Tajikistan:"Nothing is left of that life"

By Rita Plotnikova in Takob, Tajikistan
Our convoy to the mountain village of Takob moved gingerly along the snowy road north of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. "Last week the trip was cancelled after a heavy snowfall," says Sator Kholov, the Tajik Red Crescent relief officer in charge. "But people rely on our food and we cannot delay any longer."

The Red Crescent is carrying out a second round of food distributions for the poorest people struggling through economic and natural hardship in Tajikistan. Food distributions as part of the International Federation's emergency appeal are also continuing for those who suffered most from last year's drought. According to a recent survey of nutritional levels across Tajikstan, supervised by Care International and Action Against Hunger, more than forty per cent of children in some areas are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Takob is in the spurs of the Guissar mountain range. With the population of 4000 people it was an industrial legend in Soviet times, thanks to its ore mining and processing. But after the civil war in the 1990s the village lost half of its population: some were killed, some left in search of work. The factory that used to supply finished metals to the Soviet Union is now a ghost.

"It is amazing how this place that used to be so full of life is now so quiet," says Sator Kholov, who has been delivering Red Crescent humanitarian aid here for four years. "There used to be trucks running to and from the factory and buses carrying tourists to the mountain resorts," he recalls wistfully.

With a million people living in deep poverty in Tajikistan the Red Crescent, supported by the International Federation, is helping about 175,000 of the most vulnerable this winter. The criteria for selection as a beneficiary are strict - they need to be. In this village the food is for multi-child families, those headed by women and the isolated elderly. The ration for a person is: fifty kilos of wheat flour, ten litres of vegetable oil and two kilos of salt - divided into two distributions at the beginning and end of the winter.

Lotta Relander, head of the Federation delegation, now has two years experience in Dushanbe: "Humanitarian aid issues are still vital for a country trying to overcome the hardships caused by economic dislocation and isolation, as well as the consequences of the war and natural disasters. As well as the distributions we are also continuing our programmes in water and sanitation, health care and disaster mitigation."

In Takob it takes the villagers twenty minutes to form a neat line to get their rations. Red Crescent volunteers help people load their sledges. Malang Orzumamadov is seventy-one. He was born high in the Pamyr mountains, but at the age of twenty moved to Takob to work at the then new factory. His life was full: he loved his work and the village where, in time, he married and had eight children. After forty years of work at the factory he became a respected figure in the community.

Malang sighs deeply. "Nothing is left of that life now. Our country collapsed, the civil war destroyed the remains of the old Soviet industries and killed many good people. And what do we have now? Nothing. We cannot even grow crops because of the drought. And the aid that would have been humiliating in the old days we now receive with huge gratitude."

Malang's three sons were killed in the war, and now he and his wife Mavdjigul look after ten grandchildren. The couple's pension amounts to about two dollars, "but the food we receive from the Red Crescent will help us to feed the children for the last winter months," says Mavdjigul.

Tajik families are traditionally very big. Relatives try to support each other, but when resources dry up and possessions have been sold for food, it becomes a big challenge to find strength to live and to raise children. There are many such families in Takob

"Industry is frozen," says Muborak Mirzoeva, who chairs the village council. "There are no jobs and most of the men have gone to Russia to try to earn money. We do not hear from some of them for years, and our women are happy to receive any support at this difficult time. It is good to feel that somebody thinks of us and tries to help."