Human Trafficking in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is a country in Central Asia that shares borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan. It became independent after the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991. According to Human Rights Watch, Turkmenistan remains a country that is partially isolated from the rest of the world due to its political and geographical situation. Human trafficking in Turkmenistan is a critical issue that requires urgent attention.

About Human Trafficking in Turkmenistan

Unfortunately, Turkmenistan does not completely satisfy the minimum requirements to eliminate the practice of human trafficking. As such, the U.S. Department of State designates Turkmenistan a Tier 3 country in 2021. According to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking, Turkmenistan is among the 22 worst countries in the world for human trafficking. There is no official data regarding the exact number of human trafficking cases in Turkmenistan, but according to the report, trafficking hotlines received close to 8,000 calls from victims in 2019. However, according to Turkmenistan’s government, there were no “formally identified” human trafficking victims that year.

To combat human trafficking in Turkmenistan, the government has tried to solve the problem by implementing a national action plan that runs from 2020 to 2022. This action plan involves the government’s participation in anti-trafficking awareness campaigns while collaborating with international organizations to fight human trafficking within the country.

Preventative Measures

Most of the measures that the state carried out in cooperation with other NGOs have not led to significant improvements in the human trafficking situation. These measures have not stopped the use of forced labor force during the cotton harvest or in public works. Turkmenistan wished to create an anti-human trafficking committee that has not come to fruition yet. While the country managed to reduce some areas of human trafficking, the demand for forced labor still exists.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Turkmenistan government have carried out several campaigns in schools to raise awareness of human trafficking in the nation. Several organizations came together to assess the risk of human trafficking within the country. In addition, these organizations have also made efforts to monitor trafficking.

Measures to Protect Victims

The Turkmenistan government has been training officials in trafficking prevention and victim identification to ensure quicker and more efficient responses to incidents of trafficking. In addition, the government has allocated resources with the idea of eliminating the mobilization of children and adults for forced labor in the annual cotton harvest. The government has also launched several awareness campaigns to eliminate forced labor in other sectors.

Furthermore, the government funded the construction of shelters for trafficking victims, which the International Organization of Migration (IOM) operates. Although these measures have received several criticisms from international organizations for a lack of impact, the measures have served as a resource for local reintegration and job placement. In addition, the government and several NGOs put procedures in place to increase the efficacy and speed of victim identification.

How Victims Can Rebuild Their Lives

For victims, overcoming the trauma of human trafficking requires a lot of public support. Beginning in 2014, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been cooperating with the IOM and other local NGOs to reintegrate victims of human trafficking back into Turkmenistan society through an organization called Yenme. To achieve this, Yenme takes on a comprehensive approach to social reintegration by providing psychological and medical support to the victims along with legal assistance. This helps victims to rebuild their lives with optimism and hope. Data shows that 90% of victims who receive this aid end up becoming self-employed. In addition, victims attend workshops to acquire new skills that are useful in their future work.

Looking Ahead

Even with the new measures that Turkmenistan’s government implemented and the cooperation with various international organizations and local NGOs, ongoing commitments of time and effort are necessary to alleviate human trafficking. Hopefully, through the continued work of Turkmenistan’s government and NGOs, human trafficking in Turkmenistan will one day be a matter of the past.

– Ander Moreno
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in Central Asia
Central Asia comprises Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. The combined population of these countries is about 72 million. Promising foreign aid efforts in Central Asia are working to combat a variety of issues in these countries.

Food Distribution

One critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia has been food security. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been leading a program to provide food to impoverished children in Tajikistan. This program has given vegetable oil and flour to more than 22,000 households in Tajikistan.

This has been part of a more significant effort by the WFP School Feeding Programme to ensure student food security in Tajikistan. The School Feeding Programme has helped more than 600,000 students across the country.

Russia is a critical contributor to these aid programs. Since 2012, Russia has given more than $28 million to the School Feeding Programme to facilitate food distribution and the modernization of food infrastructure for schools.

The World Food Programme and Russia are not the only sources of food aid in Central Asia. The United Arab Emirate’s 100 Million Meals campaign has distributed more than 600,000 meals to Central Asia as of June 2021.

The organization gave out food baskets with enough food to feed an entire family for a month. It assists families in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The campaign coordinated with other charity organizations within these three countries, and the campaign target has already increased from 100 million meals to more than 200 million meals.

