UNICEF Emergency Programmes: Uzbekistan Donor Update 27 Sep 2000

Originally published

Severe drought hits Western Uzbekistan

The semi-autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan in Western Uzbekistan is suffering from a severe drought. The 1.5 million population depends on agricultural production (i.e. 25 % wheat, 25% cotton, 20% rice and 30% other food crops). Crops have failed due to a shortage of irrigation water from the Amu Darya River (the main surface water source in the affected areas). So far, 90% of the rice and 75% of cotton have been lost. Wheat, as the third cash crop, could still be harvested this year, but planting will not be possible next year if drought persists. In addition, the severe impact of drought can also be found in the Uzbek regions upstream on the Amu Darya River.

Three reasons are given for this drought: precipitation levels at the source of the Amu Darya River (Tajikistan) are at 42% of average; inadequate water management at inter-state as well as local levels; and a lower than average rainfall in Karakalpakstan since the mid-1990s. Water levels in the shallow drinking water wells across the region are rapidly falling (1 metre/month), requiring many wells to be deepened or abandoned. In June 2000, in 11 of 17 rayons, notification of diarrhoeal cases was much higher, particularly in Moynaq and Bozatau rayons, which had incidence rates 7 and 3 times higher than usual.

In addition to the crop losses, the drought’s direct socio-economic consequences include: lower family incomes; difficulties in drinking water supply; exhausted family food reserves for the winter (as a result of lower incomes and loss of food crops in kitchen gardens); higher food prices; migration (especially young people); and young children involved in fetching water from alternative sources, etc.

Numerous problems touching upon children

The worst affected area, Karakalpakstan, has been under many threats for several years. These include:

  • The Aral Sea, on the northern boundary of the region, is the example of a man-made environmental crisis. This is only half of its original size, and continues to shrink.
  • The Uzbek economy is still in a transition phase, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and moves towards a market economy with difficulty.
  • Developed in the 1930s, the agricultural irrigation system uses outdated and inefficient techniques. Some 50-75% of water is wasted due to lack of maintenance. Single cropping and lack of cash for fertilisers further depress harvest yields. Soil salinisation has led to a 30% loss of agricultural land.
  • Drinking water, if available, is contaminated with salt, heavy metals, faecal material, pesticides and fertilisers. In most cases, the levels of contamination exceed WHO’s indicative levels. Over half of the population depends on open shallow wells or hand pumps for their drinking water.
  • Official infant mortality rates (60 per 1000 live births) and maternal mortality rates (100 per 100,000 live birth) are much higher than average for Central Asia.
  • Some 80% of school children and nearly 100% of lactating and pregnant women are anaemic.
  • The tuberculosis incidence rate in Qunghirot is 150 cases per 100,000 people and 250 cases per 100,000 people in Muynoq, one of the highest TB incidence rates in Europe and the former Soviet Union.
  • Unhealthy and unhygienic conditions lead to high incidence of diarrhoea cases, particularly in communities and schools without piped water.
  • The nutritional status of families has deteriorated, but no official statistics on stunting or micronutrient deficiencies are available.
  • The educational system is under severe stress. Teachers are underpaid, materials are scarce and buildings need rehabilitation. More and more children, especially girls, are dropping out of school.
  • Some families face relocation, leaving their homes and land.

UNICEF stresses that the Uzbek population, on the brink of poverty for many years, will now be pushed into severe poverty as the result of this drought, with children being the most vulnerable.


UNICEF defines new humanitarian priorities.

UNICEF has adjusted its existing programmes to focus on specific drought-related needs. The overall objective is to help communities overcome the immediate problems created by drought, with root causes being addressed to provide a long-term solution. UNICEF will reallocate US$ 190,000 from its on-going programmes, and has already provided emergency supplies for US$ 120,000.

