The pains of Tajik pensioners
by Vladimir Rozanskij

No increase for them this year. The government has allocated new resources only for orphans. One third of the population lives below the poverty line. Families are forced to live on 28 dollars a month. However, the regime spends hundreds of millions of dollars on building parks and palaces.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The government of Tajikistan has decided not to increase pensions for any category this year, except for orphaned or abandoned children. The Central Asian country continues to be one of the poorest in the world, according to World Bank figures: a third of the population (just under 10 million) lives below the poverty line. The situation is also worsening due to the exponential growth of inflation.

A survey by showed the difficulties faced by Tajik pensioners. Sixty-six-year-old Karasoč Mavlonova lives on an allowance of 300 somoni () a month, which is only enough for flour and potatoes, and has to feed six people, including children. "My husband died of cancer, and a son died in Russia where he had gone to work. I have a divorced daughter whose husband disappeared without a trace, leaving her with three children to raise. There are also my son's three children, whom I had to leave in an orphanage," she says.

No one employs pensioners on a permanent basis, so Karasoč and her daughter live on odd jobs and help from charitable organisations. They hoped for an increase in the pension, to get five to seven dollars more, because every penny counts. The orphaned grandchildren were given a pension of 13 dollars each, but it could not be allocated to the family budget due to bureaucratic issues and cannot be withdrawn.

The director of the Pension Agency of Tajikistan, Dilmurod Davlatzoda, explains that 'as of today, we have 1,763 total orphans and 62,000 partial ones, and their pensions have been increased by 25 per cent, but for this we had to block all the other categories'. Economist Nuriddin Kajumov explains that "nobody knows where to get the money to bring pensions to a minimum level of decency, there is no chapter in the state budget. The majority of elderly people live on the money their children send from the countries of labour migration, especially Russia.

Many people have not been able to go abroad for seasonal work in the last two years because of the coronavirus. Until 2019, about half a million Tajiks a year were moving to Russia. Recently, the number has not even reached 100,000, and at home we have to make do with what little we have. Housewives are accustomed to preparing the typical Tajik sauce of potatoes, onions and carrots, to which meat should be added, but this has not been seen since the start of the pandemic. Lunch depends on the money the parents manage to scrape together from time to time.

The families most at risk are those who live in the countryside, where they often move into old, uninhabited cottages to avoid the expense of the city, or perhaps into those owned by deceased relatives. The government spends hundreds of millions of dollars to build parks and palaces in Dušanbe, but the restoration of country houses is not covered by state and regional budgets.

Even the pensions of scholars and academics are not enough to live on, remaining at around 200 somoni (about 19 dollars): 'Half a packet of flour', notes Kajumov, who says that 'the gap between market prices and pensions has become unsustainable'. What is needed is a reform of the entire pension system, the beginnings of which are not even visible.