Electrical and Water Supply

Another critical area for foreign aid in Central Asia is the development of electrical infrastructure and water management. The U.S. recently started an effort via USAID to develop a sustainable and reliable electricity market in the region. An October 2020 agreement between USAID, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan planned to create an electrical market with “expected economic benefits from regional trade and… reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

USAID also recently started the Water and Vulnerable Environment project, which will help all five Central Asian countries. The project aims to “promote regional cooperation to improve natural resources (water) management that sustains both growths, promote[s] healthy ecosystems, and prevent[s] conflict.” This is the second water management project USAID has supported in the region in recent years, as it recently completed the Smart Waters project.

The Smart Waters project successfully ensured that dozens of citizens received degrees in water management or received additional training in the field. The project also trained almost 3,000 people in “water resources management, water diplomacy, water-saving technologies, and international water law through 100 capacity building events.”

Medical Assistance

USAID partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021 to help Uzbekistan address the management of drug-resistant tuberculosis. The project’s goal is to better manage the disease by providing assistance to Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Health. The program conducted 35 training sessions throughout Uzbekistan, which resulted in more than 600 specialists receiving certification to prevent, identify and treat drug-resistant tuberculosis.

In recent years, foreign aid in Central Asia has resulted in food distribution, medical assistance, efforts to develop an electrical grid and assistance in water management. The U.S., Russia and the United Arab Emirates have contributed to these efforts alongside various international and local organizations.

– Coulter Layden
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in TurkmenistanTurkmenistan is a Central Asian country with a population of 6.1 million. Healthcare in Turkmenistan has a complicated history, beginning when the country’s first post-Soviet president, Saparmurat Niyazov, fired 15,000 healthcare workers and shut down regional hospitals around 2005. However, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Niyazov’s successor, flipped the script and invested tens of millions of dollars into the country’s healthcare sector starting in 2006. While the investments were substantial, including a $56 million ophthalmology complex, the overall quality of healthcare in Turkmenistan lagged behind. Maral Nedirova, a Turkmen doctor, explains that medical services in the Turkmen provinces have not progressed since the 1970s.

The Effects of Dictatorship

Dictatorship in the 2000s had a lasting, negative impact on healthcare in Turkmenistan. As previously noted, Turkmenistan was under the dictatorial rule of president Niyazov until his death in 2006. The dictatorship resulted in direct harm to healthcare. Imprisonment and torture of those who opposed the administration combined with over-incarceration in overcrowded facilities hurt healthcare in Turkmenistan. The rule of president Niyazov, however, also indirectly contributed to the country’s healthcare struggle. This occurred primarily due to the government’s focus on secrecy rather than prevention, meaning that the dictatorship was more concerned with limiting the exposure of the healthcare crisis in Turkmenistan than actually addressing it. These failures have had lasting, adverse effects on healthcare in Turkmenistan.

Corruption Undermines Healthcare

While Niyazov’s rule came to an end in 2006, the corruption of the healthcare system in Turkmenistan is yet to cease. Bribery is commonplace in the healthcare system, with doctors being forced to pay an unofficial penalty “for every incident of an undocumented health problem that surfaces among the population of the district that they are responsible for.” Local administrations then use this money to bribe health inspectors “to ensure positive reports about their work.”

Additionally, the legacy of secrecy and coverup remains today. Despite being bordered by a country with 500,000 COVID-19 cases in April 2020, and having taken no formal quarantine measures, the Turkmenistan officials repeatedly reported no official cases around this period. Even within the country’s health departments, few people knew the real risk that COVID-19 posed due to the government’s secrecy. False reports and large-scale coverups likely make it most challenging to address the reality of healthcare in Turkmenistan as the truth is often unclear.

Poor Air Quality

The air pollution in Turkmenistan is “considered moderately unsafe” under guidelines put forward by the World Health Organization. While 10 µg/m3 of PM2.5, the fine particulate matter that pollutes the air and can cause health issues, is the maximum recommended level for air pollutants, Turkmenistan has a mean of 22 µg/m3. In the short term, this air pollution can cause typical symptoms like shortness of breath and lung and nose irritation while also worsening the effects of asthma and emphysema. In the long term, however, the risks become more severe, inducing lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory illness and more.

