SEATTLE — Tajikistan is a country unfamiliar to many, yet dozens of government-funded organizations send millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the 8.4 million people who call it home.
Similar to its population, humanitarian aid to Tajikistan is influenced by the country’s unforgiving mountainous terrain along with harsh winters, leaving rural areas isolated and often without aid. Located west of China and north of Afghanistan, the former Soviet state receives aid to fight extreme poverty as it deals with issues such as acces to food, clean drinking water, education, sanitation, medical supplies and relief from frequent natural disasters.
According to Save the Children, an organization that works to aid children in poverty-stricken areas, the cause of Tajikistan’s extreme poverty can be attributed to its mountainous geography, severe winters and the lack of government subsidies that ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This lack of funding hs led to a deficit of proper education programs and hospitals, specifically affecting rural areas. Even with humanitarian aid since 1992, Save the Children states that as of 2017, 10 percent of children go without an education and 4.5 percent of children will die before the age of five due to inadequate medical resources.
The lack of government funding accompanied by the increasing price of imported food has created a society where gaining access to a consistent food source proves difficult. Another source of hardship that contributes to the lack of food in Tajikistan is natural disasters, which make farming nearly impossible. ReliefWeb reported that the European Union of Disaster Preparedness Program has donated more than €46 million, or $54 million USD, to Central Asia to help prepare for and mitigate natural disasters. According to the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, Tajikistan experiences more than 1,000 earthquakes and tremors each year, along with mudslides that destroy farming opportunities and make access to food an even rarer occasion.
The success of humanitarian aid to Tajikistan is dependent upon people such as Aine Lynch, a Save the Children volunteer, who explained to the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations website that natural disasters and the poor economy in Tajikistan force farmers to travel to find work. They have to leave their families and children behind to manage the farming and household chores, depriving them of their education. According to UNICEF statistics, 4 percent of children at primary school age are deprived of education, most commonly in isolated rural areas.
Save the Children implemented a two-year program within six districts of Tajikistan where the importance of proper personal hygiene is taught. UNICEF reports that since 2000, 1.4 billion people worldwide have gained access to basic sanitation devices such as plumbing. However, as of 2015, 5 percent of the population still uses a shared or unimproved sanitation device.
Access to clean drinking water is another issue that poor Tajikistanis face. According to UNICEF statistics, 26 percent of the population must drink from an unsafe source, including surface water. Suqia, the UAE Water Aid Foundation, has supplied clean water to more than 45,000 people since 2015, improving the success of humanitarian aid to Tajikistan. They emphasize using sustainable sources for clean water, such as a 70-meter well that Suqia opened in remote Tajikistan that provides clean water to more than 15,000 people.
Another huge contributor in the success of humanitarian aid to Tajikistan is the Targeted Social Assistance Program (TSA). Introduced to Tajikistan in 2011, the program aims to fund the poorest 15 percent of the population and is supported by the European Union and the World Bank. The TSA funds aid in the form of shelter, food, clothing and other basic necessities.
It also works to ensure that families have access to electricity. In a 2015 Tajikistani presidential decree, the government announced its plans to work with TSA to create a system that better identifies poor families to protect them from rising electricity costs.
“The pilot of the Targeted Social Assistance Program demonstrated very good results in terms of identifying and targeting households that need most help,” Oleksiy Slychynsky, the project leader at the World Bank, said in the 2015 World Bank press release. According to the press release, the new system is twice as effective at identifying poverty-stricken households.
With many different issues to address in Tajikistan, nations and humanitarian aid programs are fighting to provide basic needs to the rural population, with signs of progress. According to a 2017 economic update report by the World Bank, the poverty rates in Tajikistan are as follows: 31.3 percent in 2015, 29.3 percent in 2016 and 27.9 percent in 2017. In 2018, it is projected to be 26.1 percent followed by an even lower 24.2 percent in 2019. The World Bank economic update report claims that with expanded funding for the TSA, extreme poverty in Tajikistan will continue to decrease.
– Austin Stoltzfus