The United Nations is urgently appealing for more than $25 million to help some two million people in the Central Asian country of Tajikistan who are suffering from severe cold and energy shortages. The United Nations describes the crisis affecting Tajikistan as life threatening. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Tajikistan is facing the most severe winter in 25 years. And, it is having a devastating affect upon a country where 50 percent of the inhabitants live below the poverty line.

The United Nations estimates nearly one third of Tajikistan's population of seven million are suffering in different degrees from extreme cold, lack of fuel, food, clean water and ill health.

The country's hydroelectric power stations are barely producing any electricity, compounding the problems from the winter cold. This is causing a severe disruption of heating, water supplies and basic social services.

Gabriella Waaijman is the UN Humanitarian Agency's Regional Disaster Response Adviser for Central Asia. In an interview from Almaty, Khazakstan, she tells VOA that people in Tajikistan's urban areas are most affected by the energy crisis.

"In some of the main urban centers, they have less than 10 hours of electricity a day," said Waaijman. "As a result, hospitals have frequent power outages and therefore access to health care is being affected. And, most importantly, or equally important, people have difficult access to clean drinking water because in urban areas, the drinking water is being pumped to the houses and a lack of electricity, of course, is affecting this ability to pump the water to the houses."

Waaijman says mass care facilities, such as schools, orphanages, hospitals and homes for the elderly are hardest hit by the energy crisis. And, these facilities now rely heavily on generators for the most essential services.

The United Nations reports the economic and social shock resulting from the cold weather and lack of energy has worsened the food situation in rural areas.

Humanitarian agencies report at least one quarter of a million people need immediate food assistance and this number may reach one half million. The government says up to two million people may need food assistance through the end of winter.

U.N. official Waaijman says the coming of spring will be a mixed blessing. As temperatures rise, the ice will melt and this, she says will make more water available for the power generating plants.

"The bad thing though about having more water available is that the snowfall this year has been so much more than normal, more than 200 percent more than normal, that we fear that if snow starts melting, that we will see an increase in flooding and mud slides and landslides in this region," said Waaijman.

Priority needs are for food, clean water, fuel, electrical power for heat and essential health care. The appeal also includes plans to avert life-threatening situations possible this spring.

Aid agencies will reinforce systems to warn people of impending floods and landslides. They will provide critical shelter and livelihoods to communities, if these events do occur.