The Future of Healthcare in Turkmenistan

Partnerships with other countries and international organizations provide hope for the future of healthcare in Turkmenistan. A new project started by Japan and the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS) aims to deliver medical equipment and supplies to aid the country’s healthcare system. The project Enhancing the Healthcare System through the Provision of Medical Equipment in Turkmenistan will invest $2.8 million into the Turkmenistan healthcare system.

Moreover, a WHO-EU joining project titled Crisis Response for Central Asian Countries is a €3 million project involving Turkmenistan and neighboring countries that aims to assist in the response to COVID-19 as well as strengthen emergency response preparedness and detection efforts. Thus far, the project held a virtual training seminar led by international experts to train healthcare workers and provide them with hands-on skills. While Turkmenistan’s past was defined by its secrecy and closed-off posture regarding its healthcare system, the trend appears to be reversing as international aid in cooperation has been invited to help revitalize healthcare in Turkmenistan.

Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in TurkmenistanTurkmenistan is a secretive and self-contained nation. Most data about poverty and homelessness in the country is out-of-date. According to Knoema, the most recent data available is from 1998 and puts the poverty rate in Turkmenistan at 51.4%. Despite this lack of information, satellite images have provided the outside world with an image of Turkmenistan’s epidemic of homelessness. Here are five facts about increasing homelessness in Turkmenistan.

5 Facts About Increasing Homelessness in Turkmenistan

  1. Turkmenistan is an upper-middle-class income country, as classified in 2012. Turkmenistan is predicted to have the fourth-largest oil reserves in the world, with about 10% of the global total. Despite this, the public sector dominates the economy and enforces tight administrative controls on all private-sector businesses. Because of this, the few employed people face low wages and long hours. In addition, in the private sector, it is nearly impossible to find success. This makes the economy vulnerable to corruption.
  2. Homelessness disproportionately affects single mothers. While there used to be a cultural stigma surrounding divorce, it has become increasingly common for husbands to leave their wives and families without providing funds, food or shelter for the families.
  3. The government perpetuates much of the homelessness in Turkmenistan. For example, for the past several decades, forced demolitions and mass evictions have been common phenomena in Turkmenistan. These rapidly escalated since 2015 in preparation for the Fifth Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games. The government forcibly evicted homeowners without appropriate compensation and demolished extensions to homes in an effort to standardize and “beautify” homes in the country. Because Turkmenistan is such a secretive nation, it is difficult to say just how many people have been forcibly evicted from their homes by the government. Through satellite imagery, Amnesty International estimates that 50,000 or more people have lost their homes in this beautification effort.
  4. Low wages also play a key role in homelessness in Turkmenistan. The lack of jobs, increasing food prices and plummeting wages have exacerbated homelessness. As a result, many citizens turn to begging and scavenging in the trash.
  5. The government of Turkmenistan systematically denies citizens the freedom of religion and self-expression. Because of this, victims of government-manufactured homelessness have no legal recourse to the injustices committed against them. Governing authorities are prone to using threats and force against any opposition.

Because Turkmenistan is so isolated, spreading awareness of homelessness in the country is the first step to solving the issue. For example, human rights organizations such as The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been raising awareness of the mass demolitions on behalf of the government since 2017. They have publicly condemned the government’s actions. Additionally, the United States has been providing aid to Turkmenistan since 1992. Aid from the United States supports programs that improve social services, improve access to information and increase the development of markets and agriculture.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is a country in the Central Asian region with a population of more than 5.6 million and a coastline along the Caspian Sea between Kazakhstan to the north and Iran to the south. Prior to gaining independence in 1991, Turkmenistan was a Soviet republic.

The country is well-endowed with energy reserves including natural gas and oil, and its economy is highly dependent on energy production and exports. In addition, Turkmenistan is rich in cotton, another highly exported commodity. Although 48.2% of the country’s labor force works in agriculture, this sector represents only about 8% of its GDP. Turkmenistan, moreover, continues to grapple with substantial barriers to economic and political progress, subjecting many of its citizens to poverty and other sources of hardship. Here is some information about poverty in Turkmenistan.

