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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

women’s rights in UzbekistanA former Soviet Union territory, Uzbekistan has a population of 30 million. In recent years, there have been governmental and societal changes along with a new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Women, who play a pivotal role in the Uzbek family structure, have experienced different issues related to their rights in the country. There are several key facts to know about women’s rights in Uzbekistan.

Societal Views Oppress Women

Women faced new setbacks after Uzbekistan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviets, who colonized the region in the latter half of the 19th century, promised women that they would be emancipated from the patriarchal customs of society, viewing them as oppressive against women. This movement encouraged female education, and in the 1980s, an estimated 41% of university students were women. However, after the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, in a push to reestablish the Uzbek tradition, the progress of women’s rights in Uzbekistan took a hit when conservative social customs were reintroduced. Only six years later, in 1997, the number of women in higher education institutions dropped to 37% and it is estimated to have fallen even more drastically in recent years.

The Prevalence of Child Marriage

Child marriage is still prevalent. Most Uzbek families believe that the role of women is to marry and run the household. This social concept encourages child marriage throughout the country, particularly in rural regions. With girls marrying at younger ages than boys, female education is directly impacted by child marriage, as women are generally confined to the home after marriage. Furthermore, it is expected that women are to give birth within their first year of marriage, despite a lack of education about reproduction and childbearing. With young brides, female bodies are often not prepared or mature enough to give birth healthily. This has led to health complications such as infertility and chronic conditions. Women’s rights in Uzbekistan are hindered by child marriage, as it limits female educational opportunities and leaves women with little chance to escape a life of housework and childrearing.

Domestic Violence is Not a Crime

Domestic violence is deemed a family issue and not an actual crime. Since independence from the Soviet Union, the push to reaffirm traditional values has meant that women have a subservient role within the household, and to a further extent, within society. Outside of their homes, women face restrictions on how to live their lives, with limits on educational and work opportunities in favor of marriages and children. With women in rural areas at particular risk for domestic violence, Uzbekistan has largely ignored women’s rights within the home. Violence against women has reportedly increased in recent years.

Women’s Rights Reform at Governmental Level

President Mirziyoyev has taken promising action to address the lack of women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Elected in 2016, Mirziyoyev spoke about the importance of women within Uzbek society, noting their problem-solving skills and administrative capabilities. He urged for their involvement in government and industrial factions and even appointed Uzbekistan’s first female Head of Senate, Tanyila Narbaeva. With men dominating government positions for years, a female in an authoritative government position was a progressive shift and a promising result of political changes.

Legislation to Protect Women

The fight for women’s rights in Uzbekistan is becoming more of a priority. In 2019, two new laws were introduced to protect women’s rights. The first is to ensure equal opportunities and freedoms for men and women and the second is to safeguard women from domestic violence and assault. Also, almost 200 shelters have been set up across the country to provide for women escaping violence. Unfortunately, there is very little funding for the subsistence of these shelters. While this is undoubtedly progress from the country’s more traditional views on the role of women in society, more significant action needs to be taken to defend these newfound rights and sustain protective services.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Uzbekistan

The push for women’s rights in Uzbekistan has been made more difficult by the country’s history as a Soviet Union colony and their subsequent counterreaction to reestablish their traditional cultural values. In recent years, women have been restricted by societal pressures to marry young and spend their lives taking care of the household. With limited opportunity to decide their own futures, women in Uzbekistan have not truly attained their human rights. Fortunately, however, President Mirziyoyev has expressed his desire to transform women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Hopefully, with a new female government official and progressive laws, women’s rights in Uzbekistan will continue to improve.

– Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

Paulownia TreesThe Central Asian nation, Uzbekistan, has a population of just over 33.6 million. Recently, President Shavkat Mirziyovev made history, becoming the first Uzbekistani President to acknowledge the poverty epidemic in the nation. Mirziyovev announced that somewhere between four to five million people currently live in poverty in Uzbekistan. The administration subsequently constructed anti-poverty measures and efforts to boost the economy. One woman in Uzbekistan took initiative, investigating how Paulownia trees can aid in poverty reduction.

