NGO leader criticizes World Bank environmental project in Eastern Kazakhstan

He calls plan outdated; WB rep says parameters are flexible as time passes

By Daniyar Serikov

2009-12-23

Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan – Calling the project outdated, a leader of a local NGO has criticized the World Bank’s (WB) US $40 million environmental remediation project for groundwater clean-up.

“The whole situation changed drastically during the last seven to 10 years”, Oleg Chernyshov, head of the NGO Institute of Analysis and Forecast, told Central Asia Online.

“Private companies, like the Kazzinc coal power plant and Ulba Metalurgical Plant (UMZ), operating in the region already have undertaken some of the clean-up actions, which are foreseen to be funded within the framework of the WB’s project”, he said.

“The Project is aimed at the prevention of groundwater contaminated by industrial waste sites to reach sensitive resources including residential areas in the city, drinking water wells, and the Irtysh River”, according to the World Bank’s web site. “To achieve this objective, the project will invest in the containment of the concerned industrial waste sites, prevention of further migration of polluted groundwater, and strengthening of local institutions to monitoring this type of pollution.”

The majority of the former polluters, Chernyshov says, already have a “zero pollution” production cycle, which means that the quantity of contaminated ground waters should be less than it was 10 years ago.

WB project representative Bakyt Arystanov says that argument supports the project, which he says was designed in 2005-06.

“So things may have changed in the last three to four years. This is exactly the reason why the first phase of project implementation is a site investigation and design stage to investigate the current status of groundwater pollution and the contributing industrial waste dumps”, Arystanov said.

“The design will reflect the current situation to make sure that environmental remediation works”, he added

“If certain objects are already remediated, they obviously will not be included in the project implementation scope. These investigations are in progress. The fact that remediation works already have been undertaken in recent years has also been made by local authorities and this is a point of close attention”, he said.

“As it appears at this moment, four of the seven industrial waste dumps did not undergo substantial changes in recent years. The picture is still mixed for the other three dump sites where the situation has changed. One of these three needs further remediation work, one is under further investigation and the third one seems to be adequately remediated. Investigations will be fully completed in the coming months”, Arystanov said.

The Irtysh River is one of biggest rivers in Kazakhstan. It flows through three regional cities: Ust-Kamenogorsk, Semey and Pavlodar. The upper stream of the river is in China and after passing through the east of Kazakhstan it flows into Russia.

Ust-Kamenogorsk is one of the most contaminated cities in the country, home to zinc, titanium, tantalum, uranium and other heavy-metals processing facilities.

The project’s press release puts total cost as US$40.09 million at inception, to be funded through a WB loan of US$24.29 million, and US$15.80 million provided by Kazakhstan.

The European Union also supports the program and is providing a separate grant of Euro 3.5 million for groundwater quality monitoring and institutional strengthening. The project is expected to be completed in March 2013.

Chernyshov also expressed concerns over the lack of participation of the local NGOs in the project monitoring process.

“We have some questions for the World Bank”, he said “since the project information is closed for the general public”.

He claims the local NGO group sent a number of inquiries about the project to the WB office in Astana, but that no clear answers were provided.

Chernyshov said the representative of the project group came to Ust-Kamenogorsk on a monitoring mission, but a meeting with local NGOs did not provide a participatory opportunity for the local civic activists to get involved in the monitoring process.

“The monitoring pillar, funded by the European Commission, is rather ambiguous, since we do not know what the monitoring will be about, who will conduct it and what the current results of this monitoring are”, he said.

Arystanov said, “The scope of activities funded from the EU grant is mainly in supporting local monitoring and leak detection capabilities.

“If the design stage would conclude that two of the seven dumps may not need or only partially need the intended remediation scope, this would unlikely be a considerable reduction of the total project scope and not be directly related to the activities for which EU grant funding is utilized”, he said

Arystanov promised that the project will involve civil society in the monitoring process.

“World Bank is confident that the Committee for Water Resources with support from NGOs or (a) coalition of NGOs and the Bank can build a constructive and positive environment for project implementation and monitoring”, he said.

He added that “at the design stage of the project it will be further detailed how stakeholders can be informed and will have opportunities to engage during implementation of project works”.

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