4 Facts About Poverty in Turkmenistan

  1.  Turkmenistan has made significant progress when it comes to poverty reduction. In 1999, an estimated 58% of the population in Turkmenistan was living in poverty compared to 0.2% in 2012. GDP per capita witnessed a similar kind of improvement over the same period. In 1999, GDP per capita in Turkmenistan was only $1,800. That figure increased to $8,900 in 2012, and in 2017, it reached $18,200, earning the country a rank of 97th highest GDP per capita in the world.
  2. Reports have stated that Turkmenistan possesses the world’s fourth-largest reserves of natural gas. However, its heavy reliance on energy exports exposes its economy to sizeable vulnerabilities, including fluctuations in the energy prices. High energy prices in the last decade enabled sensible progress in the form of utility subsidies on the part of the Turkman government since 2014. However, the country’s GDP growth rate has declined to 10.3%, as a result of low energy prices, in 2014 from 14.7% in 2011. In 2015, its GDP growth rate further declined to 6.5%. These setbacks have resulted in cutbacks on government subsidies and infrastructure spending.
  3.  The country’s first political leader, Niyazov, died in 2006 and Berdimuhamedow, who continues to be president today, succeeded him. The reign of Niyazov led to the suppression of political dissent and tightly limited freedom of movement and travel. Moreover, in 2004 and 2005, Turkmenistan’s development experienced a significant hindrance when the government cut one year off of secondary school requirements, replaced 15,000 health care professionals with military conscripts and closed all regional hospitals. Political repression and limited civil freedoms continued under Berdimuhamedow. With a transparency index of 154 among 176 countries, corruption on all levels of government has also been a major obstacle to development in Turkmenistan, limiting its potential for foreign investment opportunities.
  4.  The state has heavily regulated Turkmenistan’s economy. In fact, the state controls an estimated 90% of agricultural production. People also report long waiting queues throughout grocery stores that the state owns or controls. Since Turkmenistan has subsidized food items like bread and considering that Turkmen farmers cannot grow unauthorized products, the country’s economy is far from efficient or self-sufficient. Government control over the foreign exchange rate, thus restricting the private sector’s ability to import the foodstuffs necessary to sustain the population, has further exacerbated this fact.

Looking Ahead

While official estimates for poverty in Turkmenistan are low, at 0.2%, there are several drawbacks that the country faces in regard to both its economy and its social and political standing. These range from the need to diversify its economic model from its heavy reliance on energy export revenues to the promotion of a more free business and investment climate. In the meantime, international cooperation and coordination ought to strive to ensure that the recent food shortages in Turkmenistan do not escalate into a full-fledged hunger crisis.

Oumaima Jaayfer
Photo: Flickr

Modern Irrigation Technology in Turkmenistan
Large swathes of the world still rely on irrigation infrastructure as an integral component of agricultural production. According to the U.N. World Water Development Report of 2015, a global average of 70 percent of water use goes towards agriculture, encompassing both modern and traditional irrigation technology methods. Although modern irrigation technology continues to progress, historical and geographical circumstances remain impediments to the sustainability and efficiency of irrigation in some regions — including Turkmenistan.

The experience of the 20th century left the country with a decaying, unsustainable irrigation system, prompting a scholarly investigation into the subject. However, today, government initiatives — bolstered by international support —  have resulted in creative solutions to the country’s modern irrigation technology crisis.

Soviet Mismanagement

Turkmenistan, which attained independence from the USSR in 1991, lies at the intersection of West, Central and South Asia. Although agricultural land comprises 72 percent of Turkmenistan’s terrain, only 4.1 of that land is arable, while pasture lands encompass 67.8 percent. Irrigated land comprises 19,950 sq km out of the 469,930 sq km of terrain. As the Kara-Kum desert extends through 80 percent of the territory, the country depends heavily on the Amu Darya river as a water source.

Soviet rule initiated unprecedented changes to Turkmenistan‘s traditional irrigation system, the consequences of which would prove environmentally and economically unsustainable. The country is heavily dependent on the Karakum Main Canal, which includes channeled water from the Amu Darya river, leading to waterlogging and salinization. Compounded by poor drainage, this precipitated the abandonment of arable land at a rate of 46,000 hectares per year. The use of unlined irrigation canals and ditches produced loss rates of more than 30 percent, a consequence of neglect by engineers at the design stage.

