KARSHI, 1 June (IRIN) - Navot is an ordinary woman living in the southern Uzbek city of Karshi, the capital of Kashkadarya province. She is a mother of two and complains that it has become increasingly tough to look after her children, being a single parent. In order to make ends meet, she has transformed her two-roomed house into a bakery where she both works and lives.
"It has become difficult for people even to buy bread," Navot told IRIN. "Not everyone can afford buying a whole bag of flour these days," she said.
Navot earns about US $2 to 3 per day and spends all the money she makes on food for her children. She noted that the price of flour, a staple for many in this impoverished region where average monthly salaries do not exceed $30, was rising, placing a severe strain on the resources of many local households.
"The flour is delivered by the sellers of shops - for a bag of 50 kg I pay $13 but last week it became more expensive," she complained.
Since Uzbekistan became independent in 1991, staple foods, including bread, have become more expensive each year and people are buying less flour than in previous years, a local analyst said.
An assistant called Said at the local "Nazokatbegim" food shop in Karshi, told IRIN that the situation in the region was complicated by the fact that locally produced flour, $7 cheaper for a sack of 50 kg, was in short supply.
"In all shops of the city it is possible to find imported flour from Kazakhstan but not everyone can afford such a purchase," he noted.
Local resident Akmal told IRIN that people from the community were usually buying locally produced flour for bread, he said, adding that many residents were becoming even more impoverished.
"Bread used to be the most accessible foodstuff. However, nowadays even bread is becoming expensive for many people," Akmal said.
The World Bank reported that the proportion of Uzbeks living below the national poverty line was 28 percent of the population in 2002. However, some analysts believe that the real figure is much higher, with the number of poor being especially high in remote provinces. These include Kashkadarya, Surkhandarya and the Uzbek part of the area affected by the Aral Sea disaster, along with the densely populated Ferghana Valley, which saw violent protests earlier this month.
According to officials of the regional commodity stock exchange, a lack of flour supplies is routinely observed in southern Uzbekistan in May and June, and many brokers and shop owners cannot secure supplies.
"A lack of flour is now observed in the region," Eshdavlat Tajiev, the director of a stock exchange told IRIN. "Many our clients are not pleased with us. Where can we find it if there are no stocks of it in the region?" he asked.
Of the 2.6 million people in Kashkadarya, 330,000 live in Karshi. As Tajiev said, 12,000 mt of flour were necessary to cover the basic food requirements of the local population, while in March less than 9,000 mt had been sold to consumers and in May that figure dropped even further to 7,000 mt.
Even so, in rural areas the supply of basic foodstuffs, including flour, was particularly problematic. Jura Murodov, a resident of the Nishan district, noted that rural residents had not seen flour in the local shops since the beginning of the year.
"Nowadays they sell flour produced in local mills, which is usually not clean enough, with rather low quality. And people have to buy this flour for $0.30 per kg," Murodov explained. He cited poverty, which is rife in the area, as the main factor behind the fact that people cannot afford to buy better quality flour imported from Kazakhstan.
Gulmira Yuldosheva, an eight-year-old schoolgirl, confirmed that life was not easy for local households.
"We eat only bread at home," she told IRIN, adding that meat had become a luxury for them, recalling having it for the last time when she visited her relatives in the neighbouring province of Surkhandarya, where things were more or less the same.
But local officials remain optimistic about this year's harvest. According to Asror Juraev, deputy head of agriculture and water section with the local governorship, more than 600,000 mt of grain are to be harvested in the region this year.
"But we expect to gather more crop than planned. This year's weather was moderate and due to that the productivity will be more than we expect. There will be enough grain for the inhabitants of the region," he maintained.
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