Tajikistan - Mobilization of labor remittances into infrastructure rehabilitation

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See the Video
(Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lp4vfhY79g)
Open the Floodgates

Efforts to provide rural Tajikistan with sustainable access to drinking water have failed for a number of reasons - chief among them that rural inhabitants have been unwilling to pay for them. People have stuck to the Soviet-era notion that water is a right that should be provided for free.

This is a critical problem in Tajikistan, where most rural inhabitants don't have access to drinking water near their homes. In the past, when international donors such as UNDP spent money to provide improved sources of water, the facilities soon fell into disuse because people in the village didn't take it upon themselves to make repairs, gather fees, clean the pipes and otherwise keep the water flowing.

That may now change. This August UNDP and the European Commission's ‘ECHO' Programme initiated a project designed to encourage Tajikistan's large pool of migrant labourers to give some of the income they earn abroad for projects to install drinking water facilities for their families back home. The project will target 20,000 rural inhabitants, and it will particularly benefit young women, who must often skip school in order to travel long distances to get water for their families.

By getting locals to contribute their own money to the water projects, both organizations believe they will create an incentive for local inhabitants to feel invested in the construction and upkeep of clean drinking water facilities.

The project will tap a giant source of money. Between 500,000-1,000,000 Tajiks travel abroad - mainly to Russia - for seasonal work each year. It is estimated that their remittances contribute at least $600 million to the Tajik economy annually. This is a significant amount of money considering the state budget amounts to $542 million and contributions from international donors make up only $114 million.

The project has a precedent. A pilot initiative started in 2004 between UNDP and the International Organization for Migration has shown the incredible development potential of harnessing these remittances. Project activists managed to mobilize $7,000 for the renovation of schools, bridges and roads in two municipalities.

According to project organizers, it was surprisingly easy to mobilize considerable sums from migrant families in a relatively short period of time. To assist in this effort, Migrants Households Initiative Groups (MHIGs) were organized. Each of these groups consists of five members drawn from local inhabitants. MHIGs advocated persistently among migrants and their families about the benefits of contributing to local development projects, as well as to gather the money. For each dollar that the MHIGs managed to raise, UNDP in the pilot project granted one dollar.

Little Girl Washing Hands
Little Girl Washing Hands

The new project improves upon previous efforts because it emphasizes the active participation of authorities and local communities in identifying and choosing the water systems for rehabilitation.

Crucial to the project's success will be resolving ownership over the water facilities. In the old days water was provided for free by the state or collective farm, or in some cases by the local authorities. But now farms have been split up and no one knows who owns the pumps and the pipes. A new water code has been developed that will clarify responsibilities between owners, operators, local authorities, and users.


Mobilization of labor remittances into infrastructure rehabilitation

Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Karl Nilsson, Programme Officer, UNDP Tajikistan


Background and Significance

If you live in the countryside in Tajikistan, you probably don’t have access to clean drinking water close to your home. The Soviet-era drinking water system that used to serve you has broken down long time ago, due to a lack of maintenance and operational capacities. It may also be the case, that your drinking water system was destroyed during the devastating civil war, which raged in your country between 1992 and 1997.

Instead, it is likely that you now have to get your drinking water from dirty ditches or irrigation canal, or fetch the water from long distances. In fact, if you are a young girl, your parents may even think its necessary that you skip school and instead go to get water over far distances.

You may even have seen your drinking water system be rehabilitated again. With donor money, a number of different organisations (including UNDP) have tried to restore drinking water systems in rural Tajikistan. Chances are high that shortly after the renovation, water flows from the taps stopped again. It is not likely, that anyone was ever interested in you opinion about the drinking water situation, or asked for your contribution when the system was rehabilitated. Although you obviously want to have clean water like you used to, you are reluctant to pay for it, since you think that the government should provide you with such basic and crucial services.

Fording the River
Fording the River

No-one in your village or municipality may think it is their responsibility to repair the system, to gather fees, to clean the pipes and to do other necessary activities in order to keep the water flowing. In the old days, this was handled by the state or collective farm, or in some cases by the local authorities. But now, the farm has been split-up, and no-one actually knows, who owns the pumps, the pipes and all other installations of the water system.