However, upon independence, Turkmenistan boasted 1.3 million hectares under cultivation, accounting for 40 percent of the GDP. By this time, the clogging of irrigation canals from inadequately drained river sediment became a costly problem that dated equipment and reduced carrying capacity poorly addressed. It also contributed to the formation of uncultivable salt marshes. As of 2007, as much as 73 percent of irrigated land, in excess of 1.6 million hectares, suffered from salinization.

Early Modern Irrigation Technology Strategies

A study published in 2007 proposed several mechanisms by which Turkmenistan could ameliorate the devastation and inefficacy wrought by decades of water overuse and mismanagement. For instance, one proposed solution involves lining ditches with concrete or plastic to mitigate soil salinization, groundwater flooding and waste of water resources. The study also outlined technological advancements in techniques other than furrow irrigation, such as drip, sprinkling and subsoil irrigation. The study’s authors insist that costliness aside, these strategies and technologies would prove highly beneficial, increasing efficient water use, crop productivity and land usage while mitigating environmental harm.

Strategies that the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan and the Ministry of Agriculture successfully developed and implemented primarily concern the growth of cotton and wheat crops. Most significantly, by sowing and concentrating water and fertilizer between ridges and at the bottom of irrigation furrows and by rotating crops each year, irrigation is no longer necessary for draining purposes. Though distinct from the ditch lining proposal of the 2007 study, this strategy appears to combat the same leakage issues effectively. This process may save as much as 130 million cubic meters of water, thus ensuring efficient land and water use. Energy, labor and fertilizer expenditures are likewise more efficient under this system.

Recent Modern Irrigation Technology Strategies

The government of Turkmenistan has not worked on modern irrigation technology initiatives alone, but have involved international collaboration. For instance, a climate-resilient farming initiative for Turkmenistan, under the aegis of the UNDP, produced favorable outcomes. In 2014, a new law incorporated the UNDP’s suggested amendments and revisions to Turkmenistan’s Water Code. The same year, progress in community-based adaptation initiatives resulted in the introduction and development of community-oriented water-collecting techniques, water management strategies and irrigation services.

In another transnational initiative in 2017, specialists from Turkmenistan participated in a seminar on irrigation strategies in Israel that explored techniques Israel has employed in attaining agricultural success despite the harsh topography and arid climate. The subject matter of these seminars ranged from irrigation planning and greenhouse versus open irrigation to the use of drip and sprinkling styles of irrigation (the latter in line with the 2007 study above). The application of these techniques will improve efficiency and mitigate the negative externalities of modern irrigation technology in Turkmenistan. Successful administration of these strategies in Turkmenistan likely will, in the long term, increase crop yield, expedite economic development and reduce poverty in a large part of the population, as the example of Israel demonstrated.

Throughout the 20th century, Soviet irrigation practices in Tajikistan precipitated environmental degradation and economic decline. However, the introduction of modern irrigation technology in Tajikistan since independence has improved the economy and mitigated ecological harm. International cooperation and government initiatives now lay the groundwork for a more efficient, productive and environmentally conscious irrigation system. If efforts persist, the future of agriculture is bright for Tajikistan.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan, a country rich with gas and export struggles, corruption and poverty. The country is located in Central Asia and shares its borders with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Afghanistan and has been independent since 1991. Meanwhile, the life expectancy in Turkmenistan has been on a steady rise within the last decade. Here are the top 10 facts about life expectancy in Turkmenistan.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Turkmenistan

