Human Trafficking in KazakhstanIn 2018, a migrant named E.Sh.M. lost his documents while trying to cross the border into Kazakhstan. Upon arrival at the nearest market, human traffickers kidnapped him and sold him into forced labor on a farm. There, he was illegally detained and subjected to inhumane working conditions where his employer would regularly abuse him. On one extreme occasion, E.Sh.M.’s legs were beaten with an ax, and his finger was cut off. E.Sh.M. serves as just one example of the treatment that migrants who become victims of human trafficking in Kazakhstan endure.

The Influx of Foreign Migrants

Kazakhstan used to be a land of emigration and transit to Russia. However, this changed at the start of the new millennium when the country’s economy improved. The influx of migrants increased even more after the Russian financial crisis in 2014 as Kazakhstan became more financially accessible to citizens from Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, who now make up the bulk of the migrant population. In 2015, the U.N. estimated that 20% of Kazakhstan’s population were migrants.

What Leads to Migrant Vulnerability

The case of E.Sh.M. is not an anomaly. Rather, it is emblematic of the larger issue of human trafficking in Kazakhstan, which has registered more than 1,100 crimes in the last three years. Labor exploitation, especially of male migrants coming from Central Asia, is just as dominant as sexual exploitation in the country. Trafficked migrants are forced into construction and agricultural work. They are lured with the promise of a high income. Instead, they are illegally detained and forced into labor. Therefore, the poor economic conditions of the migrant’s native country combined with the common recruitment tactic of a deceptive income are factors responsible for the exacerbation of human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

Although E.Sh.M. lost his documents, a more sinister approach for human traffickers in Kazakhstan is forcefully taking away documents and leveling violent threats against migrants. Rodnik is an NGO that helps survivors of human trafficking in Kazakhstan. Diana Bakyt, a lawyer who works for Rodnik, reiterated this point in an interview with The Borgen Project. Bakyt stated, “the main risk factor for getting into a situation of human trafficking is the lack of identity documents.” If a migrant emigrates for work without proper documentation stating their relationship with their employer, they risk trafficking.

The Impact of COVID-19

With borders closing at the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of Central Asian migrants were left stranded at the Russian-Kazakh border. However, as restrictions eased, the plight of the migrants did not. Migrants lost income during the lockdown, and they were also subjected to a migrant phobia media onslaught. Rhetoric, such as “hotbeds for infections” and “breeding grounds for the virus,” has stigmatized migrants. Migrants stranded at the border became “congestions.” These notions further worsen the vulnerability of migrants and increase the risk of human trafficking.

Rodnik has Solutions

Nina Balabayeva founded Kazakhstan’s first shelter, Rodnik, in 2006. The nongovernmental organization has since become the leading mitigator of human trafficking in the country and has provided assistance to more than 16,000 people.

Taking on the plight of the migrants, Diana Bakyt stated that Rodnik has assisted with documentation, securing of legal fees and the return of trafficked migrants to their homeland. The organization is also responsible for combating the migrant phobia supplied by the media and is working to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure to migrants. E.Sh.M.’s story could only have a platform today because Rodnik assisted in his return back to Kyrgyzstan in 2021.

Based in Almaty, Rodnik lies in a pivotal location. Almaty is the primary destination for migrant workers in Kazakhstan. In collaboration with USAID, UNICEF, Winrock International and the Eurasia Foundation, Rodnik has successfully implemented several campaigns and projects, including multiple information drives. During one of these drives, migrant workers on the streets of Almaty received booklets. In a single day, more than 500 people learned about the risks of the human trafficking of migrants in Kazakhstan.

Owing to their founder’s degree in psychology, Bakyt stated that the organization also prioritizes providing psychological help to victims. Other institutions that Rodnik works with include governments, schools, healthcare institutions, militaries, social workers, migration officers and law enforcement.

What Lies Ahead for Kazakhstan

While stories about migrants like E.Sh.M. are heartbreaking, his fight inspires others to stand against human trafficking. Kazakhstan has recently seen an increase of new migrants as a byproduct of the pandemic. However, the tireless efforts of organizations like Rodnik show that trafficking can be overcome.

– Iris Anne Lobo
Photo: Flickr

Improving Roads in TajikistanAlthough officially established in 1924, Tajikistan is host to one of the richest and most diverse cultures in the world given its unique geographic location and history. Trade and travel were historically central to Tajikistan’s culture and development, but many roads have been neglected.

Located in Central Asia, the country is neighbored by China to the east, Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west and Kyrgyzstan to the north. Tajikistan has evolved immensely from ancient times when nomadic tribes roamed the country, becoming a major center of commerce and trade in the Central Asian region.

