The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Uzbekistan:
- Gender Inequality
Despite the high percentages among male and female students, there is still some gender disparity in education in Uzbekistan. Women are only a minority of students enrolled in higher education institutions, making up only 38.2 percent. In secondary education, the ratio of girls to boys has decreased from 0.39 in 2000 to 0.37 in 2011.
The proportion of women in Parliament has increased, from 9.4% in 2014 to 16% in 2017. However, this proportion has remained almost unchanged since then. Women are still underrepresented at other decision-making levels (16%–25%), and they have not yet reached the critical mass of at least 30% representation necessary for them to have an effective voice in decision-making.
In a population of just over 31 million, 13.7 percent live below the poverty line. This is down from nearly 30 percent in 2001. While Uzbekistan has experienced increased urbanization in recent years, 75 percent of those living in extreme poverty in Uzbekistan still live in rural areas. As of 2015, around 12.8 percent of individuals living in the country were below the poverty line.
“White gold,” also known as cotton, currently accounts for a whopping 60 percent of Uzbekistan’s export earnings. This resulted from the actions of the Soviet government during the 1940s. Because cotton is a highly water intensive crop, the Soviet Union built canals to divert water from the Aral Sea to Uzbekistan’s cotton fields. Now, the Aral Sea has shrunk to 15 percent of its original volume and former ports around the Aral Sea rest as ghost towns. The loss of these ports has been another cause of poverty in Uzbekistan.
- Water Scarcity
Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of people, an alarming figure that is projected to rise as temperatures do. Roughly one-fifth of the rural population of Uzbekistan lack access to clean water, and in the Zarafshan River Basin region an even larger proportion of the population live without basic services. Improving access to clean, safe drinking water in rural Uzbekistan is a critical but complex challenge. Many water supply companies in the basin have largely failed, due to ill-defined legal status, poor management, and lack of infrastructure maintenance. Most small rural villages lack capacity and resources to design and implement their own systems.
One of the most difficult challenges the country is facing is a lack of employment opportunities, and a high disparity in living standards between rural and urban areas. High unemployment and low wages have resulted in a mass labour migration to Russia and Kazakhstan, while remittances have accounted for about 10-12 percent of the nation’s GDP between 2010 and 2013. Since 2013, remittances have continuously declined and their share in GDP has been halved. High unemployment indicates the economy is operating below full capacity and is inefficient; this will lead to lower output and incomes.
- Environmental Issues
Uzbekistan’s main environmental problems are soil salinity, land pollution, and water pollution. In 1992, Uzbekistan had the world’s 27th highest level of carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 123.5 million metric tons, a per capita level of 5.75 metric tons. In 1996, the total dropped to 94.9 million metric tons.
Chemicals used in farming, such as DDT, contribute to the pollution of the soil. Desertification is a continuing concern. The shrinkage of the Aral Sea has resulted in growing concentrations of chemical pesticides and natural salts, which are then blown from the increasingly exposed lake bed and contribute to desertification and respiratory health problems.
Water pollution from industrial wastes and the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides is the cause of many human health disorders. Increasing soil salination and soil contamination, caused by buried nuclear processing and agricultural chemicals, including DDT, continue to be problems.