Why Doesn’t Lonely Planet Have a Guidebook on Tajikistan?
When I set out to research Tajikistan a few months ago, I figured that it would be challenging but didn’t realize exactly how difficult it would be to find accurate, up-to-date information on this small, land-locked country in Central Asia.
Aside from a single chapter in a Central Asia guidebook by Lonely Planet and a few websites, there is relatively little information available for those interested in traveling to Tajikistan.
As a whole, it’s not considered to be a big tourist destination (aside from the outdoor enthusiasts) – nor is there any real tourist infrastructure setup in the country. A few hotels in the capital, a couple of travel agencies organizing trips into the mountains, and that seems to be it.
Traveling to Tajikistan is relatively complex as well. It borders China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan – and most of these countries don’t make it easy for you to get there.
More About Tajikistan
Tajikistan currently has a little over 7 million people living there with about 80% of them being Tajik, 15% Uzbek, 1% Russian and 4% of other nationalities. The amount of Russians has been declining steadily over the years due to emigration. Plus, a large number of Tajik men go abroad to find work and sent remittances back to their families – in fact, remittances is one of the 3 major drivers of its economy (cotton and aluminum being the other two).
It’s currently one of the poorest countries in Central Asia and has one of the lowest per capita GDP among the 15% former Soviet Union republics – ranging between $1,000 – $1,800 (depending on where you look). Compare that to over $15,000 per capita in Russia or $48,000 per capita in the United States.
Although the the government claims an unemployment rate of just 2.4%, I’d make a wild assumption about the number being inaccurate. About 70% of people live on around $2/day. When a liter of gasoline costs about $1 or a liter of bottle water goes for $0.40c (according to Lonely Planet – I’ll verify!), it makes things difficult to say the least.
On top of many financial and infrastructure issues affecting the citizens, the country has also been dealing with a severe energy crisises over the last few years. Although it has a lot of potential capacity through its hydroelectric plant, it winds up relying on importing electricity from its neighbors – as the water freezes in the Winter, at a time when the demand is the greatest.
Last winter, the situation got particularly difficult with temperatures reaching -20c and Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan limiting electricity supplies due to their own shortages. In the mountains, rivers froze, leaving hydropower stations without water needed to run their turbines. Electricity was rationed to about 9 hours/day in the capital and other major cities and only 3 hours/day everywhere else. In ’09, the situation seems less dire – but we’ll see what it’s like over the next few weeks.
Kiva Lenders and Central Asia
Going back to the microfinance aspect of things, one particularly interesting thing that I picked up at Kiva’s training this week is the overall trend towards Tajikistan and the whole region among its lenders. When a new loan goes up on Kiva, it has 30 days to get funded before it expires. Most of them get funded within 24-48 hours.
However, what’s interesting is that loans from Central Asia typically take longer to fund then, say, loans for Africa. Although generally all of them wind up getting the money anyway, lenders seem to prefer to lend to certain regions vs. others. I wonder if that’s because they are less familiar with Central Asia (it does get a lot less attention than other regions) or perhaps that poverty is viewed differently somehow in one place versus the other. The numbers are interesting.
Hopefully, I’ll get some insight into that over the next few months.
Signing off from United States!
* This post has been written by Boris Mordkovich, a Kiva Fellow working for 10 weeks in Tajikistan for MLF Humo and Partners. Check out currently fundraising loans by Humo and join Kiva Lending Team – Supporters of Tajikistan */>