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 Most data about poverty and homelessness in the country is out-of-date.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