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Environmental Issues in Kyrgyzstan

On the Kyrgyzstan national development plan, the environment takes a new face as the overall goal of the country is to protect environment favourable for living in a context of economic growth.

According to the Environmental Performance Index of 2012, the country is said to take on the position of 101 which makes them to be ahead of all Central Asia Countries.

It was objectively observed that the low environmental performance index showed a high level of natural resources degradation which witnesses lower efficiency of government and local government bodies activities due to the rational use of natural resources[1].

The country strategy paper explains that the State Agency for Environment and Forestry (SAEF) currently have no appropriate power.  They develop environmental policies and also provide services at the same time while its environmental supervision and control functions are weakened and even, the SAEF are faced with the lack of specialist and shortage of permanent staffs who lacks knowledge and experience to run the agencies efficiently.

Furthermore, the country national budget gives only a small attention to environmental spending and the sector is faced with the shortage of funds as the implementation of environmental activities is supported by special funds and projects from international organisations.

According to country report, the primary environmental protection agency is the state committee on environment protection that is still known by the soviet era acronym “Goskompriroda”. The state committee was established in 1988, and the agencies post-soviet responsibilities have been described in decrees beginning in 1991. The state committee had a central office in Bishkek with one office in each province with 150 staffs in total[2].

Reported Environmental Hazards in Kyrgyzstan

Al Jazeera in its famous report of 2014 on the country’s primary source of revenue, Kumtor gold mine, reported that the owner of the gold mine faces allegations on corruption and environmental concerns.

The Kumtor gold mine is run by a Canadian firm Canterra Gold as a joint venture with the government. The owners are accused of discrepancies in the major share of profits and ignoring of environmental regulations – threatening a glacier that acts as the crucial source of water for the country[3].

Kumtor which was reported to be the only open pit gold mine in the world operating on an active glacier and the rock waste removed from the pit was – until recently – dumped on the Davydov glacier which is a strategic freshwater reserve for the country and a neighbouring country – Uzbekistan.

With so many controversies surrounding the mine, from damages to accidents and threats it poses for the water resources of the country. The report by Earth Works Action said that the accidents on the mine caused financial damages ranging from $20m to $42m which only $4.5m was paid to the government by the mine[4].

Amidst the tension of the mine accidents, Al Jazeera reported that public sentiments against Centerra boiled over September 2013 were protesters in the Issyk Kul region, where Kumtor is located, took the governor hostage and threatened to burn him alive in a car.

The crisis led the spokeswoman for Kyrgyzstan’s state geology and mineral resources agency to comments, “we have to answer the question: Is the economy a priority, or should we protect the environment”.

What has the Government Done to Mitigate Environmental Disasters?

Not so much, the environmental disaster and government nonchalance to the environment has led to more damages than good, and this has led to the extinction of 11 plant and animal species with multitudes endangered.

But in all of this staggering challenges, the national development plan has some priority areas and policies measures that will help to tackle the problems as they are aware of them. The priority areas are as below;

  1. Reform of the national environment and nature management systems.
  2. Reduction of harmful impact and minimisation of negative environmental effects of the economic activities.
  3. Preservation of biodiversity and revival of natural ecosystems in the changing climate context.
  4. Low carbon development principles promotion.

All of these comes with multitudes of objectives, but to this moment, there is no visible environmental policy change in the country. In a state where corruption is the bone of contention, one cannot but see more disheartening events happening on the Kumtor mine which poses an environmental challenge – but because of looking right, the government cannot take an active action on stopping the Goldmine companies for now.

But some opposition politicians and their supporters have continued to call for the nationalisation of Kumtor[5], prompting President Albazbek Atambayev to warn that the move would destroy the country’s investment climate as the country depends on foreign capital for industrialisation[6].

And Canterra also threatened to take the case to the international court of arbitration if the government should give in to the opposition demands for nationalisation of the mine.

“For the future, we see Centerra continuing to manage and operate the Kumtor mine…to the end of the mine life [2026],” Pearson told Al Jazeera.

 

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2016/12/31/The-Kyrgyz-Republic-Poverty-Reduction-Strategy-Paper-41841

[2] http://countrystudies.us/kyrgyzstan/8.htm

[3] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/06/environmental-cost-kyrgyzstans-gold-mine-201461616400788735.html

[4] https://www.earthworksaction.org/voices/detail/lake_issyk_kul#.Wdz0UxNSzzK

[5] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2013/06/20136102814129580.html

[6] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/06/environmental-cost-kyrgyzstans-gold-mine-201461616400788735.html

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