  1. The life expectancy in Turkmenistan is around 68 years. According to the BBC, the average lifespan for women is 71 and 64 years for men. The country’s life expectancy ranks four years lower than neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, while it ranks five years lower than the world average life expectancy.
  2. Turkmenistan suffers from a high mortality rate which affects overall life expectancy. The World Health Organization states in its “Highlights on Health in Turkmenistan” report written in 2005, that “As could be expected, excess mortality is due to communicable, respiratory and digestive diseases.” The two highest causes of death are infectious and parasitic diseases.
  3. Water resources are rather scarce because desert covers a lot of Turkmenistan. In fact, it is one of the most water-deficient countries in the world. The government tried to create projects, such as the creation of parks, to make cities appear greener. The plan backfired because these plants required a large amount of water. Seventy-one percent of the population has access to drinking water, while 29 percent of the population still lacks clean water.
  4. Turkmenistan has 22 physicians per 1,000 people within a given population. The former president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, tried to make changes to the health care system and citizen’s lifestyles and has been encouraging spending on public health and healthier lifestyles. A lack of doctors takes its toll on rural communities, while limited access to sanitary water increases the chances of becoming sick. While urban areas have modernized hospitals, care can be expensive. Meanwhile, rural communities suffer from old equipment and shortages in medicine which could affect life expectancy statistics as well.
  5. Turkmenistan is a healthy nation. The government focuses on nutrition through private agriculture and food production. It tries to create healthy lunches in schools by banning unhealthy foods and drinks. Some noncommunicable diseases affecting the population comes from malnutrition, such as raised blood pressure, blood glucose and blood cholesterol. These can be life-threatening diseases.
  6. Housing in Turkmenistan differs from other countries in their structures. People often live in yurts due to weather conditions or economic reasons. The yurts surround cities and traditional families heavily populate them. Houses do exist but the monthly rates tend to be higher than the people’s wages. Yurts are a more affordable form of shelter considering the increase of food and gas prices.
  7. The infant mortality rate in Turkmenistan is 33 deaths per 1,000 births, which ranks the country number 55 in the world. The maternal mortality rate is 42 deaths per 100,000 births, which places Turkmenistan at 104 in the world.
  8. The literacy rate in Turkmenistan is 99.7 percent for people ages 15 and older. Most students spend up to 11 years in school. The government is trying to reform the educational system to be more effective for students. Its main goal is to get everyone into the local workforce and have it perform internationally as well. Children receive a basic education that fits the needs of the government or specific jobs that they can work internationally. It does not necessarily include a well-rounded course curriculum.
  9. Turkmenistan has a high poverty and corruption rate. The given wages are not nearly enough to cover common products. The further away from the center of Ashgabat that people live, the fewer resources they have available to them. Those who live in urban cities have more access to natural resources. Those living in rural communities have less, especially when it comes to natural gas.
  10. The crime rate in Turkmenistan’s cities is low compared to the surrounding countries. Towards the border, the crime rate grows due to terrorism and the drug trade. The cities set a curfew for 11 p.m. to lower crime at night.

Though these 10 facts about life expectancy in Turkmenistan put things into a grim perspective, the government is doing what it can to change the future. If the government successfully reforms Turkmenistan’s education system, allowing for a workforce that can compete internationally, people could raise their living standards, and potentially, the country’s life expectancy as well.

– Christina Atler
Photo: Flickr

Eight Facts About Education in Turkmenistan
As a post-Soviet nation, Turkmenistan has taken strides over the last few decades in building autonomy and developing its social service sectors like public education. Here are eight facts about education in Turkmenistan today.

8 Facts About Education in Turkmenistan

  1. Turkmenistan has an impressively high literacy rate. Within the last few years, UNICEF has tallied Turkmenistan’s literacy rate at about 99.8 percent for both males and females ages 15-24.
  2. Public school is only compulsory through 10th grade in Turkmenistan. At this point, students take tests to determine whether they should go to a trade school or enter the workforce immediately. Well-scoring students may continue on for further schooling that is paid for by the state.
  3. Turkmenistan faces a severe shortage of qualified teachers, especially at the higher education level. This is a result of inadequate educational resources and unrealistic expectations like double shifts and Saturday classes. Of course, as poor conditions drive teachers away from the field, the issue only compounds. The lack of educated teachers is probably the largest threat to Turkmenistan’s education system right now. The government is cognizant of this issue and the last two Presidents have made significant efforts to absolve it with relatively little success. In 2007, President Berdimuhamedow reformed teacher working conditions by raising salaries by 40 percent, reducing class sizes and decreasing number of hours worked. The state also introduced competitions for Teacher of the Year and Educator of the Year to promote quality teaching. Unfortunately, the increase in incentives has found little success. Berdimuhamedow claimed in 2009 that the country would continue to rely on sending graduates to foreign universities until “the country gets fully staffed with specialists with high qualifications.”
  4. The process for admission into higher education institutions is extremely difficult. With a severe shortage of teachers, universities have room for less than 10 percent of high school graduates. Not only do students need remarkably high scores on entrance exams, but bribery on acceptance decisions is commonplace, which crowds out spots for deserving, lower-income students.
  5. Turkmenistan now requires that Turkmen be the standard language of instruction in all of its schools although at least four primary languages are spoken across the country. This has led to increased challenges for schools in regions where the traditional language is Russian or a local dialect. Many adults are also pursuing further education to become fluent in the national language, which takes up valuable teacher time.
  6. Women experience social pressure to start families instead of pursuing higher education. Many girls have become discouraged from finishing higher education due to the cultural expectation that they marry by their 20th or 21st birthday. The percentage of female students in higher education has actually gone down in the last decade, despite rises in female enrollment nearly everywhere else in the world. In 2009, the proportion of higher education students that were female was only 35 percent, a two percent decrease from the prior year.
  7. There are no private universities in Turkmenistan; all higher education is state-run and strictly monitored. Researchers Victoria Clement, from the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, and Zumrad Kataeva, from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, posit that this may be an attempt to control the information nationals acquire as a form of protecting the current political regime.
  8. There is an unequal regional distribution of higher education with all but three institutions located in the country’s capital city. This contributes to cyclical lower income levels for those living in the more rural regions, who have fewer opportunities to attend a higher education institute due to a long commute.