The Silk Road was an abstract trade route traveled frequently by merchants from Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East, India and the Far East throughout the Middle Ages and the European Renaissance. It passed directly through many Central Asian countries. Tajikistan was no exception. One of the Silk Road’s most northern routes passed through the Pamir Mountains in what is now modern-day Tajikistan, offering travelers the safest possible route through the “Roof of the World.”

Neglect, Gangs and Corruption

But decades of neglect have led to dilapidated and very dangerous roads in Tajikistan, while governmental abuses and gangs add additional strain on these important transportation routes. In rural areas, hazardous dirt or gravel roads stretch on for many miles before connecting with the nearest paved highways. Rural mountain passes – of which there are many due to the country’s rugged terrain – are also closed for roughly six months during the winter and early spring due to a number of dangerous conditions, including frequent avalanches, mudslides and large rocks falling on the road. Gangs are also known to lie in wait to prey on travelers while corrupt traffic police also inhibit efficient and unimpeded travel along highways and rural roads. The so-called traffic police regularly allow government vehicles by yet pull over others arbitrarily under the pretense of inspecting registration. They often wrongfully deem these cars unfit to drive or claim they are unregistered, forcing travelers to pay a bribe in order to continue on their route.

The Pamir Highway

The Pamir Highway is one example of a Tajikistan highway that has been consistently neglected. While much of the road is paved, most of the mountainous passes it stretches through are unpaved and untended. The passes are closed in the winter months because of the avalanches and other prohibitive driving conditions, and the minimal oversight allows the gangs to inhabit these areas.

The highway becomes especially dangerous as it approaches the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border, where the road elevates to as much as 2,800 feet above sea level. Due to a lack of oxygen at these altitudes, many travelers report altitude sickness and lightheadedness, a particularly precarious situation given that there are no guardrails along cliff-drops. Road maintenance teams are also slow to respond to any widespread damages, which are often left in disrepair for indefinite periods of time.

Effects on Rural Populations

As of 2016, 73 percent of Tajikistan’s population lived in rural areas. These people depend on the dilapidated rural roads to access education, health care, food and other tools/supplies, meaning that their lives are put at risk on a regular basis. More broadly, this stifles Tajikistan’s economic development and discourages investment in the country. Economic issues hurt the poorest people most of all, and Tajikistan’s continued infrastructure underdevelopment makes it extremely difficult for rural populations to earn a living and access the necessities of life – as is the case in many developing countries.

Efforts to Improve Roads and Infrastructure

However, outside influencers are trying to improve the poor condition of roads in Tajikistan. Neighboring China has begun investing in updating the country’s poor infrastructure to improve trade inter-connectivity across Central Asia. Within the past decade, the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) financed and constructed the Dushanbe-Chanak Highway.

The highway spans the length of the country from north-to-south and has given many rural areas the means to access other parts of the country in a safe manner. The road is entirely paved and stretches from Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, to Uzbekistan’s southern border. It has provided the country with stable bridges that span previously dangerous crossings and cuts through mountains, meaning that travelers no longer need to risk their lives driving around them on dangerous dirt roads.

The project is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative to better connect Asia and spur further development and growth of Central Asia. As of June 2017, China has invested $2 billion into Tajikistan, according to the China Global Television Network.

The Future

Foreign investment initiatives such as China’s are part of the solution to improve infrastructure and roads in Tajikistan, which will spur additional economic development and provide more opportunities for rural populations. Newly paved highways that now connect the outer reaches of the country to urban centers will increase commerce both within the country and with neighboring nations. Safer infrastructure will also spur foreign investment from multinational corporations that can bring jobs and technological advances. With further improvement to infrastructure and roads in Tajikistan, the country may well see itself become a center of commerce once again.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Wikimedia

Water Quality in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan is an agrarian country in Central Asia that, like other countries in the region, has been heavily dependent on water because of its arid desert climate, high temperatures and low precipitation. This former Soviet republic ranked as the ninth-most water-insecure country in the world and has been ravaged by decades of economic mismanagement during its previous occupation. Water quality in Turkmenistan is rife with problems.

In fact, most of the current ethnic and regional clashes in this central Asian region have centered on the limited water resources available. Water has become a valuable raw material, taking on both economic and social significance. It has effectively become synonymous with life.

The depletion of this precious natural resource as well as pollution of surface and groundwater has straitened the lives of local residents, especially since a whopping 95% of the available water resources are channeled towards agriculture.

