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By Olga Pavlovskaya
ALMATY – Kazakhstan has tripled its contribution to environmental projects in recent years, according to environmentalists, pointing to the development of eco-friendly settlements and broader efforts to preserve nature.
Eco-friendly settlements are perhaps the hottest current topic in Kazakhstan. In these “green” villages, residents are improving soil for crops; planting forests and growing local fruits; constructing houses from environmentally friendly building materials; and using wind and solar power.
The first such settlement, the Alma-Rai estate, was established this year about 30km from Almaty. The idea came from individuals who were inspired by the idea of living in harmony with nature and making their home a better place, said Alma-Rai resident Maria Genina.
Kazakhstan has several scattered settlements, often comprised of dachas (summer cottages) whose residents try to lead a green way of life, but Alma-Rai is the only settlement in Kazakhstan dedicated to green living full-time. Its creators are trying to push legislation that would advance the cause of such settlements.
The first stage of working out and affirming the programme for creating eco-settlements will occur in 2012-2015 as part of the Green Bridge initiative, one of Alma-Rai’s founders, Rinat Abdurakhmanov, said.
“During that time, we hope to confer the official status of pilot eco-settlement on the existing Alma-Rai settlement and to create several settlements in every region of Kazakhstan,” he said.
Under that schedule, in 2016-2017 the formation of eco-settlements will take place and Alma-Rai will stand as a self-financing and autonomous pilot project.
The Alma-Rai settlers try to wash dishes and other items with natural cleaners like sand, mustard and soapnuts. They compost organic wastes for gardening, while they haul non-organic wastes to the city for now. And they are negotiating with companies that will haul and recycle various forms of trash that the settlement will generate.
The settlers draw water from wells that exist in every yard. Their septic systems contain natural additives such as sawdust. They’re also experimenting with bio-toilets. They heat the water with solar heaters installed on their roofs. And in building their houses, they relied on eco-friendly materials like straw, clay, wood and sand.
“The eco-friendly settlement Alma-Rai is distinguished by the warm relationships between its residents, mutual trust, the desire for spiritual growth, and respect for all living things,” Genina said. Fifteen families reside in the settlement, and 30 more are moving there, said Genina.
Eco-settlements started to appear in post-Soviet countries only recently, while in other countries they have existed since the 1960s. “Since eco-friendly settlements are a completely new trend in Kazakhstan, there are still unresolved issues related to land and environmental laws,” Genina said.
The greatest success is found in Russia, which has more than 100 similar settlements, she said. In Central Asia, the seeds of eco-settlements are sprouting in Kyrgyzstan, but right now all that exists are plans for the future drawn up by environmentalists and the green movement.
Government endorsed project
The government allocated the land for this settlement and the Ministry of Environment Protection is interested in the construction of eco-settlements, Nurlan Kapparov, the minister, said.
Eco-settlements will allow humanity “to live in harmony with the environment, use natural resources sustainably and preserve the ecosystem,” Kapparov said, adding that, for eco-settlements to flourish, a special programme at both the national and local levels is necessary.
Abdurakhmanov agreed, saying, “(Kazakhstan has) to create a national co-ordination centre for eco-settlements, promote environmentally friendly food from the settlements on the market, create state economic policy regarding eco-settlements.”
But eco-settlements can benefit society, Abdurakhmanov said. Over 20 years, the government could receive an additional $1 billion (150 billion KZT) (with a 20% investment in the settlements), municipal governments will see lower urban housing demand, the urban population will gain access to environmentally pure food, and construction companies will benefit from the higher demand for roads, power lines and construction materials.
Private companies, NGOs work on environment
Over the past two years, private companies have also started caring for the environment. In July, Kar-Tel, the Kazakhstani representative for the mobile phone operator Beeline, organised a clean-up day in one of Almaty’s gorges. More than 70 volunteers and company employees collected and disposed of 85 bags of household waste from the gorge.
The company plans to conduct such events regularly, spokeswoman Ekaterina Myzina said:
“Businesses in Kazakhstan are gradually beginning to recognise their social responsibility,” she said. “We will conduct a variety of events – plant trees, organise educational tours on biodiversity for children, and promote the development of eco-tourism within the country.”
And in August, Air Astana organised a clean-up near Almaty’s International Hill, though that work was primarily intended to increase flight safety, the airline said. “Garbage attracts birds, which can fly into aircraft engines and cause a crash,” said Air Astana spokeswoman Anastasia Ivkina.
Various civic organisations and NGOs are also actively involved in preserving the environment. The civic organisation PosadiDerevo.kz, together with Beeline, has launched the SMS Tree project, which will raise money via text messages to build a tree-lined boulevard. Registered users will get the chance to plant their own tree by sending a certain number of text messages with a unique code.
Eco-festivals are also becoming more popular in Kazakhstan. For example, the FourE festival (Ethno-Emo-Eco-Evo Festival), set in one of the mountainous areas of Almaty August 17-19, has taken place for each of the past three years. One of its objectives is to promote eco-technologies and to help develop a caring attitude toward the environment.