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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.