In Tajikistan, migrant wives lead preparedness and response


Women taking a break from work and talking

27 Jul 2015


Malika speaks with her neighbour, Firuza during a break from work. Photo: Mercy Corps/R. Hoffman

In remote villages of Tajikistan, as men leave for Russia to find work, women are stepping in to take on their roles, including physically protecting the community from floods and mudslides during the rainy season.

Flood season began in April in Tajikistan, but this year Malika, 51, mother of six, was ready to protect her village. As water and mud began flowing down the hills that surrounding her village of Shokhindoz in the Rasht Valley, Malika organized a team of fifteen women and two men on a three-day operation to block the flow and save the only road that connects them to the rest of the world.

“We could only save the road because I had participated in disaster risk reduction training and received sandbags [from Mercy Corps],” says Malika. In the past, the road would have remained impassable for up to half a year, cutting off villagers’ access to markets, medical services and schools.

Following the training, she became a volunteer in a project to build more disaster-resilient communities, run by NGOs Welthungerhilfe and Mercy Corps, and financially supported by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

Shy and reserved at first, Malika sounded confident when she spoke about her work. She needs this confidence as t with no electricity and no TV in Shokhindoz, volunteers like Malika are the only source of information on disaster risk.

“Women now do everything”

Malika’s husband is a labour migrant in Russia leaving her to manage her household alone for long periods of time.
“The role of women in society is changing because all men are now working in Russia, so women do everything. We are the supervisors. We keep the environment clean, we take children to school, we go to the mountains to take care of the cattle, and during emergencies we support each other,” Malika said.

Focus on women is imperative

“In our country, where more than half of the male population works outside the country, it is essential to put women first on the disaster risk reduction agenda if we want to prevent deaths and considerable economic losses in these already impoverished areas,” said Muborakhon Akbarova, project manager at Mercy Corps.

Mercy Corps and Welthungerhilfe aim to reach over 24,000 people highly exposed to natural disasters in the Rasht Valley. By addressing the central needs of communities at risk and the authorities in charge of disaster preparedness and response, the project aims to reduce vulnerability and exposure to risks for communities in six watersheds of the Rasht Valley.

A message to the World Humanitarian Summit regional consultation in Dushanbe

Just a few hours away from Shokhindoz, in the capital city of Dushanbe, civil society, affected people, government ministers, humanitarians, business managers and youth from 16 countries of South and Central Asia are convening to discuss how to improve humanitarian response in the region. The focus will be on localizing preparedness and response–strengthening the role of local actors ahead of and during disasters and providing principled support when necessary.

This discussion will hopefully improve the lives of people like Malika and her community. But for this to happen participants need to root all recommendations in the reality on the ground. This final WHS consultation covers a wide and extremely diverse region. Migration and its effects on the community members who stay behind is just one of the factors that the future humanitarian system must take into consideration. Other factors include climate change, dwindling access to resources, food insecurity, haphazard urbanization and rapid population growth.

Projects emulating the Tajikistan example can help pave the way for a more effective emergency response where people, and particularly women, have a say in how their communities prepare and respond to disasters.

Participants in the consultation will draw on their experience and knowledge of the South and Central Asia region and make recommendations to take forward to the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in Istanbul next year. With this expertise being brought to bear, soon, women like Malika will, one hopes, be empowered with the knowledge, skills and resources to save lives, prevent disasters and reduce losses.

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