A Proactive Mission

Sojida Jabborova, a Uzbekistani woman, observed both the poverty crisis within her country and the successful poverty reduction measures taken in China to create a plan. Under Mirziyovev’s reform campaign and insistence to study Chinese practices, Jabborova found the versatile Paulownia trees and entered the business world.

Each part of the Paulownia tree can be utilized to lift communities out of poverty. They are capable of adapting to poor soil, fertilizing it and purifying the air of harmful gases. Paulownia leaves can be used to feed livestock, they contain nectar for bees and other insects and their wood is sturdy enough to be used for houses and furniture. In 2018, Jabborova negotiated with Chinese business partners to deliver seeds and seedlings to Uzbekistan where they are now grown in experimental fields in four different regions. She has not stopped the investigation into how Paulownia trees can aid poverty reduction, continuing presentations and experiments on various products.

Uzbekistan Reform Campaign

Once in office in 2017, President Mirziyovev began multiple reforms to lift Uzbekistan out of economic depravity and better the livelihoods of its citizens. Poverty reduction has moved to top priority in Uzbekistan as the government granted $700 million to be spent on anti-poverty efforts in 2020. The administration believes to reduce poverty in Uzbekistan, they must first address unemployment and bolster entrepreneurship. This includes improving the tourism industry, improved training for essential trades and heightening economic literacy for citizens, particularly women.

Uzbekistan established a partnership with China to investigate and solve issues of unemployment, gender inequality and poverty in early October 2020. The Institute for Tourism Development in Uzbekistan has engaged in a joint research project to link tourism and poverty reduction. The plan for Uzbekistan is to increase the production of exports, expand the industry, boost small businesses, and in the long-term, improve government regulations and education regarding these fields.

Innovative Entrepreneurship Leading to Solutions

Sojida Jabborova was once a dentist in Uzbekistan, however, she was driven by the critical state of poverty in her country to find a solution. The reform campaign created the perfect atmosphere for Jabbarova to begin her work as the nation honed in on entrepreneurship and financial literacy in women especially. The partnership between China and Uzbekistan, with Beijing as the model for Uzbekistan’s progress, provided Jabbarova with the knowledge and support to begin experimentation with Paulownia trees. In the beginning, Paulownia trees were only grown on 19 acres and now they are grown in fields in Fergana, Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent.

Poverty Reduction in a Global Pandemic

Sojida Jabbarova’s efforts in exploring how Paulownia trees can aid in poverty reduction is crucial. Her spirit along with the dedication of the Uzbekistani administration to place poverty reduction at the top of the to-do list will surely mean progress. These efforts have been constrained by the global pandemic where the administration focused on protecting lives and businesses and maintaining headway in the fight against poverty. The administration has centered on healthcare, financial support and social assistance in the fight against COVID-19.

The administration’s efforts for poverty reduction are substantial and the alliance with China has brought great insight on how to best lift citizens from poverty and kickstart a downtrodden economy. Jabbarova and her Paulownia tree fields are a success story for poverty reduction efforts and the overall reform campaign begun by President Mirziyovev.

– Lizzie Herestofa
Photo: Flickr

Women in UzbekistanAfter the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, like many post-Soviet nations, experienced a surge of conservative culture amongst the ruling elites and the general population. This surge led to the implementation of policies that were more restrictive to women than the previous Soviet policies had been. Women in Uzbekistan have long been excluded from policymaking. Now, women in Uzbekistan are taking to activism to ensure their voices are heard.

ACTED Uzbekistan

ACTED Uzbekistan is an organization that works to uplift the voices of women and girls throughout the country. It is a European Union-funded project that raises awareness for women’s issues and helps to mobilize women who otherwise may have been unsure how to begin. In addition to fieldwork, ACTED Uzbekistan also works to generate a report every year that analyzes the gender equality status in the country and offers suggestions on how to increase equality. Through the implementation of this project, a greater number of female activists have been able to claim platforms and affect policy.

Child Brides in Uzbekistan

One of the largest issues for activists currently is child marriage within the country. Though the law requires that girls be at least 17 years old before they are married, families have begun to pursue more religious ceremonies that legally eliminate the need for a civil union. As more girls are married off young, the amount of women in higher education and public office decreases and the cycle of discrimination continues. To combat this, organizations such as UNICEF and Girls Not Brides have partnered with the country’s Committee of Women to raise awareness of the detriments of child marriage, help young brides in danger and push for legislation that will end this practice once and for all.

