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Turkmen Report: July 30, 2003

30 July 2003
Turkmen President To Get New Boeing
25 July 2003

The Turkmen authorities are planning to purchase a new Boeing airplane for President Saparmurat Niyazov, Interfax reported on 25 July, citing a presidential administration source.

According to the source, details of the deal were on the agenda of a 24 July meeting between Niyazov and Boeing commercial director Aldo Basile. "First and foremost, we associate Boeing with reliability, security, and perfect service," the source quoted the president as saying.

Niyazov also noted that over 11 years of cooperation with the U.S. company, Turkmenistan "has not had a single reason to question its choice." He and Basile also discussed the design and equipment of the Boeing 767-300 in question. The parties also agreed to sign a contract for the plane's construction within the next few days.

Turkmenistan's air fleet already has one Boeing, which will later be provided to the country's flagship carrier for international flights. During the meeting, Boeing officials also told Niyazov about the assembly of two new Boeing 717 airplanes under a contract signed this spring. (Interfax)

Gazprom, Turkmenistan To Sign Contract For Gas Project
24 July 2003

Gazprom and Turkmenistan will sign a contract for project and preinvestment work to consider various options of modernizing and creating new gas-transport capacities for supplying Turkmen natural gas to Russia and to select the best options, Interfax reported on 24 July.

According to a Gazprom release this agreement was reached during a meeting between Turkmen President Niyazov and Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller held in Ashgabat on 24 July.

Niyazov and Miller discussed progress in the fulfillment of the agreement on gas cooperation between Russia and Turkmenistan and the implementation of measures to ensure the supply of Turkmen gas to Russia. (Interfax)

Caspian Nations Make Progress On Dividing The Sea
23 July 2003

Representatives of the five nations bordering the energy-rich Caspian Sea on 23 July said they have made progress on reaching an agreement on dividing its resources, AP reported the same day. The five envoys gave no details.

The Caspian is believed to have the world's third-largest energy reserves. But the sea's legal status remains unclear after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan share the sea. All five have repeatedly failed to agree on how to divide it. Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan have signed bilateral agreements defining their parts of the sea. Iran has denounced the deals.

In 2001, Iran accused Azerbaijan of oil exploration in Iranian parts of the sea. Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have argued over several exploratory wells in the middle of the sea.

The five countries are planning their next round of talks on the matter in Turkmenistan in September. (AP)

Turkmenistan To Invest $36 Million In Farm Machinery
23 July 2003

Documents signed by President Niyazov indicate that Turkmenistan will invest around $36 million in farm machinery to boost next year's grain crop, Interfax reported on 23 July.

Turkmenistan will negotiate contracts valued at $19.7 million with Belarus to purchase 1,000 tractors from the Minsk Tractor Plant and 200 trucks from the Minsk Automobile Plant. Moreover, $15 million will be used to buy 100 Case tractors and 100 Reynolds machines in the United States. Turkish and Swiss chemicals valued at around $1.3 million will soon be supplied to Turkmenistan to treat grain prior to sowing. (Interfax)

UN Warns Of Child Survival Crisis In Former Soviet Bloc
22 July 2003

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on 22 July said that infant mortality rates in several former Soviet-bloc countries are much higher than official figures show, AP, RTR, and AFP reported the same day. Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, said a new report by her group warns of a "child survival crisis" in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

Bellamy said inaccurate and misleading statistics on child mortality rates in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are keeping government and health workers unaware of the risks of child death and the need for action. UNICEF called on the countries listed in the report to adopt World Health Organization standards of registering and reporting births. (AP, RTR, AFP)

Seleznev Calls For Simpler Naturalization Of Turkmen Russians
22 July 2003

Russian Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev has called for simpler naturalization of all Russians wishing to leave Turkmenistan and take permanent residence in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 July.

The State Duma and the Foreign Ministry must do their best for the reception of Russians from Turkmenistan, Seleznev said at a press conference on 22 July.

Amendments to make simpler the return of ethnic Russians from former Soviet republics may be submitted to the State Duma in September, Seleznev said. (ITAR-TASS)

UNICEF Report Notes Child Survival 'Crisis' In Central Asia, Caucasus
22 July 2003

By Antoine Blua

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today issued its annual Social Monitor report. This year's report paints a disturbing picture of the plight of children in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The report is based in part on face-to-face interviews conducted with women in many countries of the region -- including the five Central Asian states and the three Caucasus republics.

Elena Nikleva of RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service spoke to Carol Bellamy, UNICEF's executive director. Bellamy said the 2003 report highlights a growing divide between real-life testimonials and the official statistics on infant mortality and other child-care issues. "The figures indicate that infant mortality rates are much higher than anyone would probably think, and certainly much higher than official figures have long claimed," Bellamy said.

In Azerbaijan, for instance, the survey estimates that out of 1,000 live births, some 74 infants died within their first year. Official data puts that number at just 17.

