Uzbekistan Starving Southern Tajikistan -- UN
Remember that bridge that was mysteriously incapacitated in southern Uzbekistan a month ago? That’s right, the one many suspect the Uzbeks purposely disabled to prevent train traffic from reaching Tajikistan, but was perfectly placed to ensure that Uzbekistan’s lucrative business of supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan could continue unimpeded (and without competition).
Uzbekistan’s blockade poses the risk of a humanitarian crisis in southern Tajikistan, says the head of the United Nations World Food Program mission there, Alzira Ferreira. In addition to hindering run-of-the-mill shipments, the obstruction is even preventing international food aid from reaching the country’s most needy, she told RFE/RL:
Ferreira said there are 23 trains with food stocks organized by the WFP waiting to make the last part of their journey into Tajikistan.
The WFP regularly provides aid to some 500,000 people and 2,000 schools located mainly in Tajikistan's southern Khatlon region.
Ferreira said food prices in Tajikistan are rising due to the shortages caused by the blockade of rail traffic and an increasing number of Tajiks are unable to afford basic goods.
Since the November 17 blast, Uzbekistan hasn’t (read: won’t) explain why the bridge hasn’t been fixed, despite repeated pleas from Dushanbe and offers of help. Prices for food in Tajikistan were already on the rise before the apparent sabotage. The latest food crisis adds another reason to be concerned about one of the former Soviet Union’s weakest countries.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are no friendly neighbors. The latest irritant for Tashkent has been Dushanbe’s plan to build the giant Rogun hydropower plant, which, downstream Tashkent argues, would deprive it of irrigation water for its thirsty, wasteful cotton crop. This is not the first time the Uzbeks have blockaded supplies to Tajikistan: In 2010, Tashkent delayed thousands of rail carriages on mysterious “technical and logistical” grounds. And Tajikistan is stuck: All of its rail traffic must pass through Uzbekistan, which winds around half the country like a strangler’s glove.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.