HIV/AIDs in Uzbekistan

Another issue that has generated a lot of female activism has been the fight against HIV/AIDS in the country. Roughly 50,000 people in the country are currently living with the disease, according to UNAIDS, but through activism, the numbers have come down in the past few years. Organizations such as the Day Center for HIV Affected Families gather volunteers, many of them HIV positive themselves, and they work to provide assistance to struggling families while also providing educational material on HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it. Many of these activists are young women who were born HIV positive and who are committed to helping others like them.

Domestic Violence

In addition to the aforementioned activist initiatives, a large movement has begun in the country to identify and counter domestic violence. Like many nations, domestic violence in Uzbekistan is still seen as a personal issue and there are no provisions in the law that prohibit violence perpetrated by a spouse or parent. Both the official Women’s Committee and nongovernmental organizations have worked to combat this issue, with the Women’s Committee focused mostly on establishing crisis centers and shelters and NGOs promoting awareness and education on the issue. With both of these measures applied in conjunction, the country is slowly starting to recognize domestic violence as an issue.

The Necessity of Women’s Activism

As the United Nations and many NGOs have stated, women’s activism is necessary for progress. In Uzbekistan, this is evident by all of the work women have done to increase female participation, counter disease and help other women in need. The work gives evidence to a brighter future for women in the country but also for the people of Uzbekistan at large.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

The U.S. Foreign Aid Freeze
On August 3, 2019, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ordered two federal agencies to temporarily freeze billions of foreign aid funding. This decision ordered the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide accounts for all unobligated resources of foreign aid. Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the Budget Office, said the order aims to ensure accountability. According to the Associated Press (AP), the letter lists 10 areas that the U.S. foreign aid freeze targets, including development assistance, global health programs and United Nations peacekeeping. In total, the freeze puts $2 billion to $4 billion of congressionally-approved funding on hold.

Subsequent Response

The U.S. foreign aid freeze has met with bipartisan criticism. Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel said that the Trump administration has amounted to contempt and emphasized that congressionally-approved foreign aid is law and backed by the Constitution. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s criticism was harsher, labeling the freeze insane. In a letter to the OMB, lawmakers from both parties agreed that cutting foreign aid and development spending would not be in the interest of national security.

Critics of the OMB’s decision point to the fact that foreign aid spending makes up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the federal budget. Before the freeze, the U.S. spent $30 billion annually on programs to reduce global poverty. Liz Schrayer, the chief executive of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, claims the OMB is cutting one of the smallest portions of the federal budget, but one that could have catastrophic impacts on U.S. economic and national security interests.

Impacted Countries

The U.S. foreign aid freeze will directly affect Malawi, one of the world’s least developed countries. The nation consistently ranks very low in various health indicators, such as life expectancy, infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate. In addition, an estimated one million people or 9.2 percent of adults in Malawi live with HIV/AIDS with an estimated 13,000 deaths annually. In Malawi, USAID works to improve the quality of life by supporting development, education and health programs, especially those that prevent and treat malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. Due to the Trump administration’s order, Malawi may not have aid for the remainder of this financial year. According to documents that Foreign Policy obtained, the freeze could also affect foreign aid to countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Funding for UNICEF projects to protect children account for a large portion of the U.S. foreign aid freeze. One of these programs involves early childhood education and development in Uzbekistan. According to UNICEF, only 30 percent of Uzbek children attend preschool while 70 percent are unable to achieve their full potential due to a lack of early education. UNICEF is rolling its program out across six regions in Uzbekistan and it has designed it to increase access to quality education for children. Regional instructors have trained 2,159 preschool teachers in child-centered learning and model schools, which have increased enrollment by 2,841 children. The U.S. foreign aid freeze will have a direct impact on similar programs across the globe.

Bipartisan Solution

On August 15, 2019, the OMB sent an official rescission request to the State Department to cut foreign aid funding by more than $4 billion, yet canceled the request a few days later. Since taking office in 2017, the Trump administration has made numerous attempts to cut foreign aid funding, and in some cases by as much as 30 percent. Members of both parties in Congress firmly rejected all attempts. Daniel Runde, former director of the Global Development Alliance (GDA) in the Bush administration, says development, diplomacy and defense experts are in full agreement that the Trump administration should work collaboratively with Congress to create a more robust and sustainable approach to foreign aid and development.

