BISHKEK — According to the World Bank, the rate of poverty in Kyrgyzstan decreased steadily between 1990 and 2008, reaching as low as 19 percent. However, since 2008, that percentage has grown to include nearly 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s population.
Data also shows that over the same period, primary school enrollment decreased from 95 to 81 percent, indicating a pivot away from education. This is likely due to the stagnation of education reforms within the government: Kyrgyzstan allocates a significant portion of its budget to education, but the development and implementation of necessary system-wide improvements has lagged over time.
If the decline in education participation continues, it will have a significant impact on rural communities since 74 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s impoverished population resides in rural communities. These areas also typically have poorer access to education than urban areas.
In addition, the state lacks sufficient “fiscal space to increase expenditures on key social and physical infrastructure that could enhance the quality of the living conditions among the population,” which is a significant barrier to creating poverty reducing policy at the state level.
However, the rate of poverty in Kyrgyzstan is relatively shallow, at 7.5 percent. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, this means that, in theory, if poor individuals were provided an additional som 1,374 per year, they would be able to rise out of poverty. While such a thing is unlikely in any version of Kyrgyzstan’s future, this fact demonstrates that eliminating poverty within the state is an achievable goal.
As recognized in a Poverty Reduction Strategy Report published by the International Monetary Fund, the first step toward achieving this goal is to bolster Kyrgyzstan’s economy. The population is economically active, with high rates of labor force participation and an unemployment rate of eight percent.
However, an average of 500 working-aged citizens leave the country in search of better work each year and more than a million have already left; remittances from Russia make up a notable portion of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP.
Of Kyrgyzstan’s employed population, only 25 percent are employed in the formal sector, with the remaining 75 percent engaged in informal employment, primarily in farming. Informal employment, by its nature, is prone to poor working conditions and allows for few worker protections, but Kyrgyzstan’s formal sector is not much better as there is no agency responsible for regulating employment practices.
The lack of such a body and prevalence of informal employment could ultimately slide the country further into poverty.
Fortunately, the world has recognized that the poverty rate in Kyrgyzstan is of grave concern, as has the state’s government. Kyrgyzstan has begun creating a statewide employment management system and implemented a vocational education training system (VET) to increase the number of skilled workers in the labor market.
The state also plans to further improve its employment opportunities through the Kyrgyz Republic Employment Policy 2020, which will address state-run programs for technical education and employment regulations.
There is an unparalleled need to improve healthcare systems within Kyrgyzstan as more and more medical professionals leave the country in search of higher salaries and superior facilities. The Kyrgyzstan government has recognized this as a problem, as evidenced by the gradual increase in healthcare’s share of the state budget.
While the rate of poverty in Kyrgyzstan is higher now than in the past, it’s clear that the state’s government recognizes the need to improve state-owned services in order to allow its population upward mobility. Through state-run programs that improve education and healthcare, the government works to give citizens the tools to lift themselves out of poverty.
These efforts, combined with the work of international organizations such as the World Bank, will undeniably shrink the prevalence of poverty in Kyrgyzstan.
– Alena Zafonte