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The US Congress on Wednesday gave its final approval to US $28.9 billion in emergency spending for the war against terrorism. A fraction of the package, which amounts to US $110 million in aid will go to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The three have allowed the United States to use their air bases in the war in Afghanistan.

An agreement has also recently been reached with the government of Kazakhstan, whereby US planes can use the airport at Alamty, the commercial capital, to refuel or in emergencies.

Since 11 September the region has been in the international spotlight, winning new grants, aid and loans from a variety of sources. This attention has also brought calls for the governments of the Central Asian states to improve human rights records and encourage political freedom.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has stepped up its development loan activity in the region, approved a US $1.2 million fund for implementation of a project aimed at preventing illnesses caused by a shortage of iodine and ferriferous substances among the population of Uzbekistan.

According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 2.5 billion people - almost half of the world's population - suffer from illnesses caused by anemia. The ADB loan will help local efforts to produce iodised salt and help prevent related diseases.

This week the Uzbek Ministry of Health has also sent a medical train to the Aral Sea region, where local health facilities are inadequate. The train, besides carrying medicine and relief goods, has medical teams on board, including surgeons, therapists, obstetrician-gynaecologists and other medical personnel.

According to health officials, the train is an annual feature and is aimed at providing crucial medical help to the inhabitants of the region. Patients who need advanced help are brought back to the capital, Tashkent.

Uzbekistan also saw this week the establishment of a Fund of Revival of Afghanistan. This non-governmental organisation (NGO) united Afghan and Arab businessmen, whose activities are focused on Central Asia.

According to media reports, the businessmen agreed to invest part of their profits in Afghanistan. The fund plans to engage in civil construction in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif.

Meanwhile economic and financial woes continue to haunt the residents of Central Asia, where millions of people migrate seasonally to look for jobs in other countries.

According to local newspaper reports, the number of Tajik seasonal workers in Russia exceeds one million. The newspaper 'Charh-i Gardun' said the number of people leaving Tajikistan for work was increasing every year with the prospects that their numbers could rise up to 1.5 million this year alone.

The presence of such a large number of job seekers from the Central Asian countries in Russian cities often causes local resentment.

In Kazakhstan, Heinrich Haupt, the outgoing envoy of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), criticised the government over a new law governing political parties. He said that the opposition, which is the main element of democracy, would have difficulties in meeting the requirement that every party should have 50,000 supporters in order to register. The law increasing the minimum number of party members to 50,000 from 3,000, was adopted recently.

Haupt acknowledged though that Kazakhstan was on the front line in terms of conducting domestic economic, environmental and financial reform and had introduced efficient private structures in the state economy that it had inherited from the Soviet Union.

But he said the country needed further reforms, pointing out that wealth from oil and gas sales was not trickling down to the population, most of whom have a low standard of living.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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