Remarks by Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia Änjali Kaur at the "Enhancing the U.S.-Caspian Strategic Partnership" Dinner Event Hosted by the Caspian Policy Center

Speeches Shim

Thursday, May 5, 2022

[As prepared]

Good evening, everyone. On behalf of the United States Agency for International Development, it is my honor to be here this evening to celebrate the strong relationships that bind our nations. Thank you for inviting me. 

I’d like to thank the Caspian Policy Center for hosting this event. It is an honor to speak before so many distinguished guests, especially the Ambassadors in attendance. 

As Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia at the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, part of my role is overseeing our wide-ranging development efforts across Central Asia. 

Central Asia is an area marked by great beauty: from the magnificent and ancient Merv to the soaring majesty of the Pamir mountains. The region is often referred to as a “crossroads,” thanks to its position on the Silk Road trading routes that connected East and West for over fifteen hundred years. But that term—crossroads—may suggest that Central Asia is just a pass-through. It is actually a keystone. 

Bounded by China, Iran, Afghanistan, and Russia, this region’s prospects are intertwined with the security and prosperity of the United States. 

For more than 30 years, USAID has supported the success of our Central Asian partners: Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Over the past three decades, the United States has provided over $9 billion in direct assistance to support peace and security, governance reform, economic growth, and humanitarian needs across this dynamic region. 

Through our Central Asia Strategy, USAID strengthens democratic institutions, promotes economic cooperation, and fosters energy independence—not by imposing crippling debt or dubious conditions, but by recognizing the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of our Central Asia partners.

This work aligns with USAID’s new Climate Strategy. Central Asia holds enormous potential with regards to energy that does not contribute to climate change. From hydropower in the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, to wind and solar in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan: Central Asia has the opportunity to drive the future of clean, renewable energy in Asia.

In the clean energy space, USAID builds enhanced regional cooperation on shared energy resources, including building a sustainable electricity market and connectivity within the region. 

Last year, we celebrated a major milestone when four Central Asian Ministries of Energy – Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – agreed on an action plan to establish a Central Asian Regional Electricity Market (CAREM). This market will substantially boost regional energy security and cybersecurity. 

But as the immediate consequences of climate change continue to worsen. The World Bank says that crop yields in the region will drop 30 percent by 2050 due to changing climate patterns. This will exacerbate malnutrition rates and hunger. Additionally, with the population expected to grow 30 percent by 2050, the region must find a path for effective cooperation on managing shared water resources. 

Let me illustrate what our partnerships are achieving in this space. To help Turkmen farmers adapt to the changing climate, USAID joined forces with the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, UNDP and others to introduce horticultural best practices, such as modern irrigation techniques for scarce water resources. As a result, around 70 percent of USAID-supported farmers across Turkmenistan increased their harvest by at least 15 percent last year. 

In the Kyrgyz Republic, USAID partnered with 110 small and medium enterprises to create 16,000 new jobs and generate $60 million in sales in just one year, all while supporting survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence in learning new skills. 

USAID is also helping sustainably develop Central Asia’s agricultural sector, which will help countries ensure that their people can access sufficient food as well as water. 

However, perhaps the most consequential challenge facing the region is growing threats to sovereignty, independence, and democracy. And we know firsthand here in the United States that democracies are not born overnight. 

From strengthening judicial systems and independent media to expanding access to justice and human rights, USAID’s partnerships in Central Asia strive to build inclusivity, expand civic participation, and strengthen democratic institutions.

For instance, in the Kyrgyz Republic following the November 2020 parliamentary elections, USAID supported the Central Election Commission to draft new, innovative electoral legislation to promote electoral processes adhering to the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic. With USAID support, the Commission trained over 700 election staff to administer the necessary repeat parliamentary elections in 2021. USAID’s work to promote transparent, competitive elections helped strengthen Kyrgyzstanis’ democratic values. In Uzbekistan, USAID is training judges and supporting research on introducing pre-trial procedures in administrative justice proceedings in order to reduce caseloads. 

With Central Asian countries emerging from the COVID-19 and moving toward economic recovery, results like this have never been more significant and consequential. COVID-19 has profoundly affected USAID’s development programs in Central Asia--but our work has not stopped. In fact, today, we are building on the successes I’ve just described to fight and end this pandemic. 

USAID has provided over $31 million to Central Asian countries to aid in their COVID-19 response, and the U.S. government has donated nearly 11 million vaccine doses bilaterally and through COVAX. On top of our longstanding partnerships on tuberculosis control in Central Asia, this COVID-19 support is building countries’ resilience to future shocks by improving health systems overall. 

To strengthen Tajikistan’s health system, for instance, USAID delivered oxygen generation plants to remote clinics, which will improve the ability of rural areas to respond to oxygen needs of diagnosed cases of COVID-19, hypoxemia, respiratory failure, pneumonia, and more. Additionally, in the Kyrgyz Republic, we helped make high-level medical expertise available 24/7 to health care providers in remote areas. Local providers can now access the information they need to make split-second decisions to save lives from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. USAID’s support for the state-run health care system to deliver services to even the most remote communities has made the system stronger than ever. 

And our work is not limited to these areas. For the past 11 years, USAID has also hosted the Central Asia Trade Forum, one of the region’s largest annual connectivity events that promotes regional trade and facilitates participation by U.S. businesses. In 2021, the forum focused on improving trade connectivity as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery process. It brought together more than 10,000 participants from more than 30 countries to identify challenges, exchange solutions, and build relationships. Over the past decade, trade among the nations of Central Asia has more than doubled, reaching $6 billion annually. While many factors have played a role in this success, the Forum’s decade-long vision for increasing regional trade cooperation is bearing fruit. 

And it’s these relationships—for improved trade, better health, inclusive societies, cleaner energy, and greater economic prosperity for all—that are of critical importance as we look forward to our next thirty years of partnership. Amid today’s moments of profound opportunity, including the chance to build on our shared successes, America has taken truly meaningful steps to extend our partnership and brighten the futures of the people of this diverse region.

Throughout Central Asia’s journey in the coming decades, USAID will stand firmly in friendship with the people of Central Asia as you chart your own paths forward. We hope that you will also grow stronger together in leveraging the formidable power of regional connectivity. The more choices you all have, and the more peaceful and prosperous your borders, the greater the future for all of Central Asia.

In all of these efforts, Central Asia has, and will continue to have, a steadfast partner in USAID. 

Thank you for your time and attention. 

Last updated: October 13, 2022

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