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Almaty to Breathe More Easily

By News Briefing Central Asia
The state of the environment in Kazakstan’s largest city Almaty has always been cause for concern. As the authorities prepare to tackle the problem of air pollution, ecological experts recommend changing urban planning rules and reducing harmful emissions from vehicles.

Addressing a forum on the issue on January 21, Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov said Almaty’s deteriorating environment made it the worst place in the country for a range of respiratory, endocrinal and circulatory complaints.

The city’s ecological problems must be addressed at national level, the mayor stressed.

Ecology experts agree that it will be virtually impossible to solve Almaty’s problems unless central government allocates funds. For example, the urban redesign that is central to making the air cleaner will cost a lot of money.

“To improve wind protection, houses should be laid out perpendicular to the mountains, not parallel to them, but this will take huge funds to do. It would involve widening and re-planning streets,” said Sergei Litvinov of the Tabigat ecological group.

It is estimated that the city has about half a million cars which pump out 265,000 tons of toxic substances every year. In addition, industrial plants and private homes emit large amounts of pollutants.

Such pollution levels present a great danger to a city located in a valley surrounded by mountains, where there is little wind movement to clear the air.

Professor Amangeldy Iskakov, an expert on ecological matters, says the starting point for more effective environmental protection is to create an accurate database on the state of the atmosphere and monitor it constantly.

“The city needs to… keep tabs on all enterprises that emit waste into the air. If we do that, we will be able to manage the process,” said Iskakov.

Environmentalists also want to see restrictions on driving cars in parts of the city, and more stringent requirements that will encourage people to choose cleaner engines. The underground that is now under construction, plus the construction of more flyover roads, will also reduce vehicle emissions.

Iskakov believes non-government groups should be engaged to help implement these measures.

“It’s impossible to solve the problem simply by issuing orders or management directives,” he said. “It needs to be addressed by everyone, including public organisations and the city’s residents.”

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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