– Adam Bentz
Photo: Flickr

developmental aid around the Aral Sea
The Aral Sea was once a large saltwater lake located in Central Asia. With Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south, both countries bordered the body of water. Fishing communities in the countries prospered for years, yet a decisive change in the 1960s led to the demise of these towns. The two countries experienced drastically different outcomes, all due to developmental aid around the Aral Sea.

Causes of the Aral Sea’s Water Loss

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union decided to redirect the water in the Aral Sea for agriculture, predominately for cotton. Previously, the sea was replenished by the water that rivers returned, making it a reliable source of income for neighboring fisheries. Over the past four decades, the sea has retreated about 93 miles, losing a surface area the size of Maryland. With salinity levels continuing to rise to more than seven times the normal amount, a once plentiful resource has run dry.

As the sea dried up, so did jobs. A reported 60,000 jobs disappeared in direct relation to Aral fishery shutdowns. Dust storms that swelled within the barren seabed contained various chemicals from the agriculture in the surrounding areas and caused irrevocable harm to citizens. Diseases related to poor air quality were rampant. Even the food produced in the area contained hazards for consumers, which forced thousands from their homes. Those that chose not to leave, despite the water and air pollution, were left living in poverty.

Intervention in Kazakhstan Improves the Lives and Livelihoods of Residents

In 2005, the World Bank intervened with a plan for developmental aid around the Aral Sea and partnered with the Kazakh government to install a dam. The plan cost $86 million and was designed to improve irrigation along the rivers and restore the sea. The dam primarily prevented water in the northern regions from flowing south. Additional measures to improve irrigation along the Syr Darya River made sure enough water flowed back into the North Aral Sea. Previously, as much as 40 percent of water was lost due to poor irrigation.

In 2006, the Kok-Aral Dam was constructed and saw quick success. As the surface area of the sea expanded, fish stocks were reintroduced. The replenishment of local resources meant that the economy, once built on fishing, could flourish and grow to its previous grandeur. The water and air quality also improved, meaning that residents no longer needed to move away from the area.

In 2006, the ports handled around 2,000 tons of fish and houses in the area were no longer empty; about 17 homes were occupied as opposed to eight. As the local fish diet improved, so did the ability to grow vegetables. The changes to the ecosystem led to more rainfall and fewer sandstorms. Life was reintroduced to the region.

Uzbekistan’s Focus on Cotton Deprives the Fishing Industry

A very different story played out in neighboring Uzbekistan, where government leaders are still insistent that cotton production is their “white gold”. The country ranks 12th in highest value of cotton exported in 2017. The enterprise brings in around $850.4 million and accounts for 1.6 percent of total exported cotton.

However, similar health risks and impoverishment are seen in areas previously home to fisheries. Many people migrated to agricultural regions to make a living farming and picking cotton. Conditions around cotton production in Uzbekistan remain questionable, with allegations of forced labor becoming rampant.

The Effects of Developmental Aid Around the Aral Sea on Poverty

Although both countries experienced high levels of poverty at the height of the Aral Sea’s reduction, the current state of poverty in the two countries is quite different. In 2005, 31.6 percent of the country lived in poverty in Kazakhstan, while in 2016, only 2.6 percent of the population lived in poverty. This reduction is directly related to developmental aid around the Aral Sea.

In Uzbekistan, the decline is much slower. From 2012 to 2016, poverty decreased from 15 percent to 12.3 percent. This progress is promising, yet slow compared to its neighbors. When the World Bank asked the Uzbek government if it wished to participate in developmental aid around the Aral Sea, like that in Kazakhstan, it declined.

The Future of Development in Central Asia

In partnership with World Bank, the Kazakh government provides an example of successful developmental aid around the Aral Sea. Currently, the World Bank is working with the Uzbek government to implement projects around horticulture. As new enterprises are explored, such as oil drilling in the south Aral Sea by Uzbekistan, avenues to combat poverty will vary. For Kazakhstan, working to reinvigorate a previously plentiful resource was the key to poverty alleviation.

