TAJIKISTAN: PROBLEMS OF AND PROSPECTS FOR THE MOUNTAIN REGIONS

(from the Standpoint of Sustainable Development)

Pyotr MAKIEVSKIY
Kholnazar MUKHABBATOV


Pyotr Makievskiy, Senior researcher at the Research Center for Human Social Problems, Tajikistan Academy of Sciences

Kholnazar Mukhabbatov, Head of the Geography and Environment Department, Research Center for Human Social Problems, Tajikistan Academy of Sciences


The concept of sustainable development, as well as the ideas and principles associated with this term, have been the topic of animated debates held by the representatives of various branches of science over the past ten years. In this article, the authors interpret the defining role of the components, dimensions, criteria, and indicators of sustainable development by shifting the emphasis to the sphere of life-sustaining activity which they consider the most important depending on specific environmental, economic, and social conditions. The first program provisions and priorities of sustainable development at the global level were adopted in Agenda 21 at the summit in Rio-de-Janeiro in 1992. Then at other international and national conferences, specialists continued to discuss the alternatives for effectively resolving the problem and drew up recommendations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10), which is scheduled to be held in Johannesburg in September 2002.

The basic provisions of this development are environmental stability, sustainable economic development, and sustainable social development.

The following main arguments are presented in favor of the aforesaid priorities of sustainable development.

First, the environment is a wellspring of resources for sustaining life and its development. The preservation and rational use of natural resources guarantee long-term development prospects on an equal basis for poor and rich countries. The predatory use of natural resources and disregard of environmental protection norms will ultimately lead to environmental disasters and catastrophes (deforestationdesertification, water pollutionepidemics, the technogenic greenhouse effecta global warming trend, intensified aridity of regions with little water, and so on). The environment can only be sustained by observing the principles of environmental ethics aimed at preserving equal opportunities for future generations to use natural resources and guaranteeing the survival of all biological species.

Second, the driving force behind sustainable development is economic growth, without which positive dynamics at the state level and raising the prosperity and security of society are impossible.

Third, sustainable social development is defined by the economic and social dynamics of human resources. The human development index is composed of the following components: life expectancy index, education index, and GDP index.

Demographic problems are closely tied to sustainable development. The growing world population, which is not supported by real food resources, is taking a high environmental toll and leading to social conflicts, poverty, and starvation.

In light of the basic provisions and criteria characterizing sustainable development, we will take a look at the dynamics of the economic, social, and demographic indices over the last five years of the 20th century. The authors of this article based their analysis on the data of the republics State Statistics Board.1 1991 and 1996 are the years under review, which represent the initial and lowest points in Tajikistans socioeconomic crisis after the collapse of the Union, respectively.

Against the background of progressive dynamics in the marcoeconomic indices between 1996 and 2000, we will note the following (see Table 1). First, on the whole, the low volume and insignificant annual increment in the GDP compared with 1991 demonstrate the severity of the economic crisis during the first half of the 1990s and the low rates of national economic restoration. Second, the annual increase in the percentage GDP (per capita) significantly lags behind the increase in the total GDP, which is due to the accelerated increase in the population (see Table 2). But the GDP growth rates should not be less than double the population growth rates, otherwise the prerequisites for sustainable economic development will dramatically decrease. This is because the positive effect will be cancelled out by the fact that the entire increase in the GDP will have to be spent on maintaining the burgeoning number of poor at the sustenance level.

Table 1

Economic Development Indices

Indices Years
1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
1. GDP, as % of the previous year 83.3 101.7 105.3 103.7 108.3
2. GDP, per capita, in dollars 138.9 139.2 145.4 149.4 159.6
3. GDP per capita, as % of the previous year 81.9 100.2 104.2 102.8 106.8
4. GDP compared to 1991 (%) 32.6 33.2 34.9 36.2 39.2
5. Volume of industrial production, as % of the previous year 76.1 98.0 108.2 105.6 109.9
6. Volume of industrial production, as % of 1991 34.2 33.5 36.2 38.2 42.0
7. Volume of agricultural production, as % of the previous year 82.2 103.6 106.3 103.1 112.7
8. Volume of agricultural production, as % of 1991 47.2 46.1 46.5 47.2 53.1
9. Investments: accumulated by the beginning of the year, as % of the previous year 176 167 118
10. Commodity export, as % of the previous year 102.9 96.8 80.0 115.4 113.9