Health and nutrition activities to be adjusted

In response to this emergency, the health programme, to strengthen the primary health care capacity in Karakalpakstan, will be expanded with three additional oblasts in Khorezm, Kashkdaraya and Surkhnadrya. Support will include:

  • Provision of essential drugs for all primary health care units as well as training on acute respiratory infections/diarrhoeal disease case management.
  • Safe motherhood and maternal care programmes.
  • Additional provision of reliable cold chain equipment, as frequent power cuts affects the reliability of the cold chain for vaccines. Disease surveillance and immunisation will be strengthened to ensure timely and adequate response to increased risk of epidemics.
  • Anaemia reduction through nutritional education, provision of iron tablets and promotion of iron fortification of wheat flour.

Water supply and sanitation activities to be strengthened

To address the drinking water issue, UNICEF has initiated an immediate response. The main technical solutions include rehabilitating existing desalinisation plants and drilling new shallow wells for hand pumps. Since salinity and pesticide/fertiliser contamination are the main bottlenecks in providing safe drinking, thorough water quality testing will be the interventions’ core activities. Short-term solutions also lie in supporting water tankering for a limited number of communities.

UNICEF will also initiate studies to examine sustainable solutions to the drinking water problem and the development of institutional capacity for early warning and emergency planning. As 50-75% of piped water is lost through leaking pipes, lack of taps, misuse etc., UNICEF will launch an awareness campaign through the mass media. The campaign will also focus on hygiene (particularly hand washing) and safe excreta disposal, seen as the two main major causes of diarrhoeal diseases.

Education activities and school sanitation to be enhanced

Poor sanitation is the main cause of diarrhoeal diseases in the areas affected by the drought and in most schools affects children’s health and ability to study. The proposed schools sanitation activities focus on the development of life-skills, a healthy and safe school environment, and outreach to families and communities. In addition, UNICEF will develop a programme for awareness building on environment and drought preparedness.

UNICEF will support the winterisation of schools on an emergency basis, in order to reduce school dropout rate. The winterisation programme includes the provision of materials through parent-school committees to repair schools as well as the provision of clothing/boots for the most vulnerable children. In cases where no other coping mechanisms exist, UNICEF will also provide fuel for school heating systems and school supply kits.

UNICEF takes measures on children in need of special protection

The drought has further deteriorated the status of children accommodated in orphanages and boarding schools for disabled. The State can hardly cover the basic cost of running these institutions, or meet the shortage of essential supplies (from bed-linen to food and cleaning and hygienic materials). In this regard, besides starting a project to promote the alternative / community-based and fostering care programmes for children, UNICEF will strive to improve the status of children already accommodated in institutions through the provision of hygienic materials, clothes, footwear and blankets.

UNICEF to monitor and co-ordinate activities

To achieve the qualitative implementation of planned activities, UNICEF will closely collaborate and co-ordinate its activities with governmental organisations, other UN agencies, and international non-governmental organisations.


UNICEF urgently requires US$ 2,500,000 to expand its emergency operations in order to prevent an impending crisis.

The table below shows the requirements by sector.

Target (US$)
Health and Nutrition
Water and Sanitation
Education and School Sanitation
Children in need of special protection


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

Lack of funding has serious long-term implications and a quick response is key to preventing famine, spread of diseases and potential wide-scale disaster. UNICEF has been able to divert some resources from the Central Asia area reserves, and pre-position basic limited supplies. However, resources are urgently requested to expand ongoing activities in order to prevent an impending crisis.

Details of these projects can be provided by:

Rudy Rodrigues
UNICEF Representative
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Fax: 99871 1206508

Thomas Thomsen
UNICEF Assistant Representative
Central Asia Republics and Kazakhstan
Area Office, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Tel: 7 3272 501665
Fax: 7 3272 501662

Robin Medforth-Mills\
Tel: + 41 22 909 5554
Fax: + 41 22 909 5902

Dan Rohrmann
New York
Tel: + 1 212 326 7009
Fax: + 1 212 326 7165

For more information, visit the UNICEF website at