This triumph in poverty reduction provides a hopeful message to those wanting to see a drastic drop in poverty through developmental aid.

– Taylor Jennings
Photo: Google

Uzbekistan Poverty Rate
Since gaining independence in 1991 after the fall of the USSR, Uzbekistan’s prosperity has grown by leaps and bounds. Located in Central Asia, just south of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan has become the fifth-largest cotton exporter in the world and is quickly growing its gold and natural gas industries. Its forecasted GDP growth for 2017 is seven percent, which is well above the 3.2 percent average of other Central Asian countries. In fact, Uzbekistan’s GDP has more than tripled since 2007. Despite these exciting changes, there is still much room for improvement, particularly concerning the poverty rate in Uzbekistan.

Lack of employment is a major issue for Uzbekistan, with 12.8 percent of its population living below the poverty line. Since becoming a sovereign nation, a time when Uzbekistan’s economy was in flux, the country has become dependent on its exportation of its gold and cotton products; however, these commodities are tightly controlled by the regime, with much of the profits lining the pockets of the wealthy leaders, leaving many average citizens high and dry. Job stagnation also hurts the poverty rate in Uzbekistan as the number of Uzbek citizens of eligible employment age has increased and industries with little room for growth dominate the country.

Because there is little money to be made in Uzbekistan, many people migrate or work abroad, usually in Russia or Kazakhstan. The citizens often face harsh repercussions including harassment from Uzbek security services and government interference with remittances. These poor economic conditions, along with restrictions on human rights and religious freedoms nearly thrust Uzbekistan into a civil war during the Andijan massacre in 2005, when hundreds of protesters were shot dead for demanding their president’s resignation.

In 2016, a new Uzbek president was elected to office for the first time in 25 years: Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Since taking office, Mirziyoyev has partnered with The World Bank in a five-year strategy to use a $100 million loan for the creation of 500,000 new jobs. The goal of the plan is to decrease the poverty rate in Uzbekistan and to help the country reach upper-middle-income status by 2030.

Although there is still more progress needed to improve the livelihoods of average Uzbek citizens, it is important not to understate the growth and development that has been at work in the country for decades. Since 2001, the poverty rate has been cut by more than half. These numbers, along with new leadership and the implementation of the stimulus package being proposed, give hope to the prospect of a wealthy and economically secure Uzbekistan.

Micaela Fischer

Photo: Flickr

In Central Asia lies the Republic of Uzbekistan, a country just north of Turkmenistan and south of Kazakhstan. With a physical size only slightly larger than the state of California, Uzbekistan’s population is just under 29.5 million. Although a sovereign nation today, Uzbekistan only just gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Today, the country’s economy remains largely state-run with little diversification. As of 2015, around 12.8 percent of individuals living in the country were below the poverty line. As it has now been decades since the nation gained independence from the Soviet Union, this begs the question: why is Uzbekistan poor? Below are a few reasons:

“White Gold”
Cotton, also referred to as “white gold,” currently accounts for a whopping 60 percent of Uzbekistan’s export earnings. This fact is in large part because of the actions of the Soviets in the 1940s. Because cotton is a highly water-intensive crop, the Soviet Union built various canals which would serve to divert water from the Aral Sea to the Uzbek cotton fields. Now, the Aral Sea has shrunk to 15 percent of its original volume and former ports around the Aral Sea rest as ghost towns.

The effect of this is that Uzbekistan’s economy remains undiversified. As the current government of Uzbekistan retains tight controls on most facets of the economy, farmers are highly pressured to meet cotton quotas. Therefore, as other farmers can grow so little else, “white gold” has indirectly compromised food supply.

Corruption
Worse yet, governmental corruption drains farmers’ deserved income from cotton. A U.K.-based charity called The Environmental Justice Foundation has stated that the official price that farmers receive in return for their cotton represents just one-third of its real value. However, the real outlook is far bleaker. Farmers have reported that they do not even receive the official procurement price. To understand the answer to the question “why is Uzbekistan poor,” one must know that corruption has persisted in Uzbekistan long after the fall of the Soviet Union. This persistence is not merely because of social and cultural norms, but because such practices have continued to actively benefit the elites of Uzbek society, both economically and politically, for decades.