Tajikistans economy is based on agriculture, the percentage of which in the GDP increased from 25% in 1996 to 35% in 2000. This growth was mainly due to the increase in grain production, which is related to the food crisis. As in industry, the production volume in the agrarian sector with respect to the basic level in 1991 is growing at a slow rate. Rational use of land and water resources in the arid zone and environmentally substantiated intensification of agriculture are the main conditions for achieving economic development. According to the land balance and the size of the republics population, each resident currently accounts for approximately 0.12 hectares of irrigated plough land, whereby demographic forecasts predict that this index will decrease to 0.08 hectares per person by 2010. Between 1991 and 2000, the amount of plough land decreased from 811,200 hectares to 738,500 hectares (by 12%), which is keenly felt in a small country, 93% of the territory of which is rocky terrain, cliffs, and glaciers.

A description of the countrys economic development processes would be incomplete without adding the following. There has been no large-scale restructuring of the economy, nor modernization of production in the republic to date. The unit consumption of raw material, other materials, and energy resources has not decreased. The number of enterprises is growing due to an expansion in small businesses, but only 1% of the entire number of people employed in the economy is currently engaged in this sphere. Privatization largely affected trade and service enterprises. The import of energy resources is increasing the republics economic dependence, and financial investments, which the country is still unable to afford, are needed for developing the fields of the fuel and energy industry which have stopped working and constructing hydroelectric power plants.

The prospects for Tajikistans economic development are primarily associated with the use of annually renewable water resources formed in the republic. And they constitute more than 60% of the regions entire water supplies. But the state of irrigation networks and irrigation technology is leading to significant water losses, the annual volume of which is comparable with the decrease in the drainage volume of the Amudaria River forecast by 2020-2030 due to a reduction in the ice cover of Pamiro-Alai. And this is keeping in mind that in Central Asia, water resources are a highly valuable raw material, which if used by or transferred to other countries should be returned to the republic in the form of investments, credits, and so on. A powerful stimulus for development could be joining up the major hydroelectric power plants on the River Vakhsh (Rogunskaia and Sangtudinskaia) to the regions energy market. At the same time, small hydroelectric power plants should be built, which will make it possible to develop the infrastructure of small enterprises and farms located in the remote mountainous regions, and to a certain extent ease the socioeconomic situation of the mountain and valley areas.

There are significant economic prospects in the use of raw mineral resources, whereby Tajikistan occupies a notable position in the world in terms of the supplies of several types of unique raw materials. But enormous investments are required to develop these and other strategic areas.

Technological policy for assimilating and developing the mountain regions should be based on contemporary environmental methods: developing non-waste techniques, developing and using raw mineral resources, introducing alternative energy resources, improving and raising the reliability of roads and communication means, and rationalizing architecture and construction taking into account the altitude-zonal diversity of the natural conditions. Today, all these principles of mountain technological policy at best only take the form of proposals, projects, laboratory developments, isolated experimental models, precepts, and designs.

We will supplement the social development indices (cf. Table 2), in which we primarily note low personal salaries and income level combined with high population growth rates, with the following.

Table 2

Social Development Indices

Indices Years
1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
1. Increase in the size of the population, as % of the previous year* 2.64 2.60 2.78 2.59 2.24
2. Average monthly nominal wage, in dollars 10.1 8.9 11.8 9.4 8.5
3. Personal income, as % of the previous year 109 110 119 99 98
4. Real wages, as % of the previous year 86.3 98.0 129.2 100.3 108.2
5. Real wages, as % of 1991 4.91 4.81 6.22 6.24 6.74
6. Human development index (HDI) 0.524 0.528 0.540 0.601

* Population size: 19915,508,000 people, 19965,769,000 people, 20006,250,000 people.

Transformation of the education system in the 1990s led to a vast gap between the large urbanized centers and the rural areas, as well as the mountain regions. Although students can familiarize themselves with contemporary technologies and all levels of education are relatively accessible, they are limited to primary, or at best to low-quality secondary education. The reasons for this are obvious: economic, personnel, and technical. They can only be resolved with the states active participation.

