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Tajikistan - Introduction

Tajikistan has the lowest per capita GDPs among the 15 former Soviet republics. Because of a lack of employment opportunities in Tajikistan, as many as a million Tajik citizens work abroad, almost all of them in Russia, supporting families in Tajikistan through remittances. The greatest obstacle to improving the economy is resistance to reform. From President Emomali Rahmon down to the policeman on the street, government is characterized by cronyism and corruption. Rahmon and his family control the country's major businesses. Tajikistan is an authoritarian state that President Rahmon and his supporters, drawn mainly from one region of the country, dominated politically. Rahmon has headed Tajikistan since 1992.

The Tajik civil war (May 1992 to early 1993), labeled by many as the work of Islamic fundamentalists, more accurately reflected the domestic conflict between rival ethnic groups, regions, and clans, for access to political and economic spoils. Unlike the other former Soviet states of Central Asia, Tajikistan did not form armed forces based upon former Soviet units on its territory. Instead, the Russian Ministry of Defense took control of the Dushanbe-based 201st Motor Rifle Division.

Located on the western slopes of the Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan occupies one of the most rugged and topographically divided regions in the world. Possessing extremely convoluted frontiers, it borders Uzbekistan to the west, China to the east, Afghanistan to the south, and Kyrgyzstan to the north. Tajikistan is the smallest in area and third-largest in population of the Central Asian republics. Unlike the ethnically dominant groups of the other four republics, the Tajiks have a culture and a language based on Iranian rather than Turkic roots. Despite their differing cultural backgrounds, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks did not consider themselves separate until the Soviet Union's artificial demarcation of the republics in the 1920s. (Until 1929 the Autonomous Republic of Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan.)

Tajikistan, with a total land area of approximately 143,100 square kilometers (55,251 square miles), is a landlocked country in southeast central Asia that is slightly smaller than Wisconsin. Tajikistan is situated on an active seismic belt that extends across the entire country resulting in frequent earthquakes. Tajikistan is more mountainous than Afghanistan, with earthquakes, floods, droughts, locusts and extreme weather. Parts of the country are often cut off by snow and avalanches. External links pass through obstructive Uzbekistan, unstable Afghanistan, or over the rough, remote Pamir passes to western China.

Tajikistan's terrain is almost entirely mountainous, with more than one half of the country at elevations above 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). The Kurama and Mogoltau Mountains, part of the regional Tien Shan Range, extend through the north. The Turkestan Mountains, composed of the Zeravshan and Gissar-Alay Ranges, comprise the eastern portion of the country. The Pamir-Alay Mountains spread throughout the southeast of the country, with numerous peaks above 7,000 meters (23,000 feet). Elevations above 2,500 meters are conducive to altitude sickness, which may result in headache, nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite, malaise, and shortness of breath. The high mountains are permanently covered by snow and ice.

Political stability has improved since the civil war ended in 1997, but in order togain control of certain areas, the central government has compromised and forged alliances among regional factions and clans, which retain substantial political influence. Particularly important is the rivalry between politicians of the northern regions and those of the south; the accumulated power of southerner President Imomali Rakhmonov’s clique has caused substantial resentment in the north, which had held a dominant position in the Soviet era.

The Soviet Union brought Tajikistan significant advancement in education, industry, and infrastructure compared with the primitive conditions of 1917. In the mid-1990s, however, the country remained the most backward of the Central Asian republics, partly because of specifically focused Soviet development policies and partly because of topographical factors that enormously complicate exploitation of existing resources.

In the Soviet system, the Tajikistani economy was designed to produce cotton, aluminum, and a few other mineral products, including uranium and gold. Tajikistan’s economy, which had been the poorest in the Soviet Union, was severelydisrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the civil war of 1992–97. Waged across a large portion of the republic, the civil war caused great and lasting damage to the national economy. In 1994 damage to industry was estimated at about US$12 billion. Production levels in all industries had dropped an estimated 60 percent in 1994 compared with 1990. Many Germans and Russians, a high percentage of the country's key technical personnel, fled the civil war. The rate of inflation was steep in 1992-93. Tajikistan's economy is still in desperate condition. It remains the least attractive of the former Soviet republics for foreign investment. Only the export of cotton and aluminum has brought significant profits.

In 2006 the United Nations estimated that 64 percent of Tajikistanis were living belowthe national poverty line (US$2.15 per day), compared with 82 percent in 1999. However, in the interim the disparity increased between those below and above the line. Pensioners have beenamong those most severely affected by Tajikistan’s economic crisis and the lingering effects ofthe civil war.

Foreign direct investment has remained low because of political and economic instability, corruption, the poor domestic financial system, and Tajikistan’s geographic isolation. The establishment of businesses nearly always requires bribing officials and often encounters resistance from entrepreneurs with government connections.

The environmental pollution issue of greatest concern in Tajikistan is chemical and microbial contamination of water from untreated industrial, municipal, agricultural, and mining wastes. The principal sources of air, water, and soil contamination include agriculture, mining and mineral exploitation, municipal and industrial wastes, and motor vehicles. Agricultural activities in the irrigated valleys of the north, south, and west contribute to soil, surface water, and groundwater contamination.

Environmental contamination may present short- and long-term health risks to personnel deployed to Tajikistan. The greatest short-term health risks are associated with consumption of food contaminated with fecal pathogens, water contaminated with raw sewage, or runoff containing fecal pathogens. Water contaminated with industrial waste or agrochemicals is also of concern. Additional short-term health risks are associated with high altitude and extreme heat and cold. The greatest long-term health risks are associated with air pollution, particularly in the largest population centers and near large industrial complexes.

During warmer months (typically from April to October), ecological conditions in rural areas support large populations of arthropod vectors, including mosquitoes, ticks, and sandflies, which have variable rates of disease transmission. Malaria is the major vector-borne risk in southern Tajikistan and is capable of debilitating personnel for up to a week or more. In addition, a wide variety of vector-borne diseases occur at low or unknown levels. Recent conflicts and the large number of refugees from Afghanistan have increased the potential for transmission of vector-borne diseases in Tajikistan.

In Tajikistan indicators such as infant and maternal mortality rates are among the worst of the former Soviet republics.Many Russian doctors left Tajikistan after 1991, leaving the countrywith the lowest ratio of doctors to population in the former Soviet Union. In the post-Soviet era, life expectancy has decreased because of poor nutrition, polluted water supplies, and increased incidence of cholera, malaria, tuberculosis, and typhoid. Because the health care system has deteriorated badly and receives insufficient funding and because sanitation and water supply systems are in declining condition, Tajikistan has a high risk of epidemic disease.



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