02/16/2011, 00.00
CENTRAL ASIA
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Schools, roads, hospitals and power plants disappearing in Central Asia

A report by the International Crisis Group says that Soviet-era infrastructures are still the backbone of the region. However, they are deteriorating and not been replaced. Without radical action, poverty and social disorder are the likeliest future of the region.

Bishkek (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The infrastructure of the nations of Central Asia is steadily disappearing. Without a major injection of money, these countries will no longer have roads, power plants, hospitals, and schools and the trained engineers and teachers needed to keep them running, this according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICS).

According to the study, the infrastructures in all the countries in the region date back to the Soviet era, and many of them are unable to replace them, especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

"In five-ten years there will be no teachers in the school, doctors in the hospitals while the absence of electricity will become the norm", said Paul Quinn-Judge, the director of the crisis group project for Central Asia.

“Power cuts in Tajikistan each winter—twelve hours a day in the countryside, if not more—are already a tradition. Power failures in Kyrgyzstan are becoming increasingly common,” the report said.

In the countries, the new generation of engineers, doctors and teachers are not likely up to par with its predecessor. Moreover, both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan suffer from political instability, which is leading to an authoritarian state in the first and a weak state in the latter following spring protests that led to domestic political realignments.

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are heading in the same direction. Exactly how far they have gone is hard to say as reliable data either does not exist or is secret. In Turkmenistan, the state appears to be concerned only about the capital Ashgabat.

Even Kazakhstan, the region’s only functioning state, will be severely tested by infrastructure deficiencies, particularly in transportation and training of technical cadres, this in a country that is raking in riches from the sale of oil, uranium and other resources.

For the ICS, the current predicament has many causes. As part of the Soviet Union, the five countries tended to be neglected even though they were part of a single system and had to work together.

The lack of local energy sources and hydroelectric plants in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan did not matter as long as their neighbours supplied them with what they needed. Economic self-sufficiency was unnecessary since Moscow provided a social safety net.

With the USSR gone, leaders in the new states, even those rich in energy and natural resources, sought to consolidate their personal power rather than implement the needed reforms in key sectors like education, infrastructure, health care and welfare.

Rising poverty and lack of social services played a significant role in the unrest that led to the overthrow of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in April 2010. For the ICS, it could well play a similar role in other countries, most notably Tajikistan, in the not too distant future.

For the ICS, international donors are not free from blame because they tend to provide aid without demanding real change.

If something is not done, the outcome could be dire. “The rapid deterioration of infrastructure will deepen poverty and alienation from the state,” the report said. “The disappearance of basic services will provide Islamic radicals, already a serious force in many Central Asian states, with further ammunition against regional leaders and openings to establish influential support networks.”

Ultimately, “the poorest states will become ever more dependent on the export of labour.”

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