Therefore, to answer the question “why is Uzbekistan poor?” one takes into account the primary reason Uzbekistan’s economy remains stifled and undiversified–cotton–but also the reason no changes have been made–corruption. If one hopes to end poverty in the region, both issues must be addressed.

Shannon Golden

Photo: Google

Causes of Poverty in UzbekistanIn Central Asia lies the Republic of Uzbekistan, a country just north of Turkmenistan and south of Kazakhstan. With a physical size only slightly larger than California, Uzbekistan’s population is just lower than 29.5 million. Although a sovereign nation today, Uzbekistan only just gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, the nation’s economy remains largely state-run with little diversification. As of 2015, around 12.8 percent of individuals living in the country were below the poverty line. Roughly 75 percent of these individuals lived in rural areas. Here is one of the major causes of poverty in Uzbekistan:

“White gold,” also known as cotton, currently accounts for a whopping 60 percent of Uzbekistan’s export earnings. This resulted from the actions of the Soviet government during the 1940s. Because cotton is a highly water intensive crop, the Soviet Union built canals to divert water from the Aral Sea to Uzbekistan’s cotton fields. Now, the Aral Sea has shrunk to 15 percent of its original volume and former ports around the Aral Sea rest as ghost towns. The loss of these ports has been another cause of poverty in Uzbekistan.

This has also meant that Uzbekistan’s economy remains undiversified. As the current government of Uzbekistan retains tight controls on most facets of the economy, farmers are pressured to meet cotton quotas, and other farmers can grow little else. This has compromised the country’s food supply.

What makes matters worse is that governmental corruption drains farmers’ deserved income from yielding cotton. A U.K. charity called The Environmental Justice Foundation has stated, “the official price that farmers receive in return for their cotton represents just one third of its true value. But the real outlook is far more bleak. Farmers have reported that they don’t even receive the official procurement price.”

Therefore, the conquest for “white gold” or cotton has been one of the major causes of poverty in Uzbekistan. If dreams for a more thriving economy are to be realized, the economy must expand to include more than cotton.

Shannon Golden

Photo: Google

Water Quality in Uzbekistan
As one of the largest countries in Central Asia with a population of 32 million, Uzbekistan is a regional economic and political leader. Recently, Uzbekistan has turned its attention to the pressing issues of environmental protection and water quality. In the last decade, water quality in Uzbekistan has been a main focus thanks to government and service providers’ efforts to expand and modernize the water sector across the country. Although access to an improved water source has declined by less than one percent, increased investment in water supply and sanitation has provided the foundation for reform in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has amassed the largest borrowing portfolio for water projects of any Central Asian nation, including the Alat and Karakul Water Supply Project. Started in 2013 with financing from the World Bank, the project has improved quality and efficiency of water supply for more than 220,000 Uzbeks from the districts of Alat and Karakul in the Bukhara region. The World Bank has partnered with Uzbekistan since 1992, and its total commitments to the country exceed $1 billion.

The government has taken on these initiatives in response to the recent problems facing water quality in Uzbekistan, including water availability and pollution. More than half of Uzbekistani households do not connect to a piped water system; sewerage systems serve only 40% of the population. Much of the government’s efforts concentrate in the rural region of Karakalpakstan; it has some of the worst water quality in the country and has dealt with setbacks due to a uranium scare in 2008.

While the government-established State Committee for Environmental Protection has made limited efforts to curb water contamination in the last 15 years, nongovernmental organizations have spearheaded the effort to establish regulation to reduce harmful runoff and protect water resources.

Much of Uzbekistan’s economy relies on its environment, from its booming cotton industry to its oil and natural gas supplies. Environmental issues pose a threat to the country as a whole, with water availability as a top concern. Studies have shown that global warming may hit Central Asia the hardest in terms of temperature risings and potential drought. Uzbekistan must confront existing issues such as chemicals from cotton production contaminating freshwater, as well as future threats from climate change.

Though the government has acknowledged the extent of the country’s environmental problems, and the State Committee for Nature Protection has looked to contain environmental issues, grassroots organizations have called for the government to lay down further regulation and take more urgent action. Water quality in Uzbekistan has improved, but environmental issues threaten the country’s welfare if further action is not taken.

Nicholas Dugan

Photo: Flickr