The rapidly growing population of the country requires commensurate agricultural growth to survive. Agriculture necessitates further irrigation, which further strains the country’s limited water resources.

Turkmenistan water ministry research institute estimates that a third of all land is unusable for agricultural purposes due to heavy soil salinization, caused partly by a steadily deteriorating irrigation network. Mountain streams dissipate upon reaching the parched lands so the main water resources are the Amu Darya rising from the snow-capped mountains of Tajikistan and the Murgap originating from Afghanistan.

In June 2015, Turkmenistan suffered its hottest month in recorded history, with temperatures soaring as high as 47.2 degrees Celsius (116.96 Fahrenheit). Water shortage remains the main concern. Yet, just two years earlier, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed a decree on February 22, ordering the planting of three million trees in a “grand greening action” involving more than one-tenth of the country’s population. This is despite the fact that such projects would require significant water provisions, whether through irrigation canals, sprinkler systems or water trucks.

With the difficulties in water supply, water quality in Turkmenistan is being degraded. Difficulties with water conservation and pollution from sewage and drainage water are the main obstacles. A significant part of the polluted water is discharged directly to the deserts. Agricultural wastewater is directly fed to the Amu Darya river, which supplies the farmlands with even more salted water. In 1995, with aid from the United States, a water treatment plant was constructed near Dashhowuz to address the wastewater problems in northern Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan’s “compendium of man-made problems” includes the construction of a giant artificial lake, Altyn Asyr (Golden Age Lake), in the middle of nowhere. Environmentalists warn of an ecological disaster waiting to happen, arguing that water will evaporate en route to the desert and cannot be sufficiently replenished to keep the salt levels low. The whole scenario is reminiscent of what has been called “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters” — the shrinking of the Aral Sea.

As competition for water rises due to climate change and rising populations, Turkmenistan needs to help reduce its water deficit by improving the technical state of its inefficient irrigation systems, minimize the rate of ecological hazards by reducing wasteful spending on grandiose projects, adopt automated water-saving technology and reuse treated drainage water for agricultural purposes.

Sadly, the country lacks the scientific, technological and financial means to undertake these critical steps. Addressing water quality in Turkmenistan will require the aid and support of the international community.

Mohammed Khalid

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Tajikistan

Poverty in Tajikistan remains a problem. Tajikistan is frequently cited as the poorest former Soviet republic, with one of the world’s lowest GDPs per capita (ranked 192). While it is a place that Americans do not hear about often, USAID has been busy in the country of just over eight million inhabitants for more than 20 years, almost as long as Tajikistan has been a sovereign nation.


Poverty in Tajikistan: Key Facts


1. Proportional to GDP, Tajikistan has one of the largest remittance economies in the world.

Due to a scarcity of secure employment opportunities, which contributes greatly to poverty in Tajikistan, more than one million Tajik citizens leave the country searching for work. The money that these Tajiks send home equals more than half of the entire country’s GDP. The vast majority of these migrants—90 percent—travel to Russia.

2. Poor infrastructure stagnates the Tajik economy.

Tajikistan is landlocked and sits in the northwestern Himalayas, one of the most mountainous regions on the planet, making transportation a challenge. Trade with other nations, which is important to the country’s economy, relies on a dilapidated railway system. The diminutive electricity market means energy infrastructure is also lacking. Power shortages and outages are rampant, especially during the winter.

The future for Tajikistan’s infrastructure may, however, be looking up due to foreign investment, which may alleviate some of the poverty in Tajikistan. Recently, Chinese investors funded new road construction in Dushanbe, the capital. Russia and Iran have also invested in hydroelectric plants, including a dam on the Vakhsh River that may become the world’s largest.

3. Tuberculosis is a growing public health problem.

Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is disproportionately high in many central Asian countries, including Tajikistan. The country’s healthcare system is ill equipped to respond to this issue, lacking adequate information systems and human resources. Most funds for fighting TB come from international assistance.

MDR-TB is a complicated public health challenge, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) has partnered with the government and aid groups to improve and monitor Tajikistan’s ability to treat TB and stave off MDR-TB.

4. Most of the population does not have access to clean water.

Nearly 60 percent of Tajik citizens rely on unsanitary water supplies. Many depend on irrigation ditches for drinking water, meaning waterborne diseases are common. Diarrhea is the sixth leading cause of death in children under five.

While these statistics may seem bleak, water quality is a relatively straightforward issue to tackle. USAID has made notable strides in providing better access to clean water, one of its main focuses in Tajikistan. According to its website, USAID has “established 56 community-level water users’ associations,” helping the Tajik weather and water forecasting agency better manage the country’s vast supply of fresh water.

