On April 9, 2020, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Central Asia (IWPR CA) and CABAR.asia held an online expert discussion on mechanisms and ways to solve environmental problems using the example of Kyrgyzstan.
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As it is known, environmental problems deepen over time and become more relevant. Opening the online discussion, editor of CABAR.asia analytical materials, Nargiza Muratalieva noted that “the coronavirus pandemic that has affected millions of people globally and caused border closures, air traffic restrictions once again demonstrated the level of anthropogenic impacts on environmental pollution. This indicates the importance of timely response and resolution of issues related to environmental problems. The purpose of the online discussion is to discuss possible mechanisms and ways to resolve environmental problems, which are likely to be applicable in other countries of the Central Asian region.”
The moderator of the online discussion, the Chairman of the Green Alliance of Kyrgyzstan, Azamat Temirkulov, shared information about the fairly active activities of environmental organizations in Kyrgyzstan: “A Green Alliance has been created in the country, with over 60 members. In the Green talks format, experts regularly gather who are increasingly attracting public attention.”
The head of the youth environmental organization in Kyrgyzstan – MoveGreen, Maria Kolesnikova made a detailed report on the activities of environmental activists in Bishkek:
“In November 2017, our organization installed the first sensors for measuring air quality in Bishkek. From then onwards, this data has been in the public domain. Over the three years of our work, almost all Bishkek residents speak and know about air pollution in the heating season, including in vulnerable new buildings in the city. Today, by virtue of open sources and news in the mass media, the condition of the air in Bishkek is known from officials of the city hall to the country’s president in twenty-four-seven remine. Anyone can track pollution data in Bishkek, Karakol and Tokmak on several online resources: www.movegreen.kg/map, www.airkaz.org, as well as in the Aba.kg application for Android.
The first result of our interaction with government agencies was the order of the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan in January 2018 to create an interagency working group under the government to improve the environmental situation in Bishkek. MoveGreen employees also joined the working group. As a result of the meetings of the working group, a plan of comprehensive measures was developed to improve the ecological situation of Bishkek for the next 5 years. It was signed on June 11, 2018 by the government apparatus. For one of the events, we committed ourselves to developing a program for the HydroMet Kyrgyzstan website and a mobile application for preliminary information and recommendations for chronic patients and elderly people in Bishkek, considering the level of air pollution. Unfortunately, our item was canceled due to comments from the Finance and Credit Policy Department of the Government Office.
Moreover, throughout our activities, the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic (SAEPF), unfortunately, reacted negatively to our publications, analysis of the situation and recommendations. Therefore, in 2019, we certified our sensors at the Center for Standardization and Metrology under the Ministry of Economy of the Kyrgyz Republic, and also verified our sensors for the reliability of the data received. It is worth noting that this did not affect the quality of the data. Analysis of the seasons shows stable air pollution during the heating seasons, which is hazardous to human health.
We are currently negotiating with HydroMet Kyrgyzstan on the conclusion of a Memorandum of Cooperation to help modernize the website, as well as legitimize civil monitoring data. Because at the moment, Kyrgyzstan does not have the technical capabilities to provide data on air pollution in a round-the-clock online mode.
We note with regret that the mechanisms of interaction between state environmental authorities and civil society practically do not work due to the opacity of the work of state bodies. However, there are tools that can significantly improve our cooperation in the field of air protection.”
Expert Maria Kolesnikova also shared recommendations for resolving the above-mentioned situations, including:
- The official recognition by the SAEPF of the results of civil monitoring of air quality (for this we need certification and annual verification of the sensors that we already have).
- Cooperation of HydroMet Kyrgyzstan with civil organizations that provide alternative data on air quality in the country.
- Openness and transparency of the work of the SAEPF, the Bishkek City Hall, the State Inspectorate for Environmental and Technical Safety, HydroMet Kyrgyzstan (opening an official page on social networks, reports on activities on the website, prompt response of a spokesperson).
- Active and transparent work of public councils under the government statements listed above.
- Independent work on anti-corruption plans of state bodies (now the employees who organize this work depend on the heads of state bodies).
- Enabling civil society to monitor anti-corruption plans of state bodies (the methodology was developed and works in Kyrgyzstan).
- Provide data on the budget, expenditure of funds – in detail, annually, openly on the official websites of government agencies.”
Raushanna Sarkeeva, Chairwoman of the Board of PF Urban Initiatives (Городские инициативы), spoke about her activities, focusing on models of cooperation and communications on the environmental agenda:
“Moderation is one of the important components that is absent in communications between the civil society and government agencies. In 2017, we conducted an analysis of social ties, during which we identified several models. There is a type of communication called a “star”: when there is one main participant (for example, non-commercial organizations), and the other participants (donors, beneficiaries, state agencies) communicate with him separately, which leads to dependence and the emergence of one major player. The second type of communication called the “network with triads” has a closer structure, and here the distance between the communities is reduced, leading to a more balanced relationship.
