Total Population
Population Growth
Population by Age
Family Size
Ethnic Composition
Urban and Rural Population
Demographics of Poverty

Total Population

We estimate the total population of Karakalpakstan in 2006 to be approximately 1,615,000.

The State Committee on Statistics of the Republic of Uzbekistan estimated the total population to be 1,560,600 in 2004 and 1,540,100 in 2003, roughly 6% of the population of Uzbekistan. In the last official census of 1989 the population was 1,214,000.

Population Growth

As in the rest of Uzbekistan population growth has slowed markedly since the last full census in 1989. The following table shows that average annual growth of 2.9 to 3.0% dropped to about 1.7% after 1989.
Population of Karakalpakstan and Uzbekistan
Population: '000's1959c 1970c 1979c 1989c1991e1998e2003e2004e
Karakalpakstan 510702905.51,2141,289.11,469.01,540.11,560.6
Karakalpakstan %6.285.875.886.
Source: Soviet census data and Uzbekistan statistical estimates.
The annual growth rate in recent years is of the order of 1.3%. This reduction in population growth arises principally from the fall in the birth rate following a peak of about 35 births per thousand population in the 1980s, a trend that has continued over recent years:
Births and deaths per 1,000 people
Source: State Committee on Statistics of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Although the birth rate (and the death rate) in Karakalpakstan remains higher than the average for Uzbekistan, the gap continues to narrow.

The birth rate is about 10% higher than average in rural areas and about 10% lower in urban areas. Conversely the death rate is higher in urban areas and is lower in rural areas. Note however that the Uzbek definition of urban is somewhat misleading.

Population growth will remain high for the next decade or more because a high proportion of the female population will continue to be of child-bearing age.

Population by Age

For Uzbekistan as a whole Goskomprognozstat – the State Committee on Statistics and Analysis – publish annual demographic breakdowns by age. These show that about 41½% of the population is less than 16 years-old, 51% is aged between 16 and 59 and 7½% is aged 60 and over. The average age is just over 24.

The Uzbekistan Health Examination Survey 2002 published very similar figures:

Age GroupTotal % Urban %Rural %
 0-1437.135.3 38.1

with rural regions having a younger population than urban regions because they have experienced a higher birth rate in recent decades.

Because of the higher birth rate the population of Karakalpakstan is younger than that for Uzbekistan as a whole. Some estimates suggest that 45% of the population is less than 16 years old, although this seems unrealistically high. The 1989 census demonstrated that half of the population was below the age of 29, a figure that will be lower today because of the falling birth rate.

Life expectancy at birth in Karakalpakstan has risen in recent years and stood at 69.3 in 2003. It is about two years higher for women and two years lower for men. People in rural areas live about one or two years longer than those in urban areas.

Family Size

Because of the falling birth rate the average number of children per household has fallen from about 4.5 in the 1980s towards about 3 today. Consequently average household sizes are getting smaller:
Average Family Size
 Total UrbanRural
Karakalpakstan 20006.35.9 6.7
Karakalpakstan 20035.85.66.1
Uzbekistan     20035.14.35.7
Source: State Committee on Statistics of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
However these averages conceal a wide spread in household size. The Uzbekistan Health Examination Survey 2002 showed that within the rural population of Uzbekistan (where the average family size is similar to that for Karakalpakstan as a whole) 33.3% of households had 7 or more members and 12.7% had 9 or more.

Ethnic Composition

Given the complex regional distribution of ethnic groups within Karakalpakstan, it is impossible to estimate the current ethnic composition by means of a sample survey. The last accurate information available to us comes from the 1989 Soviet census and shows a roughly even split between Uzbeks, Karakalpaks, and Qazaqs with the Uzbeks just in the majority:
Ethnic Population of Karakalpakstan
Population '000's19791989% 1979% 1989
Turkmen, Russian, Other95.79810.58.1
Karakalpakstan Total905.51,214100.0100.0
Source: All-Union Population Censuses
The Russian population was estimated at 2% in 1993 but was undoubtedly higher in 1989.

Many changes have occurred since then – we estimate that 75,000 people have migrated from Karakalpakstan between 1989 and 2005, of which 55,000 were probably Qazaq and 20,000 were Karakalpak. The majority of Russians have also left. At the same time there has been some influx of Uzbeks into the southern agricultural regions of Karakalpakstan.

