Oxfam: Tajikistan on the Brink from Climate Change

"The weather has become warmer in the last four or five years and that is affecting our crops," Tajik farmer Turaqulov Saidmuzator says. "We are losing almost 30 percent of our crops to diseases." Photograph by Anita Swarup/Oxfam.

The already harsh life of Tajikistan's large population of rural poor will be "dealt an even harder blow" by extreme weather and water shortages in the coming decades, according to a new report by Oxfam International on the Central Asian nation, which the World Bank had previously named the region's most vulnerable country to climate change -- and the one with the least capacity to adapt."Nearly one and a half million people are already food insecure and that figure will likely rise if climate change is not addressed. There could even be a dangerous ripple effect across Central Asia, with countries throughout the region potentially wrestling over dwindling water resources in coming decades," Oxfam Tajikistan's Country Director Andy Baker wrote in the press release for the report the organization published this week, "Reaching Tipping Point? Climate Change and Poverty in Tajikistan."

Living on Less Than $1.33 A Day
Though less than 7 percent of Tajikistan's land is arable, nearly two-thirds of the country's population of 7 million people depends on growing cotton, wheat, nuts, fruit, and vegetables to earn their meager living. Just over half of Tajiks make less than $1.33 a day. Many live like Sainam Ganieva, a young mother of four who Oxfam Regional Media Coordinator Jennifer Abrahamson wrote about in a blog entry:

Sainam only owns a very small plot of land, like most rural farmers, but hers is particularly small and inhospitable. It resembled sandstone in the autumn of 2008 when I visited her. She showed me an old wooden well in front of her dried-out mud home, but the pail only contained chalky dirt when she drew it up for me to observe. She must walk eight kilometers to fetch water.


An Oxfam-built solar greenhouse in the Vose district of south Tajikistan. Photograph by Anita Swarup/Oxfam.

The country has water reserves in its glaciers, mostly found in the Pamir Mountains, but these are melting at rates of up to 20 meters per year, auguring more severe water shortages in the future. Before last summer, farmers like Sainam had faced three consecutive years of drought, then one of the harshest winters on record. Agricultural yields plummeted 40 percent.

Building Greenhouses and Water Tanks
Oxfam is working to help improve agricultural and food-preservation practices, energy efficiency, and access to water in Tajikistan's rural areas. It has provided farmers with new seed varieties that are better adapted to the changing climate and is building passive solar greenhouses that can protect crops against cold winters or summer droughts, and allow farmers to increase their yield by growing year-round. The group has also built concrete tanks that collect and store rainwater. But the country's future cannot be secured by actions in Tajikistan alone. As Oxfam writes:

Tajikistan's plight highlights the international injustice of climate change, as it is one of the countries least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. This mountainous, poverty-stricken, Central Asian country ranks 109th in the world for all greenhouse gas emissions, 129th in emissions per capita, and its people emit less than one ton of carbon dioxide per head per year as compared to nearly 20 tons by North Americans.

Until developed countries take serious action, in other words, Tajikistan and its people will remain at risk.

More about Central Asia:
Turkmenistan Starts Building New Desert Sea: Glorious Deed or Disaster Waiting to Happen?
Wild Progenitors of Domestic Fruit & Nut Trees in Central Asia Threatened With Extinction
Country's First National Park an Oasis in War-Torn Afghanistan
NASA Documents the Evaporation of the Aral Sea (2000-2009)
Cross-Cultural Felt Making in Kyrgyzstan

Tags: Agriculture | Developing Nations | Drought | Farming | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects