The spreading global financial crisis has raised the specter of widespread upheaval in this small but strategically important mountainous former Soviet nation straddling Afghanistan's jagged northern border.
"The crisis is the start of a catastrophe," said Saifullo Ergashev, executive director of the Human Rights Center here. Tajikistan was devastated by food and energy shortages last year due to unusually cold winter conditions, and experienced severe energy and water shortages again this winter.
A report released in February by the International Crisis Group painted a grim picture.
Tajikistan's energy infrastructure is in "near total breakdown for the second winter running," the report said, "and it is likely migrant laborer remittances, the driver of the country's economy in recent years, will fall dramatically as a result of the world economic crisis." The report described 70 percent of the countryside as living in "abject poverty" and reported that "hunger is now spreading to the cities, particularly Khojand, once one of the most prosperous and politically influential parts of the country."