Climate Change and Water Shortages Closing in on Tajikistan and Central Asia

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Andy Baker, Dushanbe, abaker@oxfam.org.uk, +992 91 898 56 20
Elena Akhmedova, Dushanbe, eakhmedova@oxfam.org.uk, +992 98 526 86 50
Yulia Yevtushok, Moscow, yyevtushok@oxfam.org.uk, +74992464944
Jennifer Abrahamson, UK, jabrahamson@oxfam.org.uk, +44(0)7810814980

Climate Change and Water Shortages Closing in on Tajikistan and Central Asia

New Oxfam report says retreating glaciers and more extreme weather could dangerously erode food security, livelihoods and even regional stability by 2050

WASHINGTON - The people of Tajikistan, many already feeling the
strains of climate change, will be increasingly afflicted over the next
40 years unless immediate action is taken to mitigate the effects,
according to a new report released today by Oxfam.

The report, Reaching Tipping Point? Climate Change and Poverty in Tajikistan,
says that the country‘s glaciers - mainly found in the Pamir Mountains
that make up part of the Trans-Himalayan range - are retreating and
could lead to greater water shortages and disputes in the wider region
in the future.

The painful blow of climate change has been sharply felt in rural
areas of Tajikistan in recent years where 1.4 million people are
already food insecure.  Last summer's good rains brought some relief to
rural communities across Tajikistan that had previously suffered from
three consecutive years of drought, failed harvests and one of the
harshest winters on record.  But the long-term trends are clear - and
ominous.

"It is indisputable that glaciers in Tajikistan are retreating. It
is also indisputable that if glaciers continue to retreat, and the
country experiences more extreme weather, countless people will be
dealt an even harder blow.  Nearly one and a half million people are
already food insecure and that figure will likely rise if climate
change is not addressed.  There could even be a dangerous ripple effect
across Central Asia, with countries throughout the region potentially
wrestling over dwindling water resources in coming decades," said Andy
Baker, Oxfam Tajikistan's Country Director.

Tajikistan's plight highlights the international injustice of
climate change, as it is one of the countries least responsible for the
greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. This
mountainous, poverty-stricken, Central Asian country ranks 109th in the
world for all greenhouse gas emissions, 129th in emissions per capita,
and its people emit less than one tonne of carbon dioxide per head per
year as compared to nearly 20 tonnes by North Americans.

Some key data disclosed in the report:

  • There has been a rise by 1.0-1.2 degrees C in parts of the country over the past 60 years
  • The number of days per year the temperature has reached 40 degrees C has increased
  • Droughts will likely be more intense and frequent
    in the future; in 2008 Tajikistan suffered one of its worst droughts on
    record while the winter of 2008 saw temperatures of minus 20 degrees C
    for more than a month, causing serious crop loss
  • According to cited scientists, 20 percent of the country's glaciers have retreated and up to 30 percent more are likely to retreat or disappear by 2050
  • Fedchenko Glacier, the country's largest, has melted at a rate of 16-20 metres per year
  • The consequences of climate change could overstretch many countries' adaptive capacity in the region, contributing to political destabilization and triggering migration

The report is based on interviews conducted in the Vose, Fakhor, and
Temurmalik rural areas of the Khatlon region bordering Afghanistan in
the country's south.  Oxfam helps poor farming communities cope with
increasingly frequent droughts, flooding and other disasters throughout
Khatlon, known as Tajikistan's ‘bread basket' during Soviet times. 
Additional interviews were conducted in the Ferghana Valley
agricultural areas of Spitamen and Ganchi in the Sugd region of
northern Tajikistan.  Seventy percent of the Tajik population live in
agricultural areas - there are very few other means to a livelihood
outside the capital - the majority in Khatlon and Sugd.

Those interviewed spoke of the unusual hardships they have faced in
recent years.  Many farmers experienced widespread crop loss caused
both by searing summers and bitter cold in the winter.  During the
drought of 2008, grain harvest totals were down between 30-40 percent
compared to the previous year.

Many farming communities in Tajikistan largely rely on
over-stretched irrigation systems and on rainfall to cultivate and reap
a harvest, and are so poor that they are forced send male family
members to Russia to work as labourers to help support the family.  Any
shocks - like repeated droughts or flooding caused by climate change -
can push families over the edge.  A local Oxfam partner explained to
the report's author that previously droughts lasted for one year only,
but now they can last for four or five consecutive years.   As one
farmer explained, "When rain starts, it's good, it's like humanitarian
aid."

Andy Baker added:

"Droughts are increasing and temperatures are rising.  Harvests are
failing for lack of water. Entire swathes of the rural population of
Tajikistan have already suffered greatly in recent years, barely able
to feed their families.  Imagine what their situation will be in 2050
if adaptation measures are not put into place soon and if global green
house gas emissions are not adequately reined in. It could be
calamitous."

The Report - Oxfam's Key Recommendations:

  • At a community levelimprove access to water and methods of food storage and preservation. Provide more support and training in agriculture.  Scale up better insulation of houses, use of energy efficient stoves, biogas, solar power and use of passive solar greenhouses
  • At a national level: support farmers to adapt
    and have more resilient livelihood strategies; integrate climate change
    responses across government departments and into national planning;
    strengthen disaster risk reduction programmes; implement research
    programmes on climate change and its impacts
  • At regional and international level: negotiations must get straight back on track to achieve a fair, ambitious, and binding deal to tackle climate change,
    which is now overdue. To deliver their fair share of global efforts,
    rich countries would need to provide $200 billion per year by 2020 to
    help developing countries adapt and reduce their own emissions. 
    They need to commit to reduce their own emissions with at least 40%
    below 1990 levels by 2020 to have a decent chance to keep global
    warming below 2°C.  In Central Asia, institutions for regional
    co-operation must be strengthened, in particular to monitor and manage
    water resources in the light of glacial melt, higher temperatures and
    increases in water scarcity.

Read more

Read the report: Reaching Tipping Point? Climate Change and Poverty in Tajikistan

On the frontlines of climate change: Tajikstan - Jennifer Abrahamson blogs

Join the global call for a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal.

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Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 like-minded organizations working together and with partners and allies around the world to bring about lasting change. Oxfam works directly with communities and that seeks to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

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