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Famine Tajikistan*

Red Cross Fears Tajikistan Famine

By Jonathan Fowler

Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, August 21, 2001; 10:44 AM

GENEVA –– Successive crop failures have left 1 million people in Tajikistan in need of urgent food aid, the International Red Cross said Tuesday.

"We have seen children digging among rat holes in wheat fields, searching for grain hoarded by the rodents for the winter," said Roger Bracke, a Red Cross official who recently headed a mission to Tajikistan.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that the crisis was caused by a shortfall of grain, caused by two years of drought and worsened by a dilapidated irrigation system.

According to the federation, an acute food shortage last year had already forced some people in this poorest of former Soviet republics to sell whatever they could to buy food – including the doors, windows and roofs of their houses.

The federation appealed for $4 million to provide people with food to see them through the winter, as well as winter shoes and clothing for 65,000 schoolchildren.

"Last year, we appealed for help for Tajikistan. But the response by international donors was grossly inadequate, and people suffered," said Dr. Djura Inomzoda, president of the Tajikistan Red Crescent. "Today people are living with their backs to the wall. We can stop this suffering. And we must."

The federation has appealed for an additional $602,000 to help neighboring Uzbekistan, which is also hit by a drought and food crisis.

The food shortages in both countries have compounded already high levels of anemia and chronic malnutrition, especially among children, said the federation. The drought has also forced people to use contaminated water sources.

After almost 10 years of independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan has survived a five-year civil war. Its economy is in ruins.

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