1. Area: Murghab district (rayon), has a population of 15988 (respectively 12500), who inhabit an area of 38,000 km2. Population density is very low at one person per 2,5 km2. The most important ethnic groups are Kyrgyz (84%), and Tajiks (17%) (compared to 95% and 5% respectively in 1999). Murghab town is the economic and administrative centre of the region. Murghab rayon is subdivided into six Jemoats with a total of eleven settlements. There are two remaining state farms in Alichur and Besh-Gumbez.

2. Location: Murghab district has a common border with Afghanistan, China and Kyrgyzstan. The district is at the interface of Turk, Persian and Chinese cultures. The area has always been of strategic and international geopolitical importance (borders, mineral resources). Russia and Tajikistan have maintained a border control treaty following the collapse of the SU (the Russian Army's presence and influence has prevailed in the District since 1891).
The region is geographically isolated from the economic centres of Tajikistan and neighbouring markets (Osh 420km, Khorog 310km, Dushanbe 960km). The dependence on one transecting road (Osh-Khorog) may be reduced soon, since a Kulma Pass road to China promises to open new perspectives for trade. (announced opening: May 2004)

3. Altitude and Climate: The area is extremely mountainous and rooted on a high plateau of more than 3,000 masl covering 95% of the territory. Thus the area of cultivable land is extremely low on the slopes of the surrounding peaks. Murghab District and the entire Tajik Pamir, are part of the high-mountain semi-arid systems of Central Asia. The average annual precipitation ranges between 50 and 150 mm. Maximum temperatures of 25 °C occur during summer and minimum temperatures of -30°C to -40°C are registered in winter. Northeasterly winds prevail and can be extremely cold, dry and salty.
Living conditions are extreme: very cold winters, high altitude, scarcity of natural resources, further reduction of pasture land through changing of valley floors into salonchak (white salt deposits which in larger quantities are toxic for grazing animals).

4. Economic situation: The region was highly subsidized by the Soviets, and this dependence partly persists today, in the form of staple food. Humanitarian assistance has been considerably reduced but is still provided by organizations such as: AKDN/AKF, UN WFP or Red Crescent.
The region's economy is dangerously based on the single sector of Livestock with little if no means at all for local value-adding transformation due to lack of energy and nearby market outlets (export to Osh is only authorised for live meat).
The orderly fashion of collective production, a guaranteed market and organized supply of inputs has been replaced by new informal organisations and 'liberal' trade. In 1999/2000, the five Kolkhoze were privatised through reallocation of stock among the population and the village organisations, and sale of the fixed assets).
The absence of crops and farming activities is a factor of food insecurity and conducive to poor terms of trade between herders and traders of the lowlands. Sudden unemployment and insecurity induced the massive exports of livestock between 1998 and 2000 that dangerously depleted the herds down to figures close to non-recovery. The yak population now seems to have stabilized at roughly 13500 heads from a number totalling 17000 in 1989 (Sarbagishev et al, in Animal genetic resources of the USSR, FAO Animal Production and Health Paper N°65).
The recent thinning down of the Russian garrison, which is part of their historical and progressive withdrawal from the Pamir, has left many families unemployed and with little choice other than migrating to Kyrgyzstan.

Trade: Cross-border administrative harassment and corruption are continuing to impede trade therein also worsening the already imbalanced trading terms. Restrictions on trade are imposed by local government on what it believes "unnecessary massive sales" in an ad hoc manner and with unsatisfactory explanations and unverified reasons of epizootic.

Migration: The weak economy and the civil war raging in the Tajik republic between 1993 and 1997 were conducive to a flurry of parallel economy activities until 2000 and an exodus towards Kyrgyzstan. Both trends have been considerably slowed down by the reinforcement of the anti-narcotic brigades for the first and less welcoming policy in Kyrgyzstan for the other: some families who migrated in the early 90's have tried to move back to the area since citizenship, land ownership and employment issues are locked in social unrest of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. The Migration Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kyrgyzstan has recently voiced concern about influx of populations (the main bulk of which seem to be coming from the Garm Valley, where some 70000 ethnic Kyrgyz live) and the increasing pressure on land tenure and water resources
The approaching end of humanitarian aid, the further devastation of once existing infrastructure and other unresolved problems are likely to rekindle the migration process. Simultaneously, there seems to be an in-migration from the overcrowded valleys of southwest GBAO.

7. Nomadism: The cultural and social importance of yak in the life of local herdsmen seems to be returning to its pre-soviet degree. Yaks are increasingly conceived as capital where savings are stashed thereby asserting the family's social status. Parallel to this, there is a trend to increase the ovine part of the herd, which provides faster turnover and can be converted more easily into cash. This is also a reactive stance to the unfavourable terms of trade. The herding techniques and pasture management have consequently been readapted to an economy of subsistence now based on semi-nomadic herding.


1. Isolation and marginalisation. Distance to major cities is 300 km (Khorog) or more (Osh, Dushanbe); Access through Tajikistan is limited throughout the winter months, even though the road via Kulyab along the Panj (Amu Darja) river is being upgraded into an all-weather road. The only reliable road in winter is the Pamir Highway starting in Osh and crossing three major passes, of which the highest is at 4650 m (Ak Beital). Goods are sensitively more expensive in Murghab, if available at all.
Telecommunication and Television have greatly suffered from the end of the SU and the leaving of the Russian army. News reaches the region late and often distorted.
A lot of hope is placed on the probable opening of the Chinese border in May 2004. Yet expectations are not all optimistic, given the Rayon itself and Tajikistan as a whole have little to barter for the expected flood of Chinese goods.

2. De-capitalisation and the constraints ensuing from a single-sector economy based on livestock raising. Competition, market access and the liability to natural calamities make the economical basis extremely fragile. Purchasing power in Murghab is low, capital is usually stocked in livestock. Urgent financial needs (e.g. for medical treatment, schooling etc) are covered by selling of livestock, thus impeding the growth of herds. Diversification of economic activities, exploitation of growth potentials both within and without the livestock sector is therefore one of the projects focuses.

3. Ongoing restructuring of the social tissue. The process ranges from the pauperization of Murghab town due to loss of employment after the departure of the Russian army, the growing unemployment amongst the youth, the banning of women into the private sphere after having enjoyed the relative emancipation in Soviet times (a hypothesis still to be proved by gender research!) and the migration of parts of the population into regions more attractive to live in. This can result in social tensions along fault lines, of which the ethnic/language fault is one option.

4. More than a third of the district's population is amassed in the drab and run down town of Murghab. This part of the population has very little livestock and has become even more vulnerable. Murghab suffers also from the economic and social difficulties of all towns in Central Asia. This requires support for gender balanced income generating activities, actions towards bridging of the two communities and reinforcement of local collective management mechanisms.

5. Food security: It is a major problem for the district and is directly related to its isolation, single-sector economy and climatic conditions. Little choices are left to the inhabitants. However, kitchen gardening could also contribute substantially to the level of food security especially for the ethnic Pamiri who do not own livestock and are in most cases unemployed.

6. The recently accrued anthropological pressures on the fragile ecosystem. The biodiversity of the region is increasingly under threat, both the vegetative resources as well as the fauna. Although there is an obvious need to convert heating modes and housing construction (insulation), local deposits of hard coal can make a valuable contribution to prevent depletion of the scarce vegetal cover (manmade desertification). Most importantly, there is big scope for using alternative energy resources and energy saving. Poaching, especially by border guards and other officials armed with automatic weapons threatens all large mammals.