5. The civil war destroyed one out of five schools in the country.

Funding for education decreased drastically after Tajikistan became independent from the Soviet Union in 1992. The following five years of fighting destroyed or damaged a significant portion of the country’s schools. Naturally, such collateral destruction has contributed to the precarious state of the education system.

Since the fighting, the country has either struggled to or failed to revive school systems. According to the latest reports from UNICEF, schools are overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed, with many teachers working triple shifts. Furthermore, dropout rates are high, especially for girls.

The state of Tajikistan’s education system leaves much to be desired. However, organizations like USAID and UNICEF have partnered with the Tajik government. They are determined to nurture this fragile system to a point where it can sustain itself, mainly by focusing on preventing dropouts and improving equity and access.

In many ways, Tajikistan seems to lag behind its neighbors in the Central Asian region. With a strong memory of war and political upheaval, coupled with uncompromising geography, the country has struggled to develop.

But international aid organizations have shown great ambition and, partnered with the Tajik government, achieved tangible successes in reducing poverty in Tajikistan and its burdens. Likewise, international investment from the private sector suggests promise and hope for a society that has much to gain.

Charlie Tomb

Photo: Pixabay

Kyrgyz RepublicIn the Kyrgyz Republic, an Asian country along the Silk Road, 41 percent of the population relies on the forest for fuel, food and other products. Small communities that depend on the forest are especially vulnerable to mismanaged forests and poverty. The World Bank is partnering with the Kyrgyz Republic to develop a sustainable strategy for managing a major resource for the country and its rural populations.

Improving sustainable forest management is an important step for the Kyrgyz Republic in order to combat poverty. Data from the World Bank shows poverty in the Kyrgyz Republic decreased from 37 percent in 2013 to 30 percent in 2014. However, the country remains one of the poorest states in Central Asia.

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) reported the Kyrgyz Republic as an ecologically rich country. The total forested area in the Kyrgyz Republic is more than 1.1 million hectares, approximately five percent of the country.

The forests are highly diverse and include spruce, walnut-fruit, juniper and riverside forests. In addition to timber and fuel, the forests provide nuts, fruits, mushrooms and other edible plants for communities. Forest products also provide food security during tough economic and agricultural times.

Beginning in 2016, The Integrated Forest Ecosystem Management Project (IFEMP) will be implemented in partnership with the Kyrgyz Republic over five years. The World Bank is financing $16 million for the project, which targets forest management at the national and leskhoz level. The leskhozes are state forest farms or agencies managing at the local level.

In a press release, the World Bank said the IFEMP’s main objectives will be accomplished “through investments in management planning, ecosystem restoration and infrastructure.” Improved data collection and distribution is an important aspect of IFEMP. The project will update the National Forest Inventory and increase access to the information at all levels. Ultimately it is estimated IFEMP will improve the management of one-tenth of Kyrgyz forests and introduce sustainable forest management to almost half of all the forests.

According to the FAO study, “forests are potentially valuable to rural people as a means of income generation and, thus, poverty reduction.” Recent efforts focusing on sustainable forest management strategies aim to better serve both the environment and those in poverty.

In the World Bank’s press release, Jean-Michel Happi, World Bank Country Manager in the Kyrgyz Republic, said, “We are pleased to support the project that will contribute to improving the lives of rural people by protecting and improving the natural resource base of forests and pastures on which the livelihoods and communities are dependent.”

Cara Kuhlman

Sources: FAO, IMF, World Bank 1, World Bank 2
Photo: Kygryzstan

Education in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan, at 30 million, is the most populous country in Central Asia. Uzbekistan was once a part of the Soviet Union, but since the Soviet Union’s dissolution, Uzbekistan’s economy has been challenged by the sudden transition to independence. Due to the economic and social challenges caused by this transition, access to education in Uzbekistan has been difficult. Here are five facts about education in Uzbekistan:

1. The population of Uzbekistan is 26.5 million. Twelve percent of Uzbekistan’s Gross Domestic Product is spent on education. This is the highest spending on education in Central Asia.

2. In 2006, a study focusing on education in Uzbekistan was given to a sample of students and it was discovered that only 30 percent were considered proficient in mathematics and 30 percent proficient in literacy.

3. Education in Uzbekistan is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 18. The average enrollment rate in Uzbekistan’s primary schools is 97 percent while the rate of transition from primary to secondary school is at 100 percent.

4. There is no gender gap in Uzbekistan’s schools — boys and girls are offered equal access to education in Uzbekistan.

5. Despite the social and economic turmoil in Uzbekistan following the collapse of the Soviet Union, while re-building the country, the Uzbekistan government has made educational reforms a priority.

