With a population of 32 million, Uzbekistan is one of the largest and fastest-growing countries in Central Asia and, as a result, it has faced a number of challenges regarding hunger and malnutrition. In 2016, the Global Hunger Index listed Uzbekistan as a country suffering from moderate hunger problems, citing 4.2 percent of the population as undernourished. Uzbekistan ranks 63rd on the 2016 index, just outside of the top 50 countries experiencing “alarming” hunger rates. This ranking comes as no surprise, but the nation has taken great strides toward addressing the underlying causes of hunger in Uzbekistan.

In the last decade, Uzbekistan has made monumental progress in battling its hunger issue. Compare the undernourished population of 4.2 percent in 2016 to 2013’s 5.5 percent — and 2008’s 9.4 percent. Since 1990, Uzbekistan has been one of the 26 countries to have successfully reduced hunger by more than half.

One of biggest reasons for these decreasing hunger rates is a decline in the amount of poverty in Uzbekistan thanks to sustained economic growth, educational opportunities and increased employment. The former Soviet Republic leads Central Asia with an economic growth rate of around eight percent annually since 2011. Prosperity in recent years even prompted the World Bank in 2011 to reclassify the country from a low-income to a lower middle-income nation.

A concentrated effort to increase wheat production has specifically attacked the issue of hunger in Uzbekistan. As the country continues to grow, greater demand for agricultural products like wheat and cattle has helped rural farmers feed their communities and contribute to solving the hunger problem.

The efforts of countries like Uzbekistan helped contribute to a 29 percent drop in hunger levels globally since 2000, according to the Global Health Index. The GHI’s main goal focuses on achieving zero hunger by 2030, a mark dependent upon further reform and the acceleration in hunger’s decline in Central Asia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Nicholas Dugan

Photo: Flickr

tertiary education in Uzbekistan
Recent trends show that although education in Uzbekistan has come a long way since the nation’s Soviet days, Uzbekistan needs to focus on improving its tertiary education to secure a successful economic and social future. Currently, tertiary enrollment in Uzbekistan is among the lowest in Central Asia at just 15 percent.

After Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union, the Uzbekistani government shifted its focus to prioritizing educational reform. However, major economic and social challenges were placed on Uzbekistan as a result of past Soviet reforms, making it difficult for Uzbekistan to reform its education system. Although Uzbekistan has put effort into improving its economy and social system, education in Uzbekistan needs attention, especially postsecondary education.

When first comparing general education net enrollment rates in Uzbekistan to respective sub-regional and regional averages, the country is above average for primary and secondary school enrollment. However, learning outcomes and overall education quality is concerning. Despite recent reforms such as increasing teacher salaries and revising the Law on Education, school performance is subpar. UNICEF states that Uzbekistan has plans to improve school infrastructure, teacher working conditions, and access to quality basic education. The World Bank believes that the biggest concern for education in Uzbekistan is tertiary education.

Over the past 20 years, Uzbekistan’s economy has shifted from agriculture to the service sector. According to the World Bank, tertiary education in Uzbekistan has failed to adapt to this shift in the economy and the limited access to tertiary education is concerning for the future of Uzbekistan. Statistics show that of total public spending on education in Uzbekistan, only 5.2 percent is spent on higher education. Many firms report that it is difficult to find qualified specialists in Uzbekistan due to the lack of higher education. It is predicted that if Uzbekistan does not shift its focus to postsecondary education, then there will be long-term ramifications on the economy, ultimately creating more social challenges in Uzbekistan.

Reports state that “experts from the World Bank Group have worked with key stakeholders in the country to analyze the challenges and design policies, recommendations, and interventions capable of overcoming these challenges.”

A recent report titled “Uzbekistan: Modernizing Tertiary Education” explores the education system in Uzbekistan and its relations to the economy. Experts believe that by doing things such as expanding equitable access to higher education for all students and increasing spending on tertiary education, Uzbekistan will see more economic growth.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Uzbekistan

Poverty in Uzbekistan is dropping. Though rarely seen making headlines, the country of Uzbekistan has seen sustained growth over the past several years. If trends continue, the country is expected to be on its way towards becoming a successful, developed country free from extreme poverty in the near future. Below are ten facts about poverty in Uzbekistan and the progress to alleviate it.

