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War still reverberates as drought suffocates Tajikistan

child
People of Tajikistan are falling prey to diseases such as typhoid, malaria, and dysentery  

From Jill Dougherty
CNN Correspondent

RUDAKI, Tajikistan (CNN) -- Half of Tajikistan's 6 million people are bearing the weight of the former Soviet republic's worst drought in 74 years, a natural disaster made worse by a five-year civil war that officially ended just three years ago.

More than 60,000 people died in the fighting between Russian-backed government troops and Islamic rebels who launched their insurgency almost simultaneously with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and Tajikistan's subsequent declaration of independence.

Even though the war is over, attacks from rebels based across Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan, where the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban rule 90 percent of the country, still plague the government and its struggling people.

With an economy set back nearly two decades by war, the unrelenting drought -- going on for more than half a year -- has brought on hunger and disease.

"How could people work out here?" asked agronomist Ashbulad. "You plant something, but nothing grows."

It is a dire situation that stands only to worsen, said U.N. special envoy Ross Mountain.

"If nothing is done immediately, the drought will turn into a famine, and the famine will feature many deaths," Mountain said. "And that is a very real specter (for) Tajikistan right now."

cotton field
Cotton is Tajikistan's biggest export  

First hunger, now disease

What little water there is goes to fields of cotton, the nation's biggest export. All across the mountainous central Asian republic, wells are dry, irrigation ditches are filled with straw and fields and gardens are deserts, burned brown by the endless sun.

"You can bang your head against stones," said Sayid, a farmer in Rudaki. "But what will that do? Whatever God gives us, whatever God does not give us, we thank him."

And now disease is spreading -- typhoid, malaria and dysentery are cropping up instead of plants in parched villages.

Tajikistan is too poor to buy food from abroad, so it has appealed to the world for help. The United Nations has asked member nations for aid and emergency relief.

But even if the aid comes, it won't bring what Tajikistan needs most: water.

ASIANOW


RELATED STORIES:
Uzbeks ask for drought aid, see 1 million at risk
September 20, 2000
Starvation stalks East Africa as drought drags on
April 8, 2000

RELATED SITES:
United Nations
Interactive Central Asia Research Project - Tajikistan
U.S. Library of Congress, Country Study: Tajikistan

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