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Kazakhstan: Life after EXPO

Kazakhstan is a country rich in energy resources, and is among top ten oil producing, refining countries. Two years ago, the country held the international specialised exhibition EXPO 2017, which preparation and holding cost 565.1 billion tenges (2.1 billion dollars). Organisers and experts predicted it’s income would be 520-910 million dollars.


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Kