European Commission - SPaN (2019) Case Study: Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyzstan case study was produced as part of the “Guidance Package on Social Protection across the Humanitarian-Development Nexus” (SPaN). It is the outcome of an initiative jointly led by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO), Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and Directorate- General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (NEAR) with the support of DEVCO Unit 04 and the MKS programme. 

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About the Case Study

In June 2010, in the aftermath of the ousting of President Bakiyev, riots escalated into violent clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the provinces of Osh and Jalal-Abad. The interim government declared a state of emergency. About 400 000 of the 1.2 million population in these provinces were affected by the violence. At least 490 people (mainly Uzbeks) died and more than 4 600 were injured. 75 000 fled to Uzbekistan and a further 300 000 people were internally displaced. Families from both ethnic groups were affected, with Uzbek families being most affected. The interim government appealed for international assistance to deal with the humanitarian consequences and established coordination centres for humanitarian assistance in Osh and Bishkek. Most refugees and internally displaced people were able to return to their homes within a month, however they faced a range of humanitarian needs due to destruction of property and disruption of livelihood strategies. Those injured also needed support for their healthcare needs. Families with children (an estimated 2 300 people) were in great need of support. UNICEF took the lead in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, and Education Clusters, and the Gender Based Violence, Child Protection and Nutrition Sub-Clusters. The national social protection system was relatively well developed, with total annual spending on social assistance between 1 and 1.5% of GDP, comparable with spending-to-GDP shares in countries of similar economic development. Two social transfer programmes were regulated under the Law on State Benefits. The Unified Monthly Benefit (UMB) was means tested, targeting low-income families with children aged 0 to 18 years old (up to 21 years when the child was still studying). It also included payment of a birth grant to eligible families.

The Monthly Social Benefit (MSB) was targeted to disadvantaged groups, including children and adults with disabilities, orphaned children, families with many dependents and the elderly who do not qualify for pensions. Transfer values varied depending on family size and demographic composition. Together these programmes accounted for 0.74% of GDP in 2007 (reduced to 0.5% of GDP in 2009 due to the impacts of the global financial crisis)4. Programmes were centrally managed by the State Agency for Social Welfare (SASW), now the Department of State Benefits (DSB) under the Ministry of Labour and Social Development. Both had fairly extensive coverage, reaching 346 833 child beneficiaries (around 14% of the population and 18% of all families with children) and 63 818 persons (over 6.5% of the population) respectively in April 2010. A World Bank review considered that both programmes performed well in terms of targeting accuracy, however higher coverage of the poorest quintiles and larger benefit levels were recommended to increase the impact on poverty. In 2009 the value of the SMB was set at the minimum subsistence level, effectively increasing it by 10 times.UNICEF had been working with SASW since 2008, supporting independent analysis of the social protection system, reforms to the MSB targeting design, and efforts to reduce exclusion errors. It had also worked on policy dialogue responding to the impacts of the global financial crisis through the social protection system in 2009, when the World Bank and EU5 provided the Government of Kyrgyzstan with funds to ‘top up’ benefits to social transfer recipients. Significant emergency and early recovery interventions were planned by the international community, especially in the Protection Cluster. However, assistance was being limited to sector-specific, in kind, commodity distributions according to individual agency mandates. There was no analysis of the needs and vulnerabilities of low-income families, no plan to provide income support to households despite the fact that markets and services were not disrupted, and no engagement of the relevant and accountable duty-bearers in government. UNICEF saw provision of income support through the social protection system as a way to fully engage government in the response and as an opportunity to strengthen the underlying social protection system. UNICEF’s country office negotiated with SASW to implement a joint collaboration. 

This was a government-led project extending social transfer programmes to new, disaster affected households. The objective was to provide social protection measures to families with children affected by the conflict, to improve purchasing power and contribute to normalisation of the social situation. The eligibility criteria for these programmes remained the same, but an extraordinary enrolment campaign was undertaken, and operational systems were modified to support rapid identification and enrolment of households who fitted the criteria in the affected areas. The MSB also expanded to support children whose parents were missing in the conflict. Cash transfers were covered by the Government of Kyrgyzstan’s own funding through the national budget. UNICEF’s role was in providing technical assistance, mediating negotiations for regulatory changes, and increasing operational capacity of the SASW.

UNICEF’s partnership with SASW served as a useful entry point to negotiate reforms of the UMB benefit value leading in 2011 to provision of a Guaranteed Minimum Income linked to national poverty indicators. There was an increase in the status of social protection within government with the creation of the Department for State Benefits (DSB) under the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (MoLSP) in 2011. Between 2012 and 2014 a new social protection strategy was elaborated, which included an action to have an emergency unit or structure established within the MoLSP to formalise standby arrangements for similar deployments in emergencies. However, this was never implemented due to changeover of ministers and perceived competition with the mandate and responsibilities of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Since 2016 with World Bank support a national social transfers MIS has been operational. This has led to greater visibility for applications and enrolment, automated payment processes and improved analysis and reporting. This investment would be an asset in any future shock response, albeit with some challenges in terms of staff capacity to use the system and with internet connectivity in remote areas.

Technical reports
Social Protection Approaches: