An independent nation since the break-up of the former Soviet Union in 1991, Uzbekistan is an arid and landlocked country. Over 60 per cent of its population lives in densely populated rural communities and 11 per cent of its territory consists of highly cultivated river valleys. The country is currently looking to decrease its dependence on agriculture and develop its potential in mineral and petroleum resources. Other pertinent concerns include terrorism by Islamic militants, the lack of human rights and a wide gap between rich and the poor.
Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous country, with an estimated 27 million inhabitants. It is the world’s second-largest cotton exporter and fifth largest producer thus it relies heavily on this interest. Uzbekistan’s second most important industry is gold and the profits earned from exports of the metal is estimated at around 20 per cent of the nation’s total earnings. Recent economic growth has been positive, but the nation’s wealth is largely held by the elite. Approximately 25 per cent of citizens live at or below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Uzbekistan’s educational system has made significant progress, achieving 97 percent literacy, with most females and males receiving an average of 9 years of schooling. However, budget constraints since 1991 have left students with texts and resources that are outdated and of poor quality and student enrolment has been falling. Other public institutions have faced the same problems since the breakup of the Soviet Union; health care resources have also declined.
As a source country for women and girls trafficked to Kazakhstan, Russia, the Middle East and Asia for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour, and men who are trafficked to Kazakhstan and Russia for forced labour, Uzbekistan is on the Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking. In 2008, Uzbekistan adopted ILO Conventions on minimum age of employment and on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour and is working with the organization to combat trafficking. The Uzbekistani cotton industry has also come under international criticism for its use of child labour. In 2006, Uzbekistan rejoined the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and has participated in the international effort to combat terrorism and the narcotics trade. It has maintained its close ties to Russia and further relations with China and others large powers.
During the Soviet era, Moscow utilized Uzbekistan’s cotton growing and natural resource potential and as a result of the extensive and inefficient irrigation the Aral Sea was reduced in volume by two-thirds, and is considered one of the world’s worst environmental disasters.