We have estimated the current ethnic composition by assuming that the population of each group would have increased at the same rate had it not been for the changes brought about by migration:

Karakalpakstan1989 CensusNatural GrowthMigration2005 Estimate  % Mix  
Karakalpakstan Total1,2141,656-951,561100.0

Most Uzbeks live in the south-eastern region of Karakalpakstan, close to Man'g'ıt, Biruniy, Bostan, and To'rtku'l and the border with Khorezm viloyati. The Qazaqs mainly live in the northern and north-eastern parts of the delta, to the north of Shımbay and from Moynaq in the west to Taxta Ko'pir in the east. Many Qazaqs migrated into this region in 1916 following the Qazaq uprising and later in the early 1930s due to forced collectivization. The Turkmen live close to the western border neighbouring Turkmenistan, around Xojeli and Shomanay. There are still a few Russians, Tatars, Koreans, and Armenians in No'kis city.

Urban and Rural Populations

Official government figures suggest that Karakalpakstan has the highest proportion of urban dwellers across all of the fourteen administrative districts of Uzbekistan, with the exception of Tashkent city. In 2003 some 48.7% of the population of Karakalpakstan was classified as urban and 51.3% as rural. Comparative figures for Uzbekistan as a whole are 36.5% and 63.5%.

These figures should be treated with suspicion. Such high numbers can only be achieved by classifying small rural villages as urban environments, which they are clearly not. This is illustrated by the analysis of the 1989 population census results by town and village:

Population '000's 1989 
Taxta Ko'pir15.0
Total Karakalpakstan1,214.0

which demonstrates that one has to include some very small villages indeed in order to account for 49% of the total population.

Interestingly a UDHS survey in 1994 estimated a more believable urban/rural division of 38%/62% for Karakalpakstan and Khorezm viloyati combined, suggesting an even higher rural population for Karakalpakstan alone given the far higher population density in the province of Khorezm. The Asian Development Bank estimated in 2001 that Karakalpakstan had a rural population of 1.1 out of a total of 1.5 million, equivalent to 73% of the population.

Having said this, there has been a major influx into No'kis and the other large conurbations such as Xojeli, Biruniy, and To'rtku'l over the last half century. This is partly because of the administrative and economic development of No'kis as a regional capital, and partly as a result of the Aral Sea disaster and the collapse of the local fishing industry, which closed down in 1983, as well as the subsequent desertification and soil salinization and the consequential decline in agricultural jobs and, most recently, wages:

Census Population '000's 1959  1970  1979  1989 
Karakalpakstan Total5107029041,214
No'kis Total3974109169
% No'kis7.710.512.113.9

The 1989 census showed that in the 1980s No'kis was the fastest-growing city in the whole of Uzbekistan. The population of No'kis was estimated as 212,500 in 2003, equivalent to 13.8% of the total population of Karakalpakstan, suggesting this influx may have halted in the past 15 years.

However the abandonment of the northern delta region has continued, as evidenced by the abandonment of entire awıls during the droughts of 2000 and 2001. As the livelihoods of people in the northern delta have collapsed, so they have sought refuge in the towns. As a sign of this growing influx, a shanty town grew up on the southern side of the railway tracks on the edge of No'kis during 2001, although this has now been removed. One of the more recent growth regions has been around Biruniy and To'rtku'l with their richer agricultural soils and more reliable sources of irrigation.

The Demographics of Poverty

One of the major problems in identifying income distribution and therefore poverty in Uzbekistan and its Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan is the paucity of good quality information. During the Soviet era the only source of income distribution was from the Household Budget Survey. This has been continued within Uzbekistan following independence but the published results are of variable quality, while the raw data is guarded jealously by the State Statistical Office.

Obviously the measurement of poverty depends on the definition of the poverty line. During the Soviet era apparatchiks even refused to contemplate the existence of poverty, although a 1974 decree provided an income supplement to “underprovisioned” families, defined as those with less than 50 roubles per month per person. Atkinson and Micklewright updated this definition of poverty in 1989 to those with less than 75 roubles and calculated that 44% of the population of the Uzbek SSR was poor. Milanovic defined a common poverty line for all CIS transition states and this indicated an increase in poverty in Uzbekistan from 24% of the population in 1987/88 to 63% in 1993/95. Meanwhile the first Household Income Survey of 1994/95 found that 44.5% of the population had an income below the minimum wage, a level fairly close to the poverty line.

In 1997 the Centre on Economic Research in Tashkent used HBS data to estimate poverty using a nutrition-based poverty line. This indicated that 58% of the population of Uzbekistan was poor at the end of 1996, although this dropped to 46% if food produced at home was included. Adjusting for the fact that large families consume less and gain economies of scale in food preparation and that children consume less than adults, the figure dropped to 22%. Clearly such calculations are sensitive to the assumptions made.