Another communication problem is the occurrence of structural gaps. For example, they can be observed between the network of NGOs and housing cooperatives, between environmental organizations. To overcome such holes, it is necessary to create conditions for eliminating such gaps. To connect two or more groups of participants, brokers can conduct crosslinking of similar structural gaps. It is also necessary to adapt the official concept language for other stakeholders, thereby landing and adjusting the environmental agenda to the level of cities, villages, municipalities, etc.”
City planner-shaarman Atai Sambek noted that “the coronavirus pandemic, the state of emergency introduced and the subsequent socio-economic crisis, the inability of state bodies to maintain the quality of life of the population and provide food security have updated discussions on the role of the state. This encouraged civil society to take responsibility for some public functions. Due to the current situation, environmental problems may get a chance to be heard by the authorities. ”
Anara Choytonbaeva, Chairperson of the Kyrgyz Alliance for Water and Sanitation (KAWS), spoke about her experience in building communication and working with government bodies and local government institutions to improve water supply and sanitation:
“The Kyrgyz Water and Sanitation Alliance was created in 2008 to help ensure sustainable water supply and address sanitation in rural Kyrgyzstan.
Together with partners, we implemented the project “Cozy House” (Уютный дом), which was aimed at improving living conditions in rural areas. Several villages of the Naryn and Issyk-Kul regions were selected. In addition to conducting research and training of teachers, activists from schools, we also helped in the installation of solar collectors, solar dryers, built energy-efficient stoves, eco-toilets for low-income families. We also created 12 demonstration stands so that other residents could learn and apply the above-mentioned technologies on their own. Among other things, we have created an association of masters/expert of alternative technologies and construction, which brings together masters/experts from the Chui, Naryn and Issyk-Kul regions. It was one of the most successful and useful projects for society. We also actively worked to create a rural drinking water community.
Among environmental problems in water issues, expert Anara Choytonbaeva cited the weak institutional capacity of the department for the development of drinking water supply and sanitation due to the fact that since 1998 it has been in the structure of various ministries, state agencies and committees. The State Agency for Local Self-Government and Inter-Ethnic Relations poorly monitors the implementation of laws and regulations on drinking water, and therefore most aiyl okmotu and aiyl keneshes do not plan their actions to ensure the sustainability of the water supply and sanitation system in rural areas. Work on the development of public-private partnerships in the field of drinking water supply and sanitation is almost not carried out in our country. Therefore, it is necessary to create decentralized regional funds for water solidarity with the participation of representatives of the local government institutions, civil society, public foundations, and business associations.”
Activist Azhar Baisalova, having experience in the Bishkek city development agency, shared her vision in building partnerships between the municipality, non-commercial organizations and business:
“I would like to bring some successful cases from the practice of the Bishkek city development agency. For example, the project “Solid Waste Management in Bishkek”, in which, as small initiatives came from active citizens and non-commercial organizations, a department was created to work with civil initiatives and implement projects.
It should be noted that the main work in this department was aimed at building mechanisms of interaction between the civil sector, donors such as international financial institutions and business, and the municipality. Moreover, the development of mechanisms to support initiatives within the city administration itself, between municipal enterprises, as well as the mechanism of interaction between the municipality and state structures can be singled out as a separate area.
As an example, the development of a working draft for the construction of a bicycle path, which, on the one hand, was dictated by the request of the Bishkek city bicycle community (that is, from the civil sector), and on the other, the business provided funds for the development of a working draft. City Hall, in turn, provided full administrative support for the development of the project, especially with government agencies. As a result, we are now witnessing the construction of a network of bike paths, which are included in the work plans of municipal enterprises every year.
Another example – creating a platform for building partnerships “civil sector – city hall – business” is a competition of urban projects. The main idea was to encourage active citizens to take initiatives, and then give them the opportunity to implement these initiatives. It is important to note the simplicity of such partnerships. This made it possible to implement a similar competition in Bishkek next year, which was supported by another business – a commercial bank. In 2019, such competitions were supported by the Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan and implemented by the Youth Development Institute in several other cities such as Karakol, Naryn, etc. ”
Based on the above-mentioned cases, expert Azhar Baisalova made the following recommendations:
- Civil society should set precedents for the implementation of small, local initiatives that create comfortable conditions on the ground in the very near future. Often, such financial initiatives do not require large financial resources. They are short-term, do not need much involvement of the entire bureaucratic machine of municipal and state structures. The most important thing is that projects improve conditions in places of frequent stay of citizens.
- Existing environmental movements should work on public education. It is important to convey information about effective environmental solutions in everyday life, to spread environmental thinking.
- It is important for environmental organizations (and not only) to conduct research, collect data, analyze them, and present research results to the wide audience. Thus, create an agenda for both political parties and for inclusion in the work plans of local administrations and ministries.
Concluding the discussion, the urbanist Atay Samybek summarized that “the solution to environmental problems lies in the plane of solving economic issues, as the state simply does not have enough funds, given that most environmental problems are solved by attracting external grants and loans.”