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Climate change threatens livelihoods of mountain villagers

Houses built of mud, stick and dung are vulnurable to heavy rains. Fakhrinisso Kurbonshoeva/IRIN
Global climate change is threatening mountain communities in Tajikistan. Local residents living over 2,000 metres above sea level say their crops are failing, soil degradation is on the rise and landslides threaten their lives.

In the Panjkhok village of Varzob District, 75km north of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, the winter season is getting longer and the timing of spring is becoming unpredictable. The winter in Panjhok now runs from October to April, instead of for a three-month period in the past. Deep snow blocks road access for up to five months annually.

“For the past four years we have not been able to grow wheat in our village. The cold weather begins before the wheat harvest can be collected,” Mamlakat, a local woman, told IRIN. “The growing season has shortened. Many vegetables we used to cultivate can no longer be grown in our village,” she added.

Agriculture and livestock are the main source of income for Panjhok's local population. Agriculture, which comprises 23 percent of Tajikistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is, however, highly vulnerable to climate-related shocks and disasters, including droughts, floods, mudflows and desertification.

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Lowland temperatures rise

Meteorological data from 1961 to 1990 shows that the annual temperature has decreased in the mountains of central Tajikistan and increased in the lowlands. Meteorologists predict that the mountainous Central Asian state will experience an average annual increase of 1.8-2.9 degrees Centigrade by 2050.

Increases in snowfall have been recorded in most of the foothills and low mountain areas of the country, while at higher altitudes it has decreased.

There are seven climate zones in Tajikistan, ranging from subtropical to areas with perpetual frost in mountain ranges and cool summers in valleys. The impact of climate change in different regions of Tajikistan will be different, specialists say.

Changing rainfall patterns

Changing rainfall patterns suggest rainfall will be more “occasional and intensive”, which may increase flooding. There are also implications for pastureland, which will affect livestock production, according to Tajikistan's Agency for Hydrometeorology.

“The climate of this region [Panjhok] is becoming similar to the climate of the Caucasus. It is sunny every morning. By the evening it gets cloudy and rains,” Sharofuddin Nurov, field facilitator for CARE International's Adaptation to Climate Change project, explained.

''Houses built of mud bricks are washed away by heavy rains. Houses built on slopes are also in danger.''
“The heavy rain yesterday washed out my newly planted potato field. Now I need to plant my potatoes again,” said Habiba, a Panjhok resident.

“Houses built of mud bricks are washed away by heavy rains. Houses built on slopes are also in danger,” said Bakhtiyor Khalilov, a field supervisor responsible for CARE International's Adaptation to Climate Change project.

“Frequent rains are impacting the life of the local population. Rains are also a cause of landslides and land degradation - especially now, when almost all the trees have been cut down to heat houses,” Nurov said.

Land degradation is already a serious issue in Tajikistan, with approximately 90 percent of agricultural lands subject to erosion, and widespread desertification in the central and southern regions of the country, according to Tajikistan' s Soil Research Institute.

Impact of retreating glaciers

“There used to be plenty of snow on the mountains each year till the following period of snowfall. It is May now but if you look at the mountains there is already no snow. The snow is melting quickly. Sixteen kilometres of glacier has already gone from the Hissar mountains,” said Nurov.

This will prove problematic, experts warn. Glaciers play a significant role in Tajikistan’s social and economic life: they are a primary source of clean drinking water, water for irrigation, and water for generating 80 percent of the country's electricity.

“It is predicted that by 2050 ice cover in the country will decrease by 20 percent,” said Ilhomjon Rajabov, head of climate change at the Agency for Hydrometeorology.


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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