UNICEF Emergency Programmes: Tajikistan Donor Update 25 Sep 2000

Originally published

Tajikistan drought: the worst in 74 years

The drought has occurred due to lack of rain and reduced snowfall last winter and affects each of the country’s 4 regions: Khatlon Oblast (Province), Leninabad Oblast, Direct Rule Districts (DRD), and Gorno-Badakhastan Autonomous Oblast. Khatlon, where most food crops grow, has the greatest number of people affected. Rainfed wheat crops have failed in most places and the resulting food shortages are having a serious impact on the population. Lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is causing a sharp increase in water-borne diseases, such as diarrhoea, typhoid and malaria in the affected areas. In addition to the severe drought conditions, obsolete irrigation systems and general decline of the agricultural sector are contributing to the gravity of the crisis, which is affecting nearly half of the country’s population. The World Food Programme estimated that approximately 3 million people in Tajikistan require assistance to meet their basic survival needs as a result of the drought.

Majority of population lives below poverty line

The five-year long civil war (1992-1997) and several natural disasters during the mid-1990s devastated the country’s already ailing and fragile economy. Tajikistan remains one of the least developed countries in the world and the poorest in the Central Asia region, with some 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Over 60 percent of the Tajik population derive its livelihood from agriculture, the sector most affected by the drought.

The already poor nutritional status and recent drought related diseases have increased malnutrition and put children’s survival at risk. The drought is compounded by a deteriorating socio-economic situation and few employment opportunities, posing serious threats to the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of families. Particularly vulnerable groups include female-headed households, whose numbers are increasing due to men migrating to look for employment opportunities. As many as 8,000 families may be displaced as a result of the drought. Furthermore, the drought threatens to further destabilise the fragile political situation in the country and can potentially provoke an explosion of conflict.

UNICEF led an inter-agency non-food rapid assessment mission 28 July to 2 August. This included the Ministry of Health, UNOPS, WFP, WHO and a local NGO Ecologia. The initial assessment was followed by an in-depth assessment 13-31 August. The mission found the worst affected pockets of population in the rainfed areas, which lack safe water for drinking, and personal and domestic hygiene. UNICEF estimates that only 10-15 percent of the rural population has access to safe drinking water at all times. As a result, there has been deterioration of the health and nutrition status and an escalation of diarrhoeal diseases, including typhoid. During the coming winter months, the combination of poor nutritional status and lack of heating due to fuel shortages is likely to result in dramatic increases in ARI (acute respiratory infections). The drought also threatens school enrolment, particularly of girls, due to problems in affording clothing and school supplies, as well as increased demand on girls for household chores such as taking care of sick family members and fetching water.

Increasing number of children suffering from malnutrition and disease

Children and women in the worst affected areas of Khatlon and Leninabad Oblasts, and some pockets of DRD are especially vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhoea, typhoid and malaria. Infant morbidity has increased alarmingly throughout the country. Diarrhoea incidence has increased 1.6 times, particularly in the drought affected regions. Reports indicate sharp increase of typhoid fever in these regions. The main cause is the use and consumption of unsafe water from irrigation ditches As well as poor sanitation and personal hygiene.

The nutritional status of the population, particularly children, is poor. Malnutrition is especially high among children of farm labourers, 41 percent of whom are stunted and 17 percent have acute malnutrition. ( Based on a survey of a number of rural districts) Anaemia is common and is increasing rapidly among children, lactating and pregnant women, and women of childbearing ages. It is estimated that 40-60 percent of this vulnerable group is malnourished and the situation is expected to worsen should a rapid and timely emergency response not materialise.

Drought seriously affecting already polluted water sources and the environment

Women and girls collect water, often contaminated, from distant sources. Sanitation has also been seriously affected. There is a need to create awareness of diarrhoeal disease prevention through the promotion of safe sanitation and hygiene practices. Hygiene practices, which were not previously optimal, have become worse through the shortage of water.

Drought affects access to education

Poor child health affects children’s ability to learn. School enrolment is already under pressure, and may be further reduced by the impact of the drought as families cannot provide clothing and school supplies. Additionally, children, especially girls, are needed increasingly to assist families with household duties. Most schools have very poor sanitary environments. Under these conditions, schools become unsafe places where diseases are transmitted. Furthermore, during winter, many school children do not attend school due to lack of warm clothing, winter shoes and heating in schools. The movement of people is also likely to affect children’s access to education, as additional strain is placed on host community schools to absorb displaced children.


UNICEF priorities: meeting immediate needs

UNICEF has accelerated its existing programme to focus on the specific drought-related needs as well as re-allocated approximately US$ 700,000 from its regular country programme for prevention and treatment of malnutrition, diarrhoeal diseases and ARI, for immunisation, provision of safe water, promotion/support to sanitation and hygiene, support to children’s education programmes, improvement of basic water and sanitation in schools, and capacity building of local communities and local government staff in the planning, delivery, management and monitoring of child protection programmes and services.

UNICEF has initiated support to reduce dropout rates in primary schools in drought affected areas. The distribution of educational supplies to schools in the most affected areas has begun.

