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Tajikistan: Below the Poverty Threshold

According to official data, 29,5% of Tajikistan citizens live below the poverty threshold. However, according to the experts’ estimates, this index is at least two times higher in reality.

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Vahdat city resident Muhabbat Hasanova raises five children alone. The street cleaner’s salary of 600 somoni ($63.28) is catastrophically not enough for the family of six. The relatives helps her; she also receives 400 somoni ($42.18) in state welfare assistance. This amount is provided in four installments, each quarter, she received 100 somoni ($10.55).

“The total monthly expenses amount to approximately 1000 somoni ($105.46). Now, just a single bag of flour costs 200 somoni ($21.09). The yearly state assistance can cover only one bag of flour, 5 liters of oil and three kilograms of sugar, pasta, potatoes, onions and carrots. This is a food reserve enough for a month at best. It seems that for 11 other months we are expected to avoid buying food and clothes,” – Hasanova said.

Abduvali Kulov. Photo: RFE/RL

According to the data provided by Abduvali Kulov, Head of the Department of Demographical Statistics, Occupation of Population and Social Statistics of the Agency on Statistics of Tajikistan, the poverty has reduced more than two times in the last 20 years.

“For the first time ever, the World Bank together with the Agency on Statistics identified the poverty rate in Tajikistan in 1999, it was 83%. Now, it is reduced to 29.5%,” – stated Kulov.

However, the accuracy of the official data is doubted even at the level of the state bodies. Last June, during the session, the speaker of the lower chamber of Parliament Shukurjon Zuhurov questioned the indicator of the poverty rate reduction in the country from 73% in 2003 to 31% in 2015:

“Where is this data from and how was it gathered?” – Zuhurov wondered.

Own Calculations

According to the World Bank’s methodology, the poverty threshold is established at the level of a person’s income of less than 16.6 somoni ($1.9) a day or 498 somoni ($57) a month.

On the 2018 report of the UN World Food Programme, almost half of the country’s population live in poverty:

“Tajikistan is the poorest state of CIS with 47% of its population living on less than 1.33 dollar a day and 17% less than 0.85 dollar,” – the report indicates.

Nevertheless, since 2008, according to the governmental decree No. 379, it is only the families with each member having less than 50% of minimum wage of 400 somoni ($42.18) that are considered poor.

Poverty rate in Tajikistan. Source: Agency on Statistics under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan

According to the Head of the Department of Social Protection of Population of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of Population Kudratullo Kurbanov, in this very case, the family can be eligible for receiving allowance and benefits from the state.

“In their claim, the citizens have to indicate and calculate all their income: salary, pension, scholarships. If the total amount of income divided by each member of the family is more than 250 somoni, the family will be considered low-income family. Now, 77 thousand low-income families receive benefits of electricity. During the summertime, they have 200 kW⋅h, and in winter – 200-250 kW⋅h,” – Kurbanov explained.

There also is another method of establishing the poverty rate in Tajikistan. In 2014, the government adopted decree No. 437, which allowed for the grading system for evaluation of citizen’s well-being. For this, one has to address jamoat (local government body) in their place of residence, obtain form and fill it with data on the owned property: real estate, TVs, refrigerators, cars, livestock, etc.

Then, in 10 days, the appointed secretary of jamoat provides the received application to the department of social protection. There, the data is digitalized, the dataset featuring 101 entries with family’s property is filled. A certain score is given for each entry. The family with the score of 222 is considered low-income. In this case, the account for the family is created in the branches of Amonatbonk bank

 “The appointed secretary should verify one out of ten applications. If the fraud is detected, the applicant has no right to apply for the welfare assistance throughout the next year”, – Kurbanov noted.

Under this very system, Muhabbat Hasanova and 85 thousand families receive annual assistance of 400 somoni ($42.18). This amount is calculated on the basis that provided welfare 250 kW⋅h costs 180 somoni; the state adds 220 somoni to this amount.

(In)Valid Data

The officials say that grading system for establishing poverty rate is free and prevents corruption. However, the population does not believe the system is just.

Jamila, resident of Rudaki district, said several of her neighbors receive welfare assistance despite being well off:

 “Several of my neighbor’s sons work in Russia, and the family receives remittances each month. Moreover, they also receive welfare assistance. I know other similar families. This is why I do not believe that without ‘knowing the right people’ one can secure to receive assistance,” – Jamila said.

Furthermore, according to some of the applicants, the required documents’ cost sometimes exceeds the amount of assistance.

Therefore, the experts doubt the validity of data on poverty rate in Tajikistan. The economics expert Zulfikor Ismoiliyon said that by lowering the indicators, Tajikistan wants to demonstrate it does not need help.

Zulfikor Ismoiliyon. Photo: RFE/RL

“According to my analysis, the poverty rate in Tajikistan is 62%. The government says life quality improved and the salaries grew. Nevertheless, even if the salaries increased, the prices for goods increased as well, while somoni exchange rate decreased. Even if Tajik citizens earn around 500 – 100 somoni ($52.97–105.94), they still are below the poverty threshold”, – Ismoiliyon stressed.

Last year, the World Bank recommended Tajikistan to limit the birth rate. As maintained by the organization, the rapid demographic growth is the main reason for poverty, unemployment and labor migration.

Ismoiliyon thinks the unemployment should be dealth with in a first place, which, consequently, will help to reduce poverty. In his opinion, the priority should be given to job creation to give the people the opportunity to earn enough money.

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