The high mountainous and remote regions deserve special mention (Upper Matcha, the valley of the River Yangob, as well as the high mountainous territory of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region). Their inaccessibility and isolation, as well as the conservative traditions in these parts also have their positive aspects since they make it possible to preserve the original culture and lifestyle. Nowadays, such regions can be considered ethnographic museums. Their residents are not even represented in the legislative and government structures, which deprives the population of these regions of timely resolution of their most pressing problems. No longer supplied with products, commodities, and fuel under the old Soviet centralized system, deprived of a social-production infrastructure, and having difficulty adapting to the new economic conditions, people are compelled to adopt a predatory, consumer approach to natural resources. As a result, mountain communities are becoming increasingly marginalized.

Medical and biological research has shown that on the whole in Tajikistan during the 1990s, the situation with malaria, gastrointestinal and other hazardous diseases transmitted by water became dramatically aggravated, as well as the situation with tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases, and endocrine and skin diseases associated with the discharge of toxic substances. There was also an abrupt increase in iodine-deficient pathologies in children and adolescents. In the mountainous and high mountainous regions, the deterioration in the standard of living combined with the specific influence of climatic conditions is promoting the progressive course of diseases, and there are significant problems with medical personnel, diagnostic equipment, instruments, medications, etc.

With reliable organization of the pharmacological industry in the republic, the collection and initial processing of more than five hundred species of medicinal plants which grow in the mountains could to some extent have lowered the morbidity rate and provided employment for the population of the mountain regions.

The table of indices which indirectly shows the state and influence of the environment (see Table 3) on one of the main components of the social sphere, public health, is supplemented with the following data obtained from the results of an analysis of the environmental situation in the republic conducted by the authors of this article in 2000.2 The reduction in production volume after 1991 and the decrease in discharge of toxic substances into the atmosphere are cancelled out to a significant extent by the use of low-quality fuel in transportation vehicles and energy systems, as well as by the primitive technique of incinerating all kinds of wastes and garbage in the open air. There are not enough financial resources for fighting atmospheric pollution, including at environmentally hazardous production plants, which is leading to the formation of environmental disaster zones. This is shown by the statistics of medical reports and studies on diseases of the endocrine system, respiratory organs, and metabolic disturbances. The environmental state of water sources, both surface and subterranean, is deteriorating, which is promoted by the following factors: gross violation of water storage norms, the building up of river bed areas, the dumping of effluence from irrigated land and unpurified industrial and sewage wastes into the rivers, the extremely unsatisfactory sanitary hygienic and technological state of water production networks, and violation of the technology for decontaminating, purifying and adjusting the natural qualities of water for economic and household needs.

The pollution and contamination of water sources is resulting in the spread of hazardous infectious diseases transmitted through water and increasing the risk of mass epidemics.

According to the data of studies in different regions of the republic, between 35% and 70% of the population suffers from iodine-deficient diseases caused by the low natural iodine content in the water and soil.

Table 3

Indices Indirectly Reflecting the State of the Environment

Indices Years
1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
1. Acute infectious intestinal diseases (per 100,000 residents) 625 824 936 1,164 1,334
2. Respiratory diseases (per 100,000 residents) 9,915 11,456 11,337 12,431
3. Diseases of the endocrine system and metabolic disturbances (per 100,000 residents) 547 2,180 3,072 3,614
4. Spending on environmental protection, as % of the previous year 111.4 106.4 83.2

The environmental state of land and plant resources is deteriorating. Intensive erosion of irrigated land, the formation of ravines and the washout of small cuts of enriched plow land is leading to the loss of fertile soil and its degradation. The plowing up of mountain slopes is causing rapid destruction of the undernourished topsoil and the development of rock slides. Trees and bushes in the mountain regions are being intensively felled. According to some data, forest areas in the period under review have decreased by 100,000120,000 hectares, in other words, almost 20% of the republics forests have been destroyedmainly for fuel. What is more, the anti-erosion and field-protection planting previously conducted annually on an area of 500-700 hectares has been halted due to a lack of funds. The unregulated grazing of cattle leads to the loss of pastureland, the erosion of mountain slopes, degradation of the landscape, and desertification.