10 Facts About Poverty in Uzbekistan

  1. In a population of just over 31 million, 13.7% live below the poverty line. This is down from nearly 30% in 2001.
  2. While Uzbekistan has experienced increased urbanization in recent years, 75% of those living in extreme poverty in Uzbekistan still live in rural areas.
  3. Child health remains a hurdle to overcome, with 34 out of every 1,000 babies dying before their first birthday. In comparison, only six babies die in the first year of life on average in the U.S.
  4. Poverty in Uzbekistan is contradicted by the overall economic growth of over 8% in the past five years.
  5. In 2011, The World Bank reclassified Uzbekistan from a low-income country to a lower-middle income country. This indicates the country is making sustained progress toward development.
  6. Between 2001 and 2013, real wages doubled as job prospects improved.
  7. Education, often a prerequisite for growth and poverty reduction, has risen to 99.8% as of 2013.
  8. Foreign trade has quadrupled in the past 15 years, helping to improve household incomes across the country.
  9. Recent investment through The World Bank has provided more than 60,000 farmers with training in improved crop protection and pest control. This has allowed farmers to improve their crop yield, thereby increasing their income and reducing poverty.
  10. To further reduce poverty in Uzbekistan and improve living conditions, the country has set a goal of becoming an industrialized, upper-middle income country by 2030.

With steady growth and economic improvements, Uzbekistan has positioned itself to become a successful, developed nation in the near future. As these improvements continue, poverty in Uzbekistan is anticipated to decline and living standards should significantly improve across the country.

Sara Christensen

Photo: Flickr

uzbekistan food security
This year, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) ranks Uzbekistan at 5.7 percent for its undernourished population from 2011 to 2013.

More than 800 million people suffer from hunger and the GHI examines 120 of the low-income countries that account for the vast majority of global undernourishment.

In the last 14 years, Uzbekistan has shown a steady improvement in eradicating hunger, with a decline from 3.6 million to 1.7 million of the country’s population facing food insecurity.

However, the country is still in need of renewed political commitment to achieving food security in order to continue making progress against hunger, which not only stunts physical, intellectual and even economic growth but can also lead to death.

Yuriko Shoji, the recently appointed Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Sub-regional Coordinator for Central Asia and country representative for Uzbekistan, spoke on the topic at a launch event at Tashkent State Agrarian University.

“Despite good progress made in the past two decades and an increasingly favorable environment, the full potential of agriculture – and food security for everyone – have yet to be achieved,” said Shoji. “With renewed political commitment, and good practice that can be shared with the world, food security of each and every household is within reach.”

Shoji highlighted the key requirements for overcoming the limitations to prioritize food security and nutrition issues. The event served as a platform for discussing global hunger and malnutrition.

Uzbekistan’s positive trend to combat malnutrition serves Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 of halving the proportion of undernourished people by next year. It’s a goal that is within reach if Uzbekistan and other developing countries continue making political efforts toward food security.

According to the FAO, 63 developing countries have reached the MDG target and six more are on track to reach it by 2015.

Though Uzbekistan has seen significant progress in hunger, the country must continue to set the path for others that remain chronically undernourished in order to meet next year’s MDG target.

Chelsee Yee

Sources: The Guardian, UN, Data Wrapper
Photo: EurasiaNet

Since gaining independence in 1991, the government of Uzbekistan has committed to reforming the education system and making this system a national priority. Free compulsory education for all children, as well as over 60 schools of higher learning, has lead Uzbekistan to achieve one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

Located in Central Asia, Uzbekistan has a population of over 26 million people. As the region’s most populated country, the government has taken significant measures to ensure high quality instruction for all children.

The Law on Education, established in 1997, states that all citizens have the right to education in Uzbekistan. After minor revisions, the law also encompasses that citizens are required to attend nine years of primary and secondary schooling. Students are then allowed to either continue with higher education for three years or seek vocational training, education that prepares children for a specific career path.

The Ministry of Public Education and the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education are responsible for all pre-school, general education schools, higher learning establishments and vocational education. Together, they have been working to improve state educational standards and curriculum, reconstruct school buildings and strengthen teachers’ capacities at all levels.

