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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 23:16 GMT 00:16 UK
A million Tajiks 'face starvation'
Women farmers
More than 80% of Tajiks live below the poverty line
By Central Asia correspondent Catherine Davis

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has warned that a million people in Tajikistan could face starvation this winter unless they receive emergency food supplies.

Launching an international appeal for aid, the Red Cross said that the shortfall of grain caused by two years of drought meant Tajikistan was again unable to feed its population.

If we don't bring in seeds, then we'll miss the next planting season

Roger Bracke
Red Cross
Tajikistan is the poorest country in the former Soviet Union.

It is also remote and recurrent drought has compounded existing difficulties.

There are no images of starving children with distended bellies. But the International Red Cross says there are now children digging among rat holes in wheat fields in search of grain.

Click here for map of region

The Red Cross called it a horrific illustration of the battle to survive - and it's a battle many Tajiks are likely to face this winter, more than ever.

Bread and tea

Roger Bracke from the Red Cross says that the priority is seeds for the next harvest.

"If we don't bring in seeds, then we'll miss the next planting season...Then whether there is rain or no rain makes no difference - no seeds, no harvest," he said.

Boys digging
These 10 year-old boys are digging up grain from rats' holes

This summer's harvest is worse than last year's - some crops all but failed completely.

That means not only less grain for the family's needs but less to sell in the market and less or no seeds for planting next time.

Bread forms the basis of the daily diet here, but for some Tajiks it is already - along with tea - virtually their entire diet.

Mud-brick homes

In many mud-brick homes, concern has been growing month by month.

Relief agencies are still distributing emergency food to deal with the impact of last year's drought; this time, many Tajiks have even less means available for coping.

They sold their assets in order to survive this past year and that, say aid agencies, is now where the real problem lies.

Tajikistan is not a country with anything in reserve.

Five years of civil war left a shattered infrastructure.

Over 80% of Tajiks live below the poverty line.

Drought has simply compounded the problem this tiny, remote state already faced.

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The BBC's Keith Morris
Drought means that what little water there is, gets used many times over
See also:

27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tajikistan
03 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Tajikistan
10 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tajikistan's tragic tale
06 Jan 01 | Media reports
Tajikistan firm on refugees
16 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Bomb kills Tajik minister
30 Jan 01 | South Asia
Stranded in no-man's land
15 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Border guards kill 13 in Tajikistan
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