TACOMA, Washington — Tajikistan, with a population of about 9 million, is a landlocked country in Central Asia surrounded by China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan is ranked as the second most effective country in terms of poverty reduction in the world. Its poverty rate has dropped an average of 3.1% each year from 1999 to 2015. Despite this significant progress, Tajikistan remains the most impoverished country in Central Asia. How is it possible that despite Tajikistan’s great strides toward poverty reduction, it is still the poorest country in Central Asia? Read on to learn about the causes behind the persistent poverty in Tajikistan.
A History of Civil War
Civil unrest in the country’s past continues to shape poverty in Tajikistan today. In February 1990, Islamists and pro-democratic protestors lined the streets of Dushanbe in resistance to Soviet rule, demanding better living conditions. The KGB responded by killing 25 protestors and sent out 5,000 soldiers to crush the rest of them.
In 1991, Tajikistan declared independence from the USSR, and communist leader Rahmon Nabiyev was elected, sparking mass protests and forcing Nabiyev’s resignation in September of 1992. Emomali Rahmonov, also a communist, took over in November 1992 and utilized several tactics to crush his opposition. The most notable opposition to Tajikistan’s communist rule was the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), a group made up of Islamist and pro-democratic members. By 1993, Rahmonov had gained complete control of the media and banned all parties with the exception of the Communist Party of Tajikistan.
With tensions rising among ethnic groups in Tajikistan, Rahmonov and the UTO agreed to a ceasefire and negotiations toward peace. Rahmonov agreed to revise the constitution to reinstitute the presidential system at the request of the UTO. Finally, after years of fighting and ethnic disputes, the U.N. sponsored a ceasefire in 1996 and the UTO and Rahmonov signed a peace accord in 1997. Rahmonov was re-elected in 1999, 2003 and 2013 in a series of elections that the international community has deemed neither fair nor free. He remains in power to this day.
Tajikistan’s civil war killed upwards of 157,000 people and destroyed 37,500 homes. Almost 800,000 people fled the country and more than 1.5 million people were displaced within their own country. Echos of the injustices of the civil war and the lack of free and fair elections are ever-present in contemporary society and contribute to the issue of poverty in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan’s Economic Stressors
Poverty in Tajikistan is at an all-time low. The country lowered its poverty rate from 83% to 27.4% of the population between the years 2000 and 2018. The economy grew an average of 7% each year and extreme poverty was reduced by 6% between 2013 and 2018. All of these statistics earned the country its impressive poverty reduction reputation.
Despite these advances, Tajikistan has developed a serious unemployment issue. As the country’s population increased over the past decade, job creation has failed to keep up. Additionally, the private sector’s involvement in Tajikistan’s economy is dangerously low, creating a fragile economic system. The private sector contributes to only 13% of formal employment and 15% of total investments. Much of the population has found work outside of the country due to unemployment within Tajikistan’s borders, but this only exacerbates the economy’s instability. These trends leave Tajikistan’s economy vulnerable to external shocks, which is dangerous for a country that is also heavily impacted by climate change.
Climate Change Affecting the Agricultural Sector
Tajikistan is the most climate-vulnerable country in Central Asia. About 75% of Tajikistan’s population resides in rural areas, and the majority of those people work in the agricultural sector. Because the agricultural sector is so crucial to the country’s economic success, any fluctuations in climate will impact both the rural workers and the economy itself.
The U.N. predicts that temperatures will rise 1.1 degrees Celcius by 2050, meaning the rate of evaporation will also rise. It is also predicted that, as a result of these changes, the need for crop irrigation water will increase by 20% to 30%. Climate-related disasters in Tajikistan have led to GDP losses of about 1.8 billion between the years 1992 and 2016 and have impacted nearly 7 million people. In a strongly agriculturally-based country where climate disasters are frequent, it is difficult for the economy to adapt and foster technological innovation.
A Strategy for Poverty Reduction
Tajikistan has been a champion of poverty reduction in recent decades, but the rate at which they reduce poverty has dramatically decreased in recent years. Much of this poverty reduction had to do with quantitative measurements that neglected several glaring social and economic issues in the country. Tajikistan is now struggling to continue its poverty reduction efforts with the same intensity as before, but the country is now looking to make qualitative improvements rather than just quantitative ones. Poverty in Tajikistan may be on the decline, but a comprehensive plan is necessary to ensure this progress is sustained.
Tajikistan’s strategy to reduce poverty focuses on three central ideas: improvement of public administration, development of the private sector and investment and development of human potential. Improvement of public administration aims to increase governmental transparency and accountability while decreasing corruption.
Development of the private sector refers to the economy as a whole, but particularly in the energy, transportation infrastructure and cotton production sectors. This also includes developing public-private partnerships. The final idea of developing human potential stresses the importance of providing better social services for the country’s poor and increased opportunities for involvement in the country’s development.
So why is it that despite Tajikistan’s great strides toward poverty reduction, it remains the poorest country in Central Asia? Tajikistan’s history of civil unrest and government corruption shaped it into a deeply impoverished country, making it a prime candidate for swift poverty reduction. Tajikistan was able to reduce poverty quantitatively. Now, the country must focus on reducing poverty qualitatively. As Tajikistan works to qualitatively reduce poverty, it will have to fight decades of unaddressed issues as well as contemporary ones.