The Republic of Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, after being part of the former Soviet Union since 1924, and it has begun its transition to a market economy. Uzbekistan is a presidential republic, and conducts presidential and parliamentary elections on a regular basis. The president of Uzbekistan is Islam Karimov.
Uzbekistan is a resource-rich, doubly-landlocked country, strategically located in the heart of Central Asia. Its population of about 31 million (as recorded in the beginning of 2015), approximately half of which lives in urban areas. Uzbekistan’s population accounts for approximately 46 per cent of Central Asia‘s population of 66 mln people. In 2011 the World Bank re-classified Uzbekistan from a low-income to a lower middle-income nation.
Since the early 90s, Uzbekistan has pursued a cautious and gradual approach to economic reforms. The national trade regime is rigid, with extensive tariff and non-tariff barriers in place. Main economic policies have included active state interventions designed to achieve self-sufficiency in cereal and energy resources, import substitution, and the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves.
The disappearance of the Aral Sea, an environmental disaster, has resulted in negative economic, environmental and human impacts in the north-west of the country.
As of 2013, about 16 per cent of people in Uzbekistan lived below the national poverty line, 75 per cent of whom live in rural areas. 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 2014.
Governance remains an area where further reforms are needed to improve participatory decision-making, transparency, and the openness of government bodies. Other pressing issues include the need to improve public awareness of and adherence to human rights principles, ensure access to justice for vulnerable groups, and promote gender equality.
Uzbekistan faces a number of environmental challenges compounded by the country’s geography and climate, by its rapidly-increasing population, and by its economic activities including those that have damaged the nation’s fragile ecosystems. Access to drinking water is a pressing issue, while the Aral Sea disaster has had a negative impact on regional economics, the environment, and the health and livelihoods of local populations.
In the last decade, Uzbekistan has achieved significant progress in reducing low income rates and tackling malnutrition. Official statistics indicate that the national poverty rate has decreased from 27.5 per cent in 2001 to 14.1 per cent in 2013. Social cohesion has been maintained through more equitable income distribution, the creation of employment opportunities with a specific focus on rural areas, and attention given to vulnerable populations.
Gender equality in primary and secondary education has been maintained, and the percentage of female students in higher education establishments increased from 25 per cent in 1998 to 38 per cent in 2014. The number of women in the Parliament of Uzbekistan has increased from 6 per cent in 1994 to 16 per cent in 2015.
Uzbekistan’s maternal mortality rate has gradually decreased from 33.1 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 20 in 2013. This achievement has been the result of a reduced fertility rate, fewer unwanted pregnancies and abortion cases, and longer time periods between pregnancies. Rates of iron, folic acid, iodine and vitamin A deficiencies have been identified and addressed by the Government, and work is underway with international partners to develop effective health care programs.
Uzbekistan is committed to halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria by 2015. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uzbekistan is still in its early stages, with a relatively low rate of infection. After rapid increase in 2000-2009, number of people newly diagnosed with HIV, has stabilized at the level of 4,000 people. As for tuberculosis, the peak level of TB morbidity and mortality occurred in 2002, and since then, the situation has improved: in 2002-2013 the incidence of tuberculosis decreased from 79.1 (per 100,000 population) to 50.8 (per 100,000 population); mortality decreased from 12.3 to 3.9 (per 100,000 population) accordingly.
The Government has also recognised the need to improve environmental management, and to develop and adopt a number of strategies on environmental protection, natural resource use, biodiversity, agriculture, renewable energy and the prevention of desertification.