Research shows that access to primary and secondary education in Uzbekistan is above average for the sub-region. The net enrollment rate for primary school is 97 percent, compared to the lesser 92 percent average of the Central Asian countries. Students also have a 100 percent transition rate to secondary school, indicating that the gap in access between primary to secondary school is virtually non-existent.

However, the Government of Uzbekistan does struggle with early childhood education. Only 20 percent of children aged 3 years old to 5 years old are attending preschool, a figure that was much higher prior to independence. The limited access to preschool and primary school for the 130,000 children with disabilities remains an area of primary concern.

Although methods such as homeschooling are available for these children, they have proven insufficient in meeting the educational needs of this young population. There are few schools and teachers with the necessary supplies and training to deal with children with severe disabilities and learning difficulties. Thus school quality has been a recent target for improvement. In 2006, a learning assessment given to a small group of Uzbek students illustrated that only 30 percent of children were considered to be competent in basic mathematic skills. Likewise, a mere 30 percent of children scored above a proficient level in the literacy assessment.

Many attribute the basic levels of math and literacy to the shortage of teachers. Although teacher salaries have been raised, a large gap exists between teacher wages and the average salary in Uzbekistan. Schools not only find it extremely difficult to recruit new prospects, but also to keep experienced teachers.

Although education in Uzbekistan has seen great improvement over the years, a lot more can be done in order to see the country succeed. According to UNICEF, the Government of Uzbekistan has to increase educational access to children in remote areas and those with special needs. In addition, school infrastructure must be structured to accommodate students with disabilities as well as create a safe and workable environment for teachers and students alike. With these changes, there is great hope that children in Uzbekistan will have a bright future ahead of them.

– Leeda Jewayni

Sources: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, UNICEF, UNESCO
Photo: UNDP

The grave problem of forced labor in Uzbekistan in the cotton industry is in the news again as the United States placed the country at the very bottom of its annual State Department Trafficking in Persons Report this June.

Uzbekistan has been categorized as “Tier 3,” which means that the government does not “comply with minimum standards to combat human trafficking and fails to take adequate steps to address the problem.” A county placed in this category will potentially face sanctions.

Uzbekistan is a country of about 30 million and has been ruled by President Islam Karimov since 1989. Over 80 percent of the country is Muslim and only 36 percent live in urban areas. The poverty levels are not terribly high at 16 percent and the literacy rate is almost at 100 percent. However, these statistics do not explain the whole story and the serious problem of forced labor.

Just last year an organization called the Cotton Campaign finally got the government to significantly reduce forced labor of children. The campaign arranged for many garment companies to boycott Uzbek cotton. This was a victory for the children but not for their parents. Instead of forcing children to pick cotton for about a month each year, the Uzbek government has moved the labor onto adults. About a million Uzbek citizens are forced to pick cotton each year.

Doctors, teachers and government employees are among some of the laborers who are transported to the farms sometime during the harvest season between September and November. These laborers are not beaten or tortured into picking cotton, however, if they refuse they face arrest. The Uzbek government calls these laborers “volunteers” in an attempt to ignore the reality of the situation.

Rights organizations as well as the International Labor Organization have a difficult time assessing or regulating the situation. The Uzbek government heavily restricts their work in the country and cracks down on its own activists.

The problem also extends further than just the forced labor. The entire industry is controlled by the government, making it possible to take advantage of the farmers as well. The farmers have to meet quotas and sell the cotton back to the government well below market prices. The government then exports the cotton to foreign companies at huge profits.

Those fighting for the rights of these laborers are happy with the action taken by the U.S. government. It “sends a message of solidarity to the well over a million Uzbeks forced to pick the country’s cotton crop.” Putting Uzbekistan in Tier 3 will help pave the way for possible sanctions. If the money flow for the Uzbek government were to stop or at least decrease, they might notice and change their policies on forced labor.

The success of Cotton Campaign last year to remove children as the primary cotton pickers is hope for the future. If boycotting can end child labor, perhaps sanctions could end the problem of forced labor entirely.

— Eleni Marino

Sources: UN, World Bank, Cotton Campaign, Human Rights Watch, New York Times
Photo: New York Times