The UNDP Human Development Report in 1999 measured poverty on the basis of a threshold of $120 per person per month in 1990 prices on a purchasing power parity basis. This indicated that poverty in Uzbekistan increased from 24% of the population in 1987/88 to 47% in 1993/94.

Although all of the above measures differ, they do at least indicate that poverty increased significantly during the years following independence.

The only study of poverty levels in Karakalpakstan during the 1990s came from a survey of 500 households conducted in June 1995 by the European University Institute and the University of Essex. Similar surveys were conducted in Ferghana and Tashkent. Coudouel analysed this information and calculated a 60% poverty level in Karakalpakstan compared to 10% in Tashkent. He found that half of the poor came from large families with seven or more members. Poverty was not dependent on gender, age, or lack of education. Karakalpaks and Qazaqs had a higher proportion of low income families than other ethnic groups.

Another indication of poverty in Uzbekistan is provided by the ratio of the number of families who seek assistance from their local mahalla committee to the total number of families. The scheme was only introduced in 1994 and spiralled to 57% in 1997, dropping back to 38% the following year. It fell to 31% in 1999 but then increased to 36% in 2001.

Since 2000 the Uzbek State Committee on Statistics has conducted a new Family Budget Survey on an annual basis, based on 10,000 households. This survey is structured on the World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study project. The World Bank Living Standards Assessment in 2003 quoted figures based on the 2001 survey indicating that 36.5% of the population of Karakalpakstan was below the national poverty line. Some 7.7% suffered from extreme poverty. The equivalent figures for the population of Uzbekistan were 27.5% and 9.7% respectively.

The Asian Development Bank noted in 2001 that of the 1.1 million rural inhabitants of Karakalpakstan 50 to 70% were estimated to be poor (i.e. 36 to 51% of the total population) and 20% severely poor. This implies between 35 to 50% of the total population can be classified as poor.

The latest figures based on the 2003 Family Budget Survey (reported in the Uzbek government’s Interim Welfare Improvement Strategy Paper of 2005) indicate some recent reduction in poverty levels. The poverty level for Karakalpakstan and Khorezm combined dropped from 33.5% in 2001 (Karakalpakstan being 36.5% and Khorezm 30.1%) to 27.8% in 2003. This is somewhat surprising given the malnutrition crisis that resulted from the droughts of 2000 and 2001.

Of course the economists can sit at their desks and make their calculations but one only has to travel throughout Karakalpakstan to realize that poverty remains significant and widespread, with little observable change from year to year.

For Uzbekistan as a whole 17.3% of the population earn less than $1 a day, while 71.7% earn less than $2 a day. Yet in Karakalpakstan money incomes are only 58% of the national average. $25 a month is a very good wage, but many people earn only $10 or less a month and this is just not enough to live on. Without some radical economic changes, not much is going to change in the short term.


Atkinson, A. and Micklewright, J., Economic Transformation in Eastern Europe and the Distribution of Income, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992.

Asian Development Bank, Proposed Grant Assistance to the Republic of Uzbekistan for the Supporting Innovative Poverty Reduction in Karakalpakstan Project, September 2001.

Coudouel, A., Living Standards in Transition: The Case of Uzbekistan, Doctoral Thesis, Department of Economics, European University Institute, Firenze, 1998, quoted by Pomfret, 1999.

Goskomstat Rossii, Analytical reports on the all-union population census 1989, Moscow, 1992.

Hadjibaev, A. M. and Newby, H., Household Population and Housing Characteristics, Chapter 2 in the Uzbekistan Health Examination Survey 2002, Ministry of Health and State Department of Statistics, Uzbekistan, and ORC Macro, Calverton, Maryland, 2004.

Milanovic, B., Income, Inequality, and Poverty during the Transition from Planned to Market Economy, World Bank, Washington DC, 1998.

Pomfret, R., Uzbekistan: Income Distribution and Social Structure during the Transition, from “Income Distribution and Social Structure during the Transition” by Vladimir Mikhalev, UNU/WIDER Project, 1999.

UNDP, Uzbekistan: Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme, Tashkent, 2000.

UNDP, Uzbekistan: Human Development Report – Decentralization and Human Development, United Nations Development Programme, Tashkent, 2005.

World Bank, Uzbekistan Living Standards Assessment, Policies to Improve Living Standards, Report Number 25923-UZ, Volumes 1 and 2, World Bank, Washington DC, May 2003.

Uzbekistan: an economic profile, Springfield, Vermont, October 1993

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