Deaths blamed on Uzbek cotton recruitment
Large areas of Uzbek society are disrupted by the cotton harvest. Source: Eurasian Times
Radio Free Europe is arguing that patients are dying in Uzbekistan because so many hospital staff are being forced to pick cotton.
Pregnant Umida Kuliyeva, 21, was taken to hospital in the Qashqadaryo region of Uzbekistan, in one of the country’s major cotton-producing districts. Initially there were no signs there would be any trouble.
But the hospital was working on a skeleton staff because of enforced recruitment, what could be termed a modern-day form of slavery, because of the cotton harvest, RFE reported.
Citizens are essentially ordered to work in the fields as “volunteers”.
Umida’s mother, Norgul Nurmatova, said she thought it was unusual that her daughter was taken not to the maternity ward on arrival in hospital but to an ordinary room that was not equipped for childbirth. After a brief examination she was told to go home.
Then the situation deteriorated rapidly.
“Her water broke, then she began vomiting continually and bleeding started,” Umida’s mother told RFE. “I pleaded with the nurses to call a doctor from the [maternity ward], but they told me there were no doctors there.”
As Umida went into contractions, the medics present in the hospital tried to help her by encouraging her to push.
An exhausted Umida gave birth to a stillborn child and fell unconscious.
Umida’s family says until she went into the hospital, neither the baby or mother had experienced any complications. The mass mobilisation for the cotton harvest assures that Uzbekistan brings in its biggest cash crop, but it also means the emergency services go neglected.
“When we went to the hospital after the baby’s funeral, they told us: ‘Go away, we do not have anything to do with you’,” Shohruh Nurmatov says.
Every September and early October, the municipal authorities transport people out to the fields to complete days picking that begin soon after dawn and last until sunset, with “volunteers” required to bring their own food and often spend weeks in temporary camps. State enterprises and private companies are required to continue paying salaries but no other is provided.
Meanwhile, struggling football club Andijon has sent its players to help with the harvest, prompting ridicule on social media.
The team is bottom of the national league with six games to go, and photos of its squad picking sackloads of cotton prompted jokes, not praise, the Tribuna.uz sports website reported.
The Australian NGO Walk Free Foundation recently ranked Uzbekistan as the world’s second worst country, after North Korea, for state-sponsored forced labour as a proportion of the population.
RFE tried to contact Guzor district’s hospital director Normahmat Kalonov only to find he was away in the cotton fields. Kalonov said he could not comment because “from the very beginning of the cotton season I have been at the harvesting site in the fields”.
But he denied that the hospital staffing could have been low because of the forced cotton recruitment.