These eight facts about education in Turkmenistan reveal that while access to quality education in Turkmenistan is significantly better than in other areas of the world, it is not free of flaws. Opening up higher education to more people through increasing admissions, encouraging women to stay in school longer and providing more opportunities to those living in rural parts of Turkmenistan are goals to move toward in the future. Moreover, the addition of private schools would inspire more free thinking within the country that could result in citizens pushing for a more democratic society.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in Turkmenistan
Central Asia displays memories of ancient ruins and powerful empires. Turkmenistan is no exception due to its most recent invasion by the Russian Empire (1881-1998) which is what shapes most of its modern history. Today, the world knows the country for its natural resources, dictatorial leader and marble cities. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Turkmenistan

  1. Authoritarian Media
    The close eye of Presiden Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow administers daily life in Turkmenistan. The government oversees all media outlets to determine what can and cannot be published. Only 17.9 percent of the population uses the internet due to the high expense. People have access to little online information as authorities ban websites against the government. Since 2006, the government imprisoned two journalists (Sapardurdy Khadjiyev and Annakurban Amanklychev) for not complying with government media regulations.
  2. An Ongoing Economic Recession
    Turkmenistan was the poorest nation during the USSR. Today, the country’s GDP per capita is $6,587 and 10 percent of 5.8 million Turkmen live in extreme poverty. However, this is a massive stride for the nation. In 1990, more than a third of the country lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day) making 10 percent the lowest poverty rate the nation has ever seen.
  3. Developing Education
    Nearly 100 percent of Turkmenistan people are literate. The country has a 12-year educational system, however, the average student drops out of school after 10 or 11 years. The government has partnered with UNICEF to continue the development of its education through the Child Friendly Schools (CFS) model. This framework aims to help children not only in terms of education but also in terms of their well being.
  4. Gender Equality on the Rise
    Only 40 percent of women in Turkmenistan will attend tertiary school. Women often marry by the ages of 20 or 21 and will thus have few opportunities to obtain a higher education or career. Luckily, the United Nations has aided in the recent 2017 presidential decree of Turkmenistan’s first national action plan on gender equality. This plan includes improved legislation, equal access to health services and data collection to monitor progress.
  5. Poor Health
    The state does not widely fund health care. Turkmen are likely to spend more money on health care than the government. In 2017, the average citizen spent $2,052 on health care in comparison to the government which only spent $741. The lack of accessible public health care leads to an average life expectancy of just 67.8 years, with the highest cause of death being lower respiratory infections.
  6. Urban vs. Rural Life
    There are 5.8 million people living in Turkmenistan and 49.2 percent of that population living in urban areas. The sale of cotton, silk, Karakul sheep and homemade carpets and rugs are essential to rural development. Ashgabat remains the capital city and is the center point for business and government officials. Cars and railways connect the cities and towns within the country.
  7. Jail Brutality
    Prisoners within Turkmenistan and political prisoners especially are often abused. The exact number of political prisoners held by the government is not public knowledge, however, Prove They are Alive, an international organization fighting to reduce disappearances within Turkmenistan, states that 121 people remain forcibly disappeared. Ovadandepe is the most infamous jail and was the point of death for former government official Begmurad Otuzov. Mr. Otuzov’s body was returned to his family weighing just 99 pounds after having been missing for 15 years.
  8. Natural Resources and the Economy
    Turkmenistan’s economy is largely dependent upon hydrocarbon resources. The country leads as the world’s fourth-largest natural gas distributor and had 265 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in 2016. Its largest customers include China, Russia and Iran. Petrofac is one of the largest energy producers in the country and employs 1,700 people across the nation.
  9. Environmental Resolutions
    Turkmenistan has no renewable energy sources and 13.9 percent of the population does not have access to clean water. However, UNICEF developed a strategy in 2017 to help the country promote sustainable practices. The project aims to raise awareness around environmental sustainability through education in schools.
  10. A Housing Crisis
    In 2015, the government evicted 50,000 people from their homes in the capital. The government forcibly removed people from their houses so they could build new buildings for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Forced evictions are a common and recurring issue within Turkmenistan. Amnesty International is combating this housing crisis by publicizing homes that continue to be demolished.
  11. Low Unemployment Rate
    Last on the list of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan is employment. The country maintains a low GDP and a minimum wage of just 535 Turkmenistani ($152.55) per month. However, it also maintains a rather low unemployment rate. Only 3.8 percent of the country was unemployed in 2018, even lower than the United States’ unemployment rate of 4 percent.