Migration of the rural population in the 1990s led to thousands of hectares of plowed area being abandoned; at the same time, the anthropogenic load on the environment in the mountain regions has dramatically increased. Water, land, and plant resources are being adversely affected, since abuse by the mountain people is their only means of survival. An increase in the anthropogenic load on the fragile mountain ecosystem, and desertification and degradation of the environment in the drainage zone of the River Amudaria go beyond the framework of local environmental violations and threaten with an environmental disaster at the regional level.

This is a general description of the current state and problems characterizing the environmental, economic, and social situation in Tajikistan in 1996-2000.

The documents presented at the International Conference on The Mountain Regions of Central Asia. Problems of Sustainable Development held in September 1999 in Dushanbe show that Tajikistan today is a country in which the problems facing the worlds mountain regions are acutely manifested.3 Unfortunately, not one of the CIS republics with similar problems has a clear government conception for developing the mountain regions. The programs and projects proposed by Germany, Switzerland, and the U.S. and tested in India and Pakistan are mainly research or humanitarian (food-oriented) in nature. Of course, normal and stable nutrition is one of the main human requirements and consequently a reliable index of sustainable development. But the food scenario of development is not creating a sustainable long-term balance among the economy, environment, and society.

The current state of Tajikistans mountain communities can be described by one simple and extensive concept poverty. This gives the problems and priorities of sustainable development of the mountain regions the clearest and most specific featuresthis phenomenon is primarily a struggle against poverty. Of course, due to the natural conditions, mountain people will always be dependent on the valley regions for food to one extent or another. But over time, the situation can be adjusted by the provision of environmentally pure products from the mountain regions. The resolution of one of the most important components of the problem of poverty among the mountain population is providing energy resources, a goal which is very reachable in the current economic situation. Nature itself prompts the optimal ways to resolve it: small hydroelectric power plants, hydrothermal and solar power plants. The use of these energy resources is impeccable from the environmental standpoint. Providing energy to the mountain regions can be promoted by setting up small production plants, creating farms, developing recreation services, reviving independent handicrafts, and organizing the primary processing of valuable medicinal flora. This in turn will partially resolve the problem of employment of the local population, ease dependency on the environment, and lower social tension.

The entire development of Tajikistan in the 20th century, which ended with the sociopolitical and socioeconomic upheavals of the 1990s, presumed several objective factors and conditions which will curb the states sustainable development in the future. The main ones are the demographic situation, the high population growth rates, the growing shortage of irrigated land and the deterioration in its fertility, the raw material orientation of the economy, and the environmental problems.

The republics further development will be determined primarily by economic growth rates. If the current conditions are retained, which limit the prospects and rates of development (non-payments in all the spheres of the economy, ineffectual restructuring of enterprises, low level of investments, and so on), the high capital-intensive increase in the GDP will not create the prerequisites for raising the economy. With corresponding adjustment of macroeconomic policy, activation of the levers and sources of economic growth, and the resolution of social problems, we can hope for a favorable outcome.

Along with the economic conditions, global and regional environmental factors may also have a significant impact on sustainable development. In particular, the predicted climatic warming trend, reduction in the ice cover of Pamiro-Alai, and thus in the water supply, and the change in the agricultural and climatic situation require the drawing up of adaptation measures in the most vulnerable branches of the economyagriculture, hydraulic engineering, and hydraulic power.

In conclusion, we will note that on 12 May, 1999, a National Commission on Sustainable Development and, on 24 March, 2000, a working group for preparing a Strategic Document of Poverty Reduction (SDPR) were created in the republic. At present, Tajikistan is drawing up a conception of sustainable development, on the basis of which its strategy will be developed and represented, and it is also reviewing the final versions of the SDPR.


1 See: Statisticheskiy iezhegodnik Respubliki Tadzhikistan, Dushanbe, 2001.

2 See: M. Mukhabbatov and P.G. Makievskiy, Tajikistan 90-kh: Ekonomika i ekologia, Problemy regionalnoi ekologii (Ekaterinburg), No. 2, 2000, pp. 29-38.

3 See: Materialy mezhdunarodnoi konferentsii Gornye regiony Tsentralnoi Azii. Problemy Ustoichivogo razvitiia, Dushanbe, 1999.


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