to shocks. After officially announcing the first 15 cases of Covid-19 on April 30, 2020, the number of confirmed cases has continued to rise and by July 9, 2020, the total number of cases had already reached 6,410 including 54 deaths.
Tajikistan’s already weak healthcare system makes the task of containing Covid-19 even more challenging. There is limited testing capacity with only a few laboratories certified to conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in the country. There is also a limited supply of testing kits and reagents which is affecting the number of tests being carried out. The Covid-19 medical response is already stretching the entire health care system in Tajikistan. As a result, routine clinical services, hospitalization, and immunization programmes are getting affected.
Beyond its immediate public health impact, the protracted nature of this pandemic is drastically slowing down the economy, jobs are being lost, and the state faces a tight fiscal space. Tajikistan did not go for a complete lockdown but closed its borders and airport and briefly stopped mass gatherings. However, even these partial measures have significantly impacted this low-income and socio-economically fragile country. According to the latest estimate, Tajikistan’s economy is likely to shrink by 2 percent in 2020.
It will be a major setback considering that the economy has recorded a growth rate of around 7 percent in the last five year. Due to economic slowdown and shortfall in revenues, fiscal gap will further widen to 7.7 percent of GDP.3 Many Tajik workers are engaged in the informal economy and subsistence agriculture. Personal remittances from Tajik migrants which are an important source of household income has already seen a 20 percent decline in the first quarter of 2020.
Many households in Tajikistan are vulnerable to food insecurity. Around 17 percent of children under the age of 5 are stunted. The rate is as high as 31.6 percent in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast.
The early closure of schools and the fact that schools were not prepared to provide remote learning will affect children’s education. A weak social protection system with a limited coverage further compounds the socioeconomic situation in the country. Moreover, there are concerns that lack of access to basic services, job lessness and declining household income may increase crime, domestic violence, gender inequalities and erode social cohesion. In short, the crisis threatens to undo decades of development gains and potentially derail Tajikistan’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While the virus is having a profoundly negative impact, in Tajikistan it has also created some new opportunities, although small but with a potential for scaling up. For example, some parts of the central government are increasingly using digital tools to administer and remain connected with sub-national authorities; business are trying to reach out to their customers through E-marketing and other digital platforms; some schools have started developing programmes for online education; there is greater civic action to provide food to doctors and other affected families; civil society organizations (CSOs) and business associations are coming up with innovative solutions to support small businesses; government has started reforming its social assistance programme; and there is some progress to revise the tax code.
While the full impact of the virus is yet to be fully understood, considering the immediate impact, the UN Country Team (UNCT), led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and supported by the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office (UNRCO) has come together to articulate its immediate support to the Government of Tajikistan (GoTJ) to assist vulnerable people in an Integrated Socioeconomic Response Framework (ISEF). ISEF Tajikistan is anchored to the Prime Minister’s Action Plan to combat the spread of Covid-19 and is linked to the “Tajikistan Covid-19 Country Preparedness and Response Plan (CPRP)” and the Ministry of Economic Development & Trade (MEDT’s) economic plan. ISEF Tajikistan is structured into five strategic pillars that are underpinned by “building back better” and help achieve SDGs.
It is important to note that ISEF is a living document which will be revised to reflect emerging needs. There are still gaps in information and data, several assessments are being conducted by UN Agencies which will help update the ISEF. Various short- and medium-term interventions have been identified which will be implemented over 18 months to support the national efforts.
Responses under each pillar are aligned with the sector plans and strategies that have been formulated in collaboration with the respective line ministry and the relevant development partners that are part of the Development Coordination Council. The ISEF will draw upon the expertise and resources of the whole UN System which includes the resident and non-resident UN Agencies and will require robust partnership with development partners in implementation, leveraging resources and advocacy to support the national Covid-19 response led by the GoTJ.
Globally, the United Nations has called for a Covid-19 socioeconomic response that is underpinned by “building back better” and “leaving no one behind”. In Tajikistan, the twin imperatives of building back better and leaving no one behind will be realized through a mix of immediate assistance and service delivery to vulnerable people to cope with the crises along with capacity building and upstream policy advocacy for systemic change. This will address deficits and structural weaknesses that lead to inequalities and exclusion from services and social protection of the most vulnerable such as: poor households; informal workers; subsistence farmers; elderly, children, young men and women; people living with disabilities, etc. There are also geographical disparities that underscore vulnerabilities and exclusion in Tajikistan.