Interventions for drought affected populations:

Health and Nutrition: UNICEF is increasing support for the prevention of malnutrition, as well as prevention and treatment of diarrhoeal diseases and ARI amongst children. Support is being expanded to ensure the immunisation cold chain is maintained. Support to national health structures in undertaking mass measles immunisation campaigns is being accelerated. These campaigns cover children under 14 years of age in the most affected areas and provide vaccine consumables, such as syringes and needles. UNICEF will also enhance support to mother- and child-health care by ensuring that pregnant women, affected by drought, have access to obstetric care, immunisation against tetanus, protection against malaria and access to essential drugs. UNICEF is extending iron supplementation from the present 14 districts of the whole of Khatlon Oblast. In co-operation with WFP and international NGOs, UNICEF is supporting a national nutrition survey to assess the extent to which child nutrition is affected by the drought.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: UNICEF is accelerating its co-operation with the Government to prevent water-borne and sanitation related diseases among children and women in targeted drought affected areas by ensuring access to safe drinking water, appropriate sanitation services and hygiene education for safe behavioural practices. Programmes are designed to ensure that families receive appropriate information and basic training in water purification techniques for both drinking and domestic water needs, and on water conservation. School sanitation and basic water supplies will be strengthened in order to prevent outbreaks of diseases among school children and ensure water conservation and good hygiene practices. UNICEF will also provide key health units (clinics and health centres) and schools with critical drugs and emergency supplies for rapid response to specific outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases.

Education: UNICEF is planning to accelerate its existing education programme to expand coverage to the drought affected areas and to areas hosting displaced populations in order to reduce the school dropout rate and to ensure access to primary education for displaced children, especially girls. Activities include provision of education supplies to primary schools to improve access for the most vulnerable children, fuel for heating schools and winter clothing and shoes for children. Emergency activities are co-ordinated with national and local authorities and with local NGOs. In particular, NGOs will be supported to monitor and advocate for the rights of children, access of children to education and the importance of girls attending schools.

Monitoring and co-ordination: UNICEF drought emergency interventions are monitored by, and response is co-ordinated with, other UN agencies, government counterparts and NGOs. Inadequate information management and exchange on critical needs of women and children (especially in the drought areas) have been some major obstacles. The relocation of population is seen to present a serious burden on host communities and their services, as well as bringing serious upheaval to the lives of the families involved. UNICEF will work closely with partners in monitoring such movements, and their impact. Working with partner agencies, UNICEF will target assistance to communities most directly affected by the drought, or by population displacement triggered by the drought.


Under the framework of the UN Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for 2000, UNICEF Tajikistan requested US$ 2,235,000 to support programmes. Due to the enduring drought and worsening situation, the UN Country Team launched an Inter-Agency Donor Alert on September 17, to respond to the critical humanitarian needs of children and women affected by drought. The Alert details immediate requirements for US$ 2,123,000 till end of the year. These are additional to those outlined in the CAP 2000 and bring total requirements to US$ 4,358,000.

UNICEF’s emergency response is based on assessment (integrated with that of other UN agencies), planning and co-ordinated implementation to maximise synergies amongst the sectors. Core commitments to project interventions include support to EPI, nutritional surveillance, provision of safe drinking water and support to hygiene education. In addition, UNICEF is committed in all emergency situations to the continuous enrolment of children in school.

The following table and graph indicate funding received for various sectors and highlight substantial shortfall against the appealed target. As shown below, the health and nutrition interventions have received the highest funding at 12 per cent of requirement, followed by education and support to women’s NGO sectors at 5 percent each. Water & sanitation and hygiene activities have received no support.

CAP Target
Alert Target
% Funded
Health and Nutrition
Water & Sanitation and Hygiene
Support to Women’s NGOs

* Water and Sanitation

Table 2 and the following graph show the donor contributions received for 2000 CAP.

Income/Pledge US$
Government of Ireland
Government of Denmark


Immediate funding is key to prevent impending crisis and population movement.

To date, UNICEF has received only 17 percent of the total requirements listed on the 2000 CAP. Lack of funding has serious long-term implications and a quick response is key to preventing a deepening crisis in child nutrition, spread of diseases and potential wide-scale disaster. UNICEF has been able to divert some resources from the Central Asia reserves and pre-position basic limited supplies. However, resources are urgently required to expand ongoing activities in order to prevent the unfolding crisis.

Details of the Tajikistan programme can be obtained from:

Branislav Jekic
Assistant Representative
UNICEF Dushanbe
Tel: +7 992 372 247261
Fax: +7 992 372 241905
Email: bjekic@unicef.org

Thomas Thomsen
Area Representative Almaty
UNICEF Central Asia Office
Tel: +7 3272 501661
Fax: 7 3272 635477
Email: tthomsen@unicef.org

Robin Medforth-Mills
Tel: + 41 22 909 5554
Fax: + 41 22 909 5902
Email: rmmills@unicef.org

Dan Rohrmann
New York
Tel: + 1 212 326 7009
Fax: + 1 212 326 7165
Email: drohrmann@unicef.org

UNICEF EMERGENCY UPDATES are available at http://www.unicef.org/emerg