Using a more technical terminology, attempts to remediate the basic problem of lack of clean drinking water have often failed to make any sustained impact. This sustainability problem is in turn made up of an unclear legal situation, a lack of local ownership, and to some extent a lack of resources available for maintenance and operations of drinking water systems. Through its directly executed Communities Programme, UNDP has been one of the largest actors within water system rehabilitation in Tajikistan. Like other actors, it has suffered from the mentioned problems. But through interventions both at the local and the political level, UNDP has also contributed to a promising new approach, with the potential to improve the sustainability prospects of drinking water systems significantly.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions


On the policy level, UNDP has for a long time lobbied together with other organisations for a more fitting legal environment. Finally, a new water code has now been developed, which will clarify responsibilities between owners, operators, local authorities and users. On the grass-root level, UNDP is adapting its interventions toward a “resource-based” approach, to intensify community involvement in the implementation of infrastructure projects. The mobilization of labor migrants’ remittances into local development has been one of the most promising interventions in this direction. Between half a Million and one Million people leave Tajikistan for seasonal work in Russia each year, and it is estimated that their remittances contribute at least $600 Million to the economy of Tajikistan each year (compared to the state budget of $542 Million, or the total donor disbursements to the country of $114 Million). Although providing hundreds of thousands households with a source of income, this resource flow has so far been largely overlooked as a tool to be used more systematically for development. However, in a pilot project in southern Tajikistan, the tremendous development potential of the remittances has been shown. After some initial hesitation, project activists managed to mobilize as much as US$7000 for the rehabilitation of schools, bridges and roads in two municipalities. It has proved very attractive for migrants and their families to use parts of their salaries to improve living standards for their home villages, based on a charity approach.

Given that the beneficiaries have invested of their own hard-won cash, local ownership comes naturally. Moreover, during the mobilization process, most households in the targeted areas have been contacted by the project activists. This serves as an entry point to advocate for the need for continued contributions. In combination, these two factors have changed the general attitudes from the passive “recipient’s mode” to an active one, in which the responsibility for sustainability can be entrusted with the communities.


UNDP has had, and still has, an extremely important role in advocating with the government for a legal environment that is permissive of innovative ways to organise water service delivery. Moreover, given Tajikistan’s situation as a post-conflict country, the UNDP country office has got a higher degree of grass-root presence than in most of its programme countries. For rural infrastructure projects, this means that UNDP (through its directly executed Communities Programme, with six area offices around the country) implements several rural drinking water projects. The bulk of resources for these projects come from donors such as the European Commission and Sida, contributions that UNDP is responsible to mobilize. Moreover, UNDP handles most of the procurement of technical works and activities such as health education and trainings for system operators. In principle, this task of UNDP is not changing that much with the new methodology. However, what is difference is the process through which the systems have been chosen, with increasing emphasis on the active participation of authorities and local communities in identifying and choosing the systems for rehabilitation. Moreover, UNDP is also increasingly using its knowledge in community mobilization for its clean water projects. It is also partnering with IOM, (International Organisation of Migration), with its specific competence in work with migrants and their families. Finally, the entire idea of the project is to make sure that the beneficiaries, ie the villagers, turn from passive aid recipients into active and crucial partners in all stages of the rehabilitation projects.


The drinking water projects and other infrastructure rehabilitation projects in which UNDP Tajikistan is involved take place in the rural areas of the country. Although Tajikistan is a country with a varied topography, the lack of clean water sources is more or less uniform in all regions. Whether in the mountains or in the cotton areas on the plains, in most villages a large proportion of young men work abroad. This means that an increasingly heavy burden is placed on the shoulders of rural women, for different aspects of life.


UNDP’s and IOM’s pilot project on channelling labour remittances into local development in started in October 2004, and continued until the 31st of December 2005. It has been surprisingly easy to mobilize considerable sums from migrants families, in a relatively short time. From this year, UNDP is integrating the methodology to mobilize migrants’ families and migrants’ remittances into other rural development projects. One of them is the Echo-sponsored project for clean drinking water for ca 20000 beneficiaries in the south of Tajikistan. This project starts in August 2006, and will go on for one calendar year.


Although the remittances that labour migrants send home are an extremely important source of cash income for most migrant families, the full development potential of the remittances, proven in many other countries, has just recently been addressed in Tajikistan. With its commitment and comprehensive programme for rural development in the country, it was natural for UNDP to look for ways to make use of this potential. In order to complement its strong grass root presence with expertise in working with migrants, IOM and UNDP jointly developed the pilot project. It consisted of several different kinds of activities; apart from investments in different kind of infrastructure, it also included a microfinance scheme targeted at migrants, and support to improved communications between migrants and their home communities. For this pilot project, two jamoats in the south of the country, near the border to Afghanistan, were chosen. There (as well as in another 100 municipalities in Tajikistan), UNDP supports so-called Jamoat Resource Centers, democratically organized civil society organizations helping communities and authorities to tackle their development challenges. Under the auspices of these two JRCs, UNDP and IOM initiated Migrants Households Initiative Groups (MHIG). Each of these groups consists of five members, with a head appointed in meeting of boards. The role of the MHIGs is to advocate among migrants and their families about the benefits of contributing to local development projects, as well as to gather the money itself. For each dollar that the MHIGs managed to raise, the UNDP in the pilot project granted one dollar. In the pilot projects, the objects for rehabilitation were chosen jointly by the JRCs, the MHIGs and the authorities. The pilot projects have demonstrated a number of challenges with this approach. At first, many people were not ready to contribute their own, hard-won cash, and there were also some skepticism among local political leaders about the approach. However, after several meetings with formal and informal leaders, activists supported by IOM and UNDP managed to convince the stake holders about the advantages. Following this, local informal village leaders organized meetings with the residents, and explained the objective. People were well convinced that for example, schoolchildren will suffer influenza, cold when their schoolrooms doesn’t have window-panes, electricity will cut off any time that impedes even a two-hour electricity provision during winter or small schoolchildren will not safely pass the unsafe bridge, et cetera. Moreover, some were convinced about the charitable value of their contributions.