Gerry Redmond, who worked on the UNICEF report, offers several explanations for the discrepancy. One is the failure to meet international definitions of "live births."

The World Health Organization classifies a birth as "live" if the baby shows any sign of life. But Soviet-era standards -- still in use in Azerbaijan and the five Central Asian republics -- use breathing as the sole criterion. They also preclude the classification of many premature and underweight babies as live births unless they survive seven days.

Redmond said: "This means that some babies' deaths may go officially unrecorded simply because they were never officially alive. And in particular, very premature infants, whether born alive or not, are routinely classified as stillbirths, or dead on arrival, if you like."

Moreover, Redmond added, many doctors and hospital staff prematurely classify infants as stillborn in order to reduce the number of infants who are recorded as dying in their care. This is another legacy of the Soviet era, when hospitals and medical workers could be penalized for failure to reach infant-mortality reduction targets.

Lastly, many births are simply not registered at all. Redmond said the difficulty of travel to registration centers, bureaucratic red tape, and lack of incentive all contribute to this trend. "In the Caucasus and Central Asia, the level of nonregistration of infant birth is quite high. In Tajikistan, a UNICEF survey showed that the birth of 40 percent of infants between the age of six and 11 months was not registered [in the late 1990s]. If such a high percentage of infant births are not registered, there must be a lot of deaths that are also not registered," Redmond said.

The UNICEF report indicates that infant mortality rates in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are some five times greater than in Central and Eastern Europe and the rest of the CIS. They are up to 12 times higher than in most Western industrialized nations.

The report estimates mortality rates in the eight countries in the 1990s as ranging from 36 per 1,000 live births in Armenia to 89 per 1,000 in Tajikistan.

Redmond said most infant deaths that occur in the first month are due to ill health on the part of the mother before and during pregnancy.

Jumabubu Doskeeva is the head of the pediatric department at Kyrgyzstan's Health Ministry. "The results from the first five months of this year show that the causes of death for children under one year old are firstly perinatal, secondly respiratory illnesses, and thirdly infectious diseases," Doskeeva said.

Kamal Ormantaev, head of the pediatric surgery center in Almaty, Kazakhstan, said that many women of reproductive age are affected by pregnancy-related anemia, an iron deficiency that can have profound effects on the health and development of their children. "Mothers' health [in Kazakhstan] is currently getting worse," Ormantaev said. "The majority of mothers are ill. About 70-80 percent of mothers have anemia. All that causes a decline in children's health as well."

Shamil Tajibaev, vice president of Kazakhstan's State Food Academy, agrees. He said widespread iodine deficiency also has a dramatic impact on the health of infants in the region. "As for iodine deficiency, it depends upon the region where children live. In general, about 40-50 percent of newborn children suffer from a lack of iodine in this country. This and anemia can bring on many other diseases. That is why these two diseases are the major cause of death among children," Tajibaev said.

Radioactive pollution also has dramatic consequences on the health of Kazakh infants. Jemisgul Abdumalik-Qyzy is a member of the Nevada-Semey ecological movement in northern Kazakhstan. "The consequences of the Semey nuclear test field are severe. People in the area have middle and high levels of radiation," he said. "50 percent of the children in this area are ill. The major problem is the birth of children with deformations. Children in many cases are already ill while still in their mothers' wombs."

Despite such challenges, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said many infants' deaths can be prevented. She said the important first step for governments in Central Asia and the Caucasus is to publicly acknowledge that infant mortality is high.

"Most infant deaths [worldwide] are caused by poverty, malnutrition, substandard medical care, inadequate health systems," Bellamy said. "Or the parents are just too poor to pay for the care. What we have here [in the Caucasus and Central Asia], though, is a problem that is not being recognized. So if it isn't being recognized in these countries, the kinds of change or systems that need to be in place to avoid this kind of high infant mortality are not in place."

In order to accurately evaluate infant mortality rates, the report calls for the adoption and implementation of the international standards on live births, better training for medical staff, and improved management of health care in order to diminish misreporting. Parents must also receive better incentives to promptly register the births of their children.

More generally, action must be taken to ensure that economic growth benefits all sections of society with greater investment in public services, especially education and health care. In Central Asia and the Caucasus, public spending in 2002 was just half of what it was in 1989. In Kyrgyzstan, public expenditure per capita amounted to just $10 in 2000, lower than in many sub-Saharan countries. In 2001, only two-thirds of all officially registered births in Tajikistan were attended by medical personnel, compared with 94 percent in 1989.

The report also calls for more international assistance to manage the countries' debt burdens, followed by national action to ensure debts are not reflected in further public-spending cuts. In Georgia and Tajikistan, the public expenditure on health care and education combined is less than expenditure on debt service.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh and Kyrgyz services contributed to this report.)