Almaty. August 19. Information Center - Human Rights Watch
(HRW) has urged the Kazakh government to extend and bolster economic relief for
those negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent hundreds of
thousands of people from facing poverty, Malaysia Sun reports.
The rights watchdog said in a report on August 18
that the pandemic had elevated inequalities in Central Asia's wealthiest
country, underscoring Kazakhstan's weak social-protection system.
Kazakhstan stands out as the only country in Central Asia to
provide cash transfers to individuals during the pandemic.
But with many people across Kazakhstan facing poverty even
before the pandemic, the government needs to do more, HRW said.
Soon after reporting the first COVID-19 cases in Kazakhstan
in March, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev announced that the government was
allocating about $10 billion toward improving access to health care, cash
transfers for people who lost income, and protecting businesses from the
The aid package totaled almost 7 percent of Kazakhstan's
gross domestic product.
The authorities also handed out food packages to low-income
families and people with disabilities and reimbursed utility expenses for April
and May in the amount of about $36 for socially vulnerable groups.
Employees who lost jobs because of the pandemic are eligible
to apply for unemployment assistance for up to six months. The assistance
provides a maximum of 40 percent of their former salaries.
After that, they can apply for Targeted Social Assistance, a
poverty-targeting social-protection program. However, HRW noted that some past
studies identified the program as insufficient to guarantee an adequate
standard of living and too low to pay for food, shelter, and water.
Though the measures provide much-needed support for people,
the relief is lower than the monthly living wage needed to cover basic expenses
in higher-cost cities such as Almaty or Nur-Sultan.
Meanwhile, three-month loan deferrals -- a measure
introduced to ease people's financial burdens -- expired in June.
The government extended economic assistance -- the monthly
payment of about $100 -- for people who lost income, but it remains unclear if
the payment will be renewed beyond August 16 as the government began easing
lockdown measures from August 17.
Despite Kazakhstan's vast natural resources, a high portion
of its population was at risk of poverty even before the pandemic.
One study from October 2018 found that a quarter of
Kazakhstan's population of more than 18 million is chronically poor, and more
are at risk of falling into poverty.
The situation is expected to deteriorate as oil revenues
dwindle due to the pandemic.
The World Bank estimates that Kazakhstan's 'poverty rate may
rise in 2020 from a projected 8.3 to 12.7 percent,' with an additional 800,000 people
But HRW said that the government can use its accumulated
fiscal buffers, continuing foreign direct investments, and international
assistance to protect the economically vulnerable,
In June, the Asian Development Bank approved a $1 billion
assistance package to Kazakhstan to contain the negative impact of the
HRW called on the government to increase economic relief
measures and ensure that everyone living in Kazakhstan can apply for assistance
of various kinds to ensure an adequate standard of living.
'There could be dire consequences unless the government
urgently extends and expands financial assistance during the quarantine and
beyond,' said Lena Simet, senior poverty and inequality researcher at HRW.
As of August 18, Kazakhstan has reported 103,300 coronavirus
infection cases, including 1,269 fatalities.