DUSHANBE, Tajikistan- The nation of Tajikistan is a small, landlocked region in Central Asia that is regarded as one of the poorest in the world. Sustained economic growth has been difficult in the wake of a five-year civil war in the 1990s that resulted in the deaths of 50,000 Tajiks. A resulting famine that emerged in the early 2000s only amplified the devastation from the war and further challenged growth and stability in the region.
Over the past decade, Tajikistan has shown signs of improvement, however. The country has been aided in large part by an increase in demand for its primary exports of aluminum and cotton, which, together, account for just under 70% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP.) Increases in the overall price level for these goods has further facilitated the economic growth. After absorbing the shock of the global financial crisis in 2009, the economy of Tajikistan has resumed previous growth.
Despite recent progress, Tajikistan faces severe limitations which leave its people vulnerable to poverty. Most principally among these limitations are its natural features. Tajikistan, entirely landlocked, lacks the promotion of international trade that a transnational body of water provides. Moreover, Tajikistan, a nation in which 64% of its employed work in agriculture, is challenged by a high volume of mountainous terrain that limits access to fertile soil.
In addition to the difficulties presented by its landscape, development in Tajikistan has long been inhibited by corruption and political instability. Of the 177 countries surveyed by Transparency International in 2013, Tajikistan ranked 154th. Tajikistan performed similarly in Transparency International’s 2012 “press freedom index,” ranking 122nd out of 179 countries surveyed. A large degree of this corruption stems from the illicit opiate trade in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, responsible for 75% of the world’s opiate output, relies heavily on Tajikistan as a route through which it can channel its drug-trafficking activities. Conversely, Tajikistan has relied on drug-related activities for economic stimulus. According to a report by the Journal of Drug Issues, drug-trafficking accounts for no less than 30% of Tajikistan’s actual GDP. The cause of this has been attributed to a lack of sufficient economic infrastructure, and as a result, the government’s engagement in these activities as well. The degree of involvement by high-ranking Tajikistani officials in drug-related activities is said to be second in the world only to Afghanistan, and has earned it the ignominious classification of “narco-state.”
The state of development in Tajikistan seems to be reflective of developing nations’ necessity for viable economic alternatives. With a GDP per capita of $2,247, the nation is ranked 143 by the World Bank, barely outperforming many nations notoriously rife with infrastructure and public health challenges. One feature is remarkably unique, however; with a literacy rate of 99.7%, Tajikistan is superior in comparison to many of its neighbors in the World Bank rankings. Literacy in Tajikistan also trumps those in neighboring Afghanistan (28.1%) and Pakistan (55.5%) and even bests nearby economic powerhouse China (94%).
It is peculiar that a region with such high literacy rates would be prone to such high levels of poverty. Fellow Central Asian nations Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, too, exhibit notably high literacy rates; 99.5% and 99.3%, respectively. Issues such as a lack of infrastructure and corruption in government, therefore, will need addressing before stability can be attained over the long-term. Education, considered a prerequisite for poverty alleviation, will likely be fundamental to successful development efforts in Tajikistan.
– Benjamin O’Brien