Since March 25, Kyrgyzstan is under the state of emergency; curfew is in place in a number of cities and regions. As a result, hundreds of families are now on the verge of panic: there is no income, no products are left, there is no state support. People do not know what to live on.
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Unemployment and Hunger
Despite coronavirus began spreading around the world in January, the Kyrgyz authorities were not ready for it as late as at the end of March. A package of anti-crisis measures was adopted only over the course of several past days. As for the completely sagging economy, the government states its answer as follows: “the issue of providing help to business is under consideration”. That is, it remains only in a theoretic realm.
The ordinary citizens with little income and no savings – drivers of minibuses and taxis, hairdressers, sellers, repairmen, seamstresses, etc. – find themselves in the most deplorable of situations. Their status was thought of only on the last day of the month: an official decree appeared to provide them with material support on March 31. District command units providing assistance to population started their operations in Bishkek. Through the chairpersons of house, city block committees and municipal territorial units (MTU), lists of those in need were formed; they include large and low-income families, families with persons with disabilities, pensioners.
By tradition, the first real help began to come from volunteers, international organizations, private companies and active citizens – they still help those with no food to survive. They did not let the medical and patrol staff starve, providing them with food on a daily basis.
Many Are Hopeless
Alisher Maksutov rents a temporary accommodation on the outskirts of the city. His family is of five. Now, he provides shelter for two of his friends, with who he took daily orders from labor registry office. They have nowhere to live. Their team was engaged in freelance repair works – painting, plastering, whitening. For the last week, they have been eating cheap boiled noodles and drinking boiling water.
“I have never thought that I would have to live like this and that there would be nothing to feed the children with before going to bed. I am healthy, I can feed myself. So, let me work! But if you – the state, deprive me of work and leave me hungry, then provide help! What should I do? How can I live further in these conditions?” the man wonders.
Over the past few days, Alisher, at his own risk, has been leaving house searching for a job. He managed to take an order for whitewashing; with it, he bought tea, bread, potatoes at the most expensive spring price and a package of pasta. He does not know what will happen next.
The shuttle route taxi bus driver Akylbek Seyitov spoke about the same problems. It is now two weeks that he has nothing to support his family with. He wanted to go to his relatives’ village to take some homemade products, but was turned back at the checkpoint with threats of a fine for not observing the movement regulations.
“I, an adult man, burst into tears right there – I was so disappointed. For 12 years, I worked seven days a week, drove people, and now the trouble came and we are all closed like hamsters at home and waved a hand. At first, every day, we were asking the foreman for help. He tried to help, compiled lists, handed them over somewhere. But there is no help. He himself has no money left, he sold the phone to buy products. I understand that the times are hard. But we are now afraid of not dying from infection, but from hunger and poverty,” Seyitov complained.
Addressing Hunger with Flour
During the quarantine, the Assistance Headquarters received almost 211 thousand requests from people who have nothing to eat and nothing to feed their children. As a result, 49 thousand families received food assistance – approximately one in four applicants. Most of it was transported and paid for by volunteers.
The state has responded to the needs of its citizens with flour. Across the country of 6 million, 110 thousand families received flour.
Long ago, the government has opened two deposit accounts to accept donations from citizens. Over 110 million soms (1.4 million US dollars) are now there already. Now, officials gather every week to decide how to spend these funds.
The recently assembled donation commission decided to use the funds to pay for the labor of health workers and buy food products.
Through the house committees’ chairpersons and representatives of the city block committees, CABAR.asia established it is only pensioners that currently receive state aid in Bishkek. They all were given a bag of flour and a grocery set: sugar, rice, peas, noodles, pasta and vegetable oil.
According to an employee of MTU of one of the southern city microdistricts Munara Sabitova, the assistance from three sources is now expected to be provided for the poor.
“We were informed that the help will be delivered to the residents of newly built house blocks. Now, it will come to the southern part of the city. Help provided through MTU is funded with money from the ‘Kudaibergen’ market administration. The assistance allegedly provided by the mayor’s office is being financed by an Arab fund, and the Turkish side is sponsoring the help from the akimiat [local governance body – Tr.],” the woman said.
CABAR.asia editorial tried to clarify on whether the lists of people in need are correct and hold true. It turned out that in many districts, the house committees refused to make such lists at all, instead simply writing an ad with the telephone number of the helpline of the Assistance Headquarters so that the poor could solve the problem themselves. But at the same time, those who do not have an urgent need for a grocery set also end up in the lists.
“Our city block responsible person has included her friends and two daughters in the list, although they have not lived with her for a long time and do not need anything. This always happens on the ground – the human factor is in play and friends and relatives necessarily appear on the lists. And who will check this? The social protection and the social fund, all the more, do not have the data,” said the retired pensioner Alla Pyatibratova.
She noted that she did not take her bag of flour, but instead, distributed the flour among the neighbors with a bigger need.
“We, pensioners, bake a little, flour does not save us much – kneading dough is already too difficult as we lack in strength and our vision fails. Now, people wonder where to get a piece of meat or milk. Does flour save such a difficult situation, which so far has no end in sight?” the woman asks a question.
Help at the Expense of Others
If one simplifies the complex bureaucratic formulations, all assistance from the official authorities of Kyrgyzstan can be divided into two parts: one is provided through the city hall, the second – through the government. But in general, only flour is allocated at the expense of the state. The rest of the help can most likely be called state delivery, since it was paid by other sponsors.
For example, an official report of the government press service appeared recently; it states that more than seven thousand families were provided assistance in Bishkek. There was also a note that more than six thousand food packages were provided by a certain Arab fund.
The State Reserves Fund was also instructed to allocate 400 tons of flour and a bit more than 33 tons of sugar. All this will be distributed in Bishkek and Chui region mainly among residents of new buildings and housing blocks. And for the purchase of minimum food rations for those in need, 792,500 voluntarily donated soms will be used (10.19 thousand US dollars).
The administrations of Chui region and the Bishkek city hall have even been instructed to, finally, compile lists of families in greatest need. When it comes to the distribution of real help – the timeframe is not indicated.
However, every day, the government complements its reports and releases with details of accounts receiving donations…
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.