Welfare in transition: trends in poverty and well-being in Central Asia

Welfare in transition: trends in poverty and well-being in Central Asia

Examines the impact of the transition from a planned to a market economy on living standards and welfare in the five Republics of former Soviet Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, along with the Republic of Azerbaijan. A broad definition of welfare is taken and the indicators of well-being discussed are not limited to standard economic measures of poverty based on incomes or expenditures, but also include trends in selected capability-based indicators – reflecting the health and education of the population and the extent to which the social sectors are faring under increasing marketisation; demographic-based measures – reflecting individual and household expectations and perceptions about the future; and socio-environmental indicators – reflecting the social environment within which people live. The picture that emerges is of a regional population facing severe economic, physical and psycho-social stress. Over half the population is now living in poverty. Real wages have fallen, joblessness has increased, school enrolment has dropped and general health has deteriorated. In addition to exacerbating the disadvantage of the ‘old poor’ – pensioners, families with large numbers of children and single parent families – the economic dislocation of transition has also given rise to new groups of poor, including the families of workers ‘on leave without pay’, the long-term unemployed, agricultural workers, young people in search of their first job, and a growing number of refugees, both economic refugees and persons displaced as a result of civil conflict. However, despite this gloomy picture, households are also proving to be remarkably resilient to the dramatic drop in living standards most have experienced. Poor households throughout the CARs are surviving through a variety of coping mechanisms including the sale of assets, increased home production of food, expanding informal sector activities, borrowing from relatives or friends and, particularly in the case of Tajikistan, humanitarian aid. Many of these strategies are not sustainable in the longer term. A strategy for alleviating poverty and encouraging regeneration therefore needs to be put in place. Such a strategy should be three-pronged and should: increase employment opportunities; improve the social safety net; and protect the region’s human capital. [author]

  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.