Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kazakstan: Gas Pipes Blamed for Fatalities

The three deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning highlight the poor condition of Kazakstan’s gas safety systems
By Gaziza Baituova

The recent deaths of three residents of Jambyl region in southern Kazakstan from carbon monoxide poisoning are the latest in a series of fatalities linked to the crumbling gas supply system.


Over the past two years, at least 46 people - 25 of them this year alone - have been killed by carbon monoxide – a colourless, odourless gas that is highly toxic when inhaled. The toxic fumes are produced as an unwanted by-product when natural gas, used for heating and cooking, burns incorrectly as a result of faulty equipment maintenance


On November 2, three members of the Aitiev family from the village of Merke - two teenage girls and a 53-year-old relative – were dead when rescuers arrived. Three others were revived at a local hospital. Investigators later ruled that the family was suffocated by carbon monoxide that had built up as the result of a blocked chimney in their home.


Just days before, three others in the Kordai district died under similar circumstances.


Documents obtained by IWPR from the head of the state inspection service for emergency situations, Amirkhan Daulbaev, describe the state of the gas pipe system as critical.


The amount of defective equipment increases each year by about 30 per cent, the report said, because of a lack of essential maintenance and repairs, increasing the risk of gas leaks and explosions. It warns that continued use of the existing gas systems will greatly increase the risk of accidents and serious loss of life.


In Soviet times, inspectors were employed to check the safety of gas heating systems and safety systems, including chimney ventilation, but since the mid-Nineties when most gas companies were privatised, the inspectors have disappeared.


Bolat Murtazaev, director of the Taraz gas company, said the private gas providers are unwilling to reinstate the inspection system unless someone else pays. He also points out that regional anti-monopoly rules would be likely to prevent companies from both owning and maintaining the network


“We will only bring back these services if the expenses for maintaining them are paid for by a tax on natural gas,” said Murtazaev. “But the regional anti-monopoly department will never do this.”


The solution to the problem, observers say, is to insist that local government foots the bill for gas inspectors. Yury Khan, an official at Jambyl’s state inspection service for preventing emergency situations, has proposed the idea, but has so far had little success.


“This is the second year that we have been appealing to local authorities about this, and they tell us they do not have the funds,” said Khan. “It’s a great pity that there are no funds for people’s safety.”


A Jambyl government official, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted there is money in the budget for 20 to 25 gas inspectors, but at the moment there is little political will to tackle the problem of Kazakstan’s ailing gas network.


“It is quite realistic to find money to pay gas inspectors…. But as the governor has no desire to do this, now or in the future, it is increasingly likely that… gas will claim dozens of lives.”


Gas consumption has increased dramatically in recent years as a result of the Amangeldy gas field which offers Kazaks a cheap and local source of natural gas. Previously, residents of southern Kazakstan were forced to rely on imports from Uzbekistan.


Gaziza Baituova is an IWPR contributor in southern Kazakstan.