In the future, Uzbekistan is seeking to further improve the education it offers its citizens. Planned reforms for education in Uzbekistan include providing greater access to education for all children in Uzbekistan, improving  school evaluations and working conditions for teachers, instating a better program to keep track of which children are and are not enrolled in school and developing “second chance schooling” for students who drop out but then return.

 — Lily Tyson

Sources: Euroeducation, The Guardian, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Kyrgyzstan
Poverty in Kyrgyzstan remains a major issue. Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet Republic located in Central Asia, having gained independence in 1991. The Kyrgyz Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world with a Gross National Income (GNI) per capita amassing $440 according to measures from 2005.

Since then, the economy of the nation has managed to stabilize slightly, but almost half of the civilian population continues to live in conditions far below the poverty threshold.

The majority of individuals in Kyrgyzstan dwell in rural locations with most of these rural workers engaging in livestock breeding in order to make a living. Furthermore, these rural populations constitute almost 3/4th of the country’s poor.

The livelihood of these farmers hinges on the quality of pastures, which are unfortunately a deteriorating resource in Kyrgyzstan. According to IFAD, winter pastures are overused while summer pastures are underused. A more even distribution of pastures would help curtail this issue of misuse and underuse.

One reason for the persistent rural poverty in Kyrgyzstan is the resounding effects of the economic transition during the 1990s where the Kyrgyz economy shifted from a command economy to a free market economy promoted by the collapse of the Soviet system. Recovery has been markedly slow with rural populations still lacking access to quality drinking water, infrastructure and education.

Many of these individuals have difficulty transcending poverty due to multiple factors. For example, farmers do not receive adequate training in land management and farming.

As a result, these farmers often unknowingly engage in defective farming practices contributing to the degradation of natural resources, such as pastures, which are essential for the Kyrgyz livestock and agricultural economy.

Furthermore, farmers do not have access to financial assistance that would ultimately allow them to invest in more efficient farming equipment and practices. Therefore, many farmers are stuck in the cycle of poverty.

In addition to agricultural troubles, many individuals in Kyrgyzstan also suffer to secure a sufficient amount of food. An unstable economy and widespread hunger almost always go hand in hand.

Often, the hunger crisis in Kyrgyzstan is exacerbated by natural disasters. For example, in 2008, a severe drought destroyed crops was followed by a brutal winter, contributing to national food insecurity.

However, the World Food Programme (WFP) is attempting to assuage the hunger crisis in Kyrgyzstan.

One program provides seasonal food assistance in the form of staple foods and general food assistance that provides immediate assistance to those in need. Rather than just providing emergency food funds to the nation, WFP has also offered an initiative that supports the improvement of infrastructure, disaster response, and environmental preservation.

Through these programs the WFP is attempting to help Kyrgyzstan sow the seeds of its own prosperity rather than providing temporary relief without any improvements in underlying conflicts.

– Phoebe Pradhan 

Photo: The Hindu
WFP, Rural Poverty Portal

20% of the world’s population lives without access to electricity and nearly 40% depend on wood and other biomass for household fuel. Energy is essential for growing an economy and reducing poverty. The recent global initiative, Sustainable Energy for All, recognizes the importance of providing energy in developing countries. Energy is needed for business development, job creation, and income generation.

Over the last decade, the World Bank has committed more than $3 billion to Europe and Central Asia (ECA) to countries who face a potential energy crisis. This region is one of the most energy intensive regions in the world. Poorly constructed buildings throughout that provide low heating which increases energy consumption. The region accounts for 12% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is twice the amount is should contribute given its output.

The World Bank has already helped countries such as Belarus reduce its energy intensity by 60% and has saved Uzbekistan 50,000 MWhs of energy that would have otherwise been lost to inefficiency. The energy efficiency projects in the region over the past ten years have already saved an amount equal to the power generated in New Zealand in 2010.

Going forward countries will need to invest about $3.3 trillion over the next 20 years. While it may seem like a large amount, these energy efficiency projects pay off in the end. Cutting energy subsidies, protecting the poor and investing in energy efficiency could mean that nearly half the countries in ECA would gain more than 1 percent of its GDP back.

Over the next 20 years the World Bank along with ECA will focus on adopting more efficient technologies, increasing the energy efficiency of existing infrastructure, moderating demand for energy, and making cities more energy efficient. These initiatives will help the region by increasing their energy security, enhancing economic growth, and reducing the environmental and social impacts of the energy sector.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: World Bank, European Commission