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Project January 19, 2022

A Storm on the Slopes to the 'Roof of the World'



Klas Lundström's reporting on life in the Pamir Mountains can be found at Inverse.

The IPCC 2021 report predicts hard times for Central Asia and its post-Soviet republics. Shifting weather and climate patterns are expected to bring about more frequent drought and erosion to the region’s already stumbling agriculture.

The Tajik population finds itself increasingly sandwiched between its economically pressured government, the ongoing horse-trading with regional superpowers China and Russia, and the selling of natural resources and ecologically delicate areas that the trade entails.

Tajikistan won its independence in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, and shortly after it lived through a bloody civil war lasting five years. The Tajik sky is ever-present—more than 90 percent of Tajikistan is covered by mountains and inhabited by people who are historically dependent on aquifers, which are connected to water sources at risk of depletion.

Today, water security is scarce—especially in the country’s mountainous eastern corner—and many Tajiks are forced to collect water from salt-stained wells or polluted rivers. Corruption is one factor to blame, groundwater stress another, and melting glaciers the most visible and acute.

Sanitary diseases such as typhoid and cholera continue to haunt a large portion of the Tajik population, and there are recurring afflictions in the capital, Dushanbe, thus opening the door for new ideas and horizons for those who set out to create new lives for themselves on the Eurasian Steppe, on the slopes of the Pamir Mountains.

Here, agriculture and cattle herding long remained in control of “collectivization” during the Soviet era—but today, more Tajiks try to capture their cultural and social heritage by returning to a self-sufficient and nomad-like lifestyle for the sake of future generations.

Here, though, on the slopes of the Pamir Mountains, living conditions change swiftly. This is due not only to climate changes, but also to Tajikistan’s status as a geopolitical hotspot where Afghani refugees seek shelter and refuge from the Taliban power-seizure in Kabul. At the current global pace of carbon emissions, the “Roof of the World”—a region stretching from the Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet to the Pamirs in Central Asia via the Hindu Kush in India—is turning into a river of Biblical thaw.

For Tajikistan as a nation and its people’s sentiment of placement, belonging and identity, the future remains a vague horizon, outlined by circumstances and actors situated on the other side of the peaks of Pamir Mountains, beyond the roof of the world.


yellow halftone illustration of an elephant


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change