Silent humanitarian crisis unfolding in Tajikistan, says Red Cross Red Crescent

Published: 21 August 2001

Food aid is urgently needed to help an estimated one million people in Tajikistan survive the winter after a second successive crop failure has left a population on the brink of starvation, warns the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

A shortfall of 341,000 tonnes of grain caused by two years of drought compounded by a dilapidated and failing irrigation system, Tajikistan is once again unable to feed its people. An acute food shortage last year had already forced the most impoverished population in the region to sell whatever they could to buy food, including even doors, windows and roofs of their houses. Now, with cereal crop harvests 15% below the disastrous harvests of last year, people are facing a bleak winter ahead without food and for many, without adequate clothes and shoes to keep them warm.

"We have seen children digging among rat holes in wheat fields, searching for grain hoarded by the rodents for the winter. They can spend up to two days doing this before they find enough to keep them and their family from starvation for a few days. This competition with rats for food is a horrific illustration of their battle to survive," says Roger Bracke, who recently headed an International Federation assessment mission to Tajikistan.

In response, the International Federation has launched an appeal for 6.7 million Swiss francs to provide 130,000 people in seven districts in northen and southern Tajikistan, with essential food items to see them safely through the bitter winter months. The appeal also calls for the provision of winter shoes and clothing for 65,000 children to enable them to continue going to school.

"Last year we appealed for help for Tajikistan. But the response by international donors was grossly inadequate and people suffered. Today people are living with their backs to the wall. We can stop this suffering. And we must," says Dr Djura Inomzoda, president of the Tajikistan Red Crescent.

As well as food, focus will also be put on health and water sanitation issues. The food shortages have compounded already high levels of aneaemia and chronic malnutrition, especially among children. The drought has also forced people to use contaminated water sources with only 35% of the rural population having access to safe drinking water. Diarrhea is a major cause of infant mortality and the largest cause of adult morbidity in the country, while diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis are rising fast.

The International Federation and the Tajikistan Red Crescent will rehabilitate drinking water sources and small-scale irrigation systems in the seven districts so that communities will have more water available for household consumption and farmers for their crops.

Though this operation is essential, it does not take away the need to address Tajikistan's long-term needs. Approaching the tenth anniversary of its independence from the former Soviet Union and having survived a five year civil war, Tajikistan's economy is in ruins. The poorest of the CIS states and long-neglected by international donors, only massive investment will ensure the country sucessfully negotiates the transition from a planned to a market economy so that it is able to feed itself in the future. For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

Jemini Pandya, Information Officer Tel.: +41 22 730 4570 / + 41 79 217 3374

Marie-Françoise Borel, Information Officer Tel.: +41 22 730 4346 / + 41 79 416 3881