Abstract

At the outset of their transition to a market economy, the social and economic indicators in the Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union—Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—generally fell short of the standards of the region as a whole. Notably, per capita incomes ranged from just over 50 percent (Tajikistan) to about 90 percent (Kazakhstan) of the Soviet Union average, while social indicators, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, health facilities, and housing conditions, were considerably worse in most cases. All five Central Asian states—landlocked and distant from world markets—depended heavily on an intricate Soviet system of trade routes and energy pipelines for essential input supplies and exports. Rich agricultural, mineral, and fuel resources of the region, though, made it a potentially attractive outlet for foreign investors. Following a long period of isolation and catering to the needs of the Soviet Union, these countries faced the tough challenge of how to exploit more effectively their natural resources to improve living standards, while simultaneously introducing the systemic changes needed to achieve a market framework and to integrate their economies with the rest of the world.