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Every Tenth Kazakhstani Has No Access to Clean Water

This was stated back in 2018 at the parliament hearings of Mazhilis. One year later, the situation did not change – about two million people still need quality drinking water.


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For years of independence, more than 540 billion tenge (1.43 billion dollars) have been spent, according to the deputy of Mazhilis Nurtai Sabilianov, to supply drinking water to the regions of Kazakhstan. However, the residents of remote villages and suburbs of towns still have no access to clean drinking water and take water from wells, surface water bodies, or underground wells in their yards.

Aigul Turmenova. Photo: CABAR.asia

Aigul Turmenova has lived in the village of Erkin, Taldykorgan, for 30 years. The only source of clean water there is the outdoor watering post.

Local residents have turned to the akimat many times. They have promised to lay the public water supply pipeline for 10 years, but still haven’t done it.

“I use about 80 litres of water every day. It’s hard in winter because the watering post freezes, and we don’t know what to do. Last year, my neighbours wanted to lay water supply pipeline, but they couldn’t afford it. So, we have to live like this,” Turmenova said.

In the last 15 years, Kazakhstan approved a few programmes such as Auyz Su (Clean Water) and Ak Bulak (Clean Spring). They all intended to supply good quality drinking water to people in sufficient amounts.

Nurtai Sabilianov. Photo: CABAR.asia

195 billion tenge (517.17 million dollars) were allocated to the first programme. The second one was designed for 2011-2020 and cost 1.3 trillion tenge (3.45 billion dollars). However, despite the tremendous budget, Nurtai Sabilianov thinks Ak Bulak won’t lead to expected outcomes.

“The lack of innovating approaches to the construction of water supply systems plus corruption. We allocate money, but at the end of the year the budget is not allocated in full, and every year it’s all the same. Even if you take part in the bidding process related to water supply system with your own equipment, excavators, ditch digger, the winner is the founder with one tiling shovel because of ties to the akim,” the deputy said.

But, according to him, to bring the situation to order, chief executives should be punished by law for pending disbursements. Expert in water issues, Berik Begaliev, added that officials should be punished not financially, but by criminal prosecution.

“They have an organised crime there and the country’s leaders do know about it. Now many akims are being prosecuted, and the law should be toughened up. If there’s only punishment by fines for non-utilisation of budget funds, it won’t give any results,” Begaliev said.

Senate speaker Dariga Nazarbayeva at one of the sessions of the lower house of parliament compared the state programme to supply drinking water to regions with the Bermuda Triangle.

“Every year billions of tenge allocated for the project implementation leak like into the sand. And villages stay without drinking water,” Nazarbayeva said.

Delusive promises

The problem of drinking water is existing in the large cities of Kazakhstan such as Almaty, Nur-Sultan and Shymkent. The villages near the capital – Talapker, Koyandy, Kosshy, Zhibek Zholy – have no drinking water. The authorities hope that the Auyl – Yel Besigi (Village – A Cradle of the Country) project implementation will solve this problem and improve life quality in rural areas and modernise the rural infrastructure.

Now, according to the ministry of ecology of Kazakhstan, over 84 per cent of people have access to central water supply system in rural areas. In towns and cities, this indicator is just above 90 per cent. This figure is going to be 100 per cent by 2023.

“In the next seven years, 7 million rural citizens will have access to quality drinking water,” said Roman Sklyar, deputy prime minister of Kazakhstan, at the government session in November 2019.

However, Berik Begaliev emphasised that the country still does not have a clear mechanism of water supply, which makes it hard for the government to execute ambitious plans.

“Although the authorities say that providing access to clean drinking water to people is top priority direction of the social and economic development of the country, they have no clear mechanism of drinking water supply. Every second sewerage system needs to be replaced. Water tariffs vary very much from region to region. For example, drinking water price is very high in Atyrau, while it is very low in Kyzylorda,” the expert said.

According to him, in the last five years, water supply projects, even if documents are available, were not included into the republican budget because local authorities were not concerned and never raised this issue. Moreover, he noted that money should be allocated to existing projects that will be feasible, and the indicator of access to drinking water should be taken into account when evaluating the performance of akims in the region.

Kairbek Uskenbaev. Photo: CABAR.asia

The government expects that complex water purification modules will solve the problem in small villages. It is too expensive to lay water main pipelines there.

“It [module] allows to supply water safely to the people according to health standards.  In the past, people used to dig wells and take water from watering posts. What I’m talking about is to lay a [water pipeline] to every house from the well and install water gauges,” explained Kairbek Uskenbaev, first vice minister of industry and infrastructure development of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Back in 2005, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the then president of Kazakhstan, promised to eliminate all places that use water from surface water bodies or that don’t comply with health standards by the start of the second decade. 15 years later the issue is still existing. The residents of small villages don’t even expect to enjoy the blessings of civilisation and to have access to quality drinking water.


Данный материал подготовлен в рамках проекта IWPR «Giving Voice, Driving Change — from the Borderland to the Steppes Project».

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