Turkmenistan, like any country, has its challenges. As displayed in these top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan, the government’s high levels of surveillance and poor infrastructure can make life challenging at times. On the other hand, several NGOs such as the U.N. and Amnesty International are fighting to create a more equal society. Overall, the country has seen progress and today it maintains an improved education system as well as higher employment rates.

Photo: Flickr


Turkmenistan is smaller than the United States in just about every regard–except one. It possesses the world’s fourth-largest reserves of natural gas, surpassing the U.S. and ranking just below Iran, Russia and Qatar. As its leadership turns to China for investment in its energy sector, the U.S. is poised to lose much of its economic clout in the region. If the U.S. were to invest in Turkmenistan’s infrastructure, U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Turkmenistan (beyond lifting its people out of poverty) would include a less corrupt, diversified economy friendlier to U.S. business and interests and one less state reliant on fossil fuels.

Corruption in Turkmenistan

With the current state of affairs, Turkmenistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Freedom House, a U.S. government-funded human rights advocacy group, gave the landlocked country of six million people a score of 6.96/7 on the Democracy Score, with 1 being the most democratic and 7 being the least. Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced the creation of an anti-corruption agency in June 2017, but his appointee was a former official in the customs service, which is known to be a hotbed of political bribery. The president himself is also suspect; in 2008, a Russian energy company “gifted” him a private yacht worth €60 million ($88 million). Berdymukhamedov also received various luxury vehicles from German automobile companies, including a Mercedes Maybach.

While one might not see the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Turkmenistan because of the corruption, investment in fighting corruption and diversifying the market could reap good results. There has been nominal recognition by Turkmenistan’s government that market reform and diversification away from natural gas is beneficial. With relatively few stakes in Turkmenistan, the U.S. could be doing more.

Two Major Steps to Benefits

  • Invest in anti-corruption and reform initiatives: The barriers to market entry in Turkmenistan are some of the highest and most opaque in the world. The U.S. State Department reports that many businesses must have the favor of government officials in order to become successful, so personal relationships and high taxes on foreign firms dominate the market. While the U.S. cannot reform Turkmenistan’s domestic policy, it can work with willing government officials and NGOs to combat the excesses of economic protectionism. Lowering barriers could help current U.S. firms in the region like Coca-Cola thrive.
  • Invest in diversifying Turkmenistan’s economy: Turkmenistan is highly dependent on fossil fuels (particularly hydrocarbons and natural gas) for a sizeable portion of its GDP. China is its largest buyer, importing 30 billion cubic meters in 2016. It holds considerable influence over Turkmenistan‘s economy and government with its purchasing power in Turkmenistan’s energy industries and infrastructure. If the U.S. invests in its agriculture and textile sectors, Turkmenistan can shift away from energy dependence toward a multi-tiered economy that would be a potential hotspot for foreign investment, including U.S. companies.

While these steps may not enact immediate change, their potential to remains a better alternative than the current status quo. The possibility of a prosperous, cleaner and relatively less autocratic Turkmenistan is far preferable to a polluting regime heavily reliant on foreign subsidies, interests and global energy prices.

– Alex Qi
Photo: Flickr