Results and Impact

Under the pilot project on mobilizing labor migrants’ remittances into local development, project activists managed to mobilize US$7000 in two villages for the rehabilitation of small/scale infrastructure such as schools, bridges and roads. It proved very attractive for migrants and their families to use parts of their salaries to improve living standards for their home villages, based on a charity approach. UNDP is now scaling-up this methodology, from a pilot to a full-scale project. UNDP Tajikistan and its partners will try to mobilize labor remittances for the rehabilitation of drinking water systems for 20000 rural inhabitants.

Lessons for Replication

The success of the described project with mobilizing people and resources can be ascribed to a fortunate combination of personal incentives, social norms and traditionally benign attitudes towards charity. After the initial hesitation, the labour migrants have seen the benefits of common action to solve common problems. This has obviously been strengthened by the additional contribution from UNDP into the projects in question. Once some families has consented to contribute, there has also been something of a “peer pressure” among other families to contribute with their saved money. It has no doubt also helped, that traditional leaders have appealed to old Islamic traditions of charity. As described, the pilot project actually contained several different components, all aiming at migrants. The mobilization for infrastructure has proven particularly successful- probably for the reason, that it has been simple enough for almost all labour migrants to contribute. The labour remittances initiative is obviously not the first, in which UNDP Tajikistan has tried to mobilize communities to contribute to crucial infrastructure - but it is arguably one of the most successful ones. Most likely, this stems from this particular fact, that so many of the beneficiaries have been directly involved, and feel ownership.

Main Results

It is obvious, that the labour remittances mobilization will imply that more resources are made available for development. However, more important is probably the energizing effect that the methodology has on the community. This methodology requires the beneficiaries themselves to get involved in the rehabilitation project, from the very first steps of choosing what to rehabilitate, to the continued commitment to maintenance and operations of the infrastructure.

A number of positive effects can be expected from this. If the beneficiaries have the decisive say in the choice and design of sub-projects, it is likely that the impact of the intervention from UNDP or similar organisations is bigger, and hence efficiency is increased. Moreover, as has been described, the prospects for sustainability of the project are better than ever, when the community have been so strongly involved from the beginning. It is early yet to make final conclusions about the outcome of the approach. But the pilot projects have indicated, how the beneficiaries have turned from relatively passive recipients, into active participants of the development of their own villages. This represents a shift from the traditional approach of formulating problems from outside, to an approach through which both the problem formulation and the solutions are found among the beneficiaries themselves.

Outlook (Conclusions and Next Steps)

Now, the main challenge facing UNDP Tajikistan and its partners is to adapt the methodology and lessons learned from the pilot project, into complex full-scale development projects. For the water system rehabilitation projects to which this is now to be applied, some difficulties can be foreseen already. When there are donors involved, they frequently need to know far in advance what is planned for their money. This means that there will be a large time gap between the initial mobilization and identification process, and the time when a real impact is felt. There is a risk that this will have a “de-moralizing” effect on the communities. Moreover, it is unrealistic to expect the labour migrants with families to contribute such a large proportion as they did in the pilot project. The question is how this will affect their willingness to contribute. In large scale projects (around 30000 $ for each drinking water system), it will be very difficult, and hardly desirable, to cancel the implementation if the only reason is that the communities did not contribute much enough. This is a big difference from the pilot project, where one of the most important incentives for the beneficiaries was nothing would happen without there contributions. On the other hand, when implementing the full-scale projects, there is a successful experience to refer to, and to build upon. For instance, reluctant formal or informal leaders can be brought to the villages of the pilot projects, and see for themselves the benefits of activating the community for beneficial, common projects. There is obviously a need for continued fine-tuning of the remittances methodology, when using it on a larger scale. UNDP Tajikistan believes and hopes that this will eventually lead to a model, where the flows remittances can be transformed to clean drinking water running from the taps.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions


See also

Water Knowledge Fair 2006

External Resources

Tajikistan Success Story on the RBEC Intranjet


 Tajikistan Infrastructure sustainability.doc

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