Grinding poverty and three years of drought have left thousands of families sick and destitute in parts of Uzbekistan. Uzbek Red Crescent emergency food distributions are now underway to 20,000 people among the worst-affected populations in Chimbai and Kegeili districts, in the northern part of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. More than 150,000 people will also benefit from re-stocking of medical institutions with essential drugs and the provision of preventive health care.
The first distributions began February 4 and will continue over the next two weeks. In all, 440 tonnes of food will be distributed to large farming families left without any income due to failed harvests. In this distribution, each family will receive two months worth of food, consisting of 40 kilos of wheat flour, rice, vegetable oil, pulses and salt. The next distribution is scheduled for April.
"The people of Karakalpakstan are having to face a situation which is the result of a long-term environmental disaster, exacerbated by the three-year drought. The lack of drinking and irrigation water is having severe effects on the local communities. The current relief operation is a matter of basic survival for many families", notes Michael Kremkov, Vice-president of the Red Crescent Society of Uzbekistan.
The current, dry winter has worsened the impact of the drought. Nine northern and central districts, representing more than 60% of the total territory of Karakalpakstan, have experienced severe crop shortages, with the yield at less than half normal levels. Low precipitation means there will not be enough snow and the level of water in the Amu Darya River - the only irrigation water available - will keep dropping. Weather forecasts of low precipitation and comparatively warm weather are less than encouraging.
The severe lack of drinking water, reduced access to food and deteriorating health and sanitary conditions have exacerbated an already dramatic situation for the population, which also faces massive unemployment. In 2001, harvests in the drought-affected regions were down significantly. Families need to buy extra food to make up the shortfall, but cannot, because of reduced income. The effect is even more severe for large families. Many farmers have sold off their livestock to buy food and cannot find work
"During the Federation field assessment mission we undertook last summer in Uzbekistan in the drought-affected regions, we talked to farmers who cannot work and who have nothing to bring back to their families," Mohamed Babiker, International Federation regional disaster preparedness delegate says. "There are thousands of people left with no food stocks and nothing to sell to buy food. They suffer from malnutrition and winter is the worst season of all for them."
The lack of potable water presents a severe threat to health, and as a result, the population is more at risk from waterborne diseases and respiratory infections. Sometimes families also have a difficult choice to make : paying for medicines or paying for food from the little money they have.
Each of 30 medical institutions will receive a stock of medical equipment and medicines, including basic anti-diarrhoeal medicines and water filters. The National Society is also launching a health education campaign targetting young mothers in particular. Iron and follic acid will also be distributed to pregnant and lactating women suffering from anaemia.
The International Federation launched an appeal in August 2001 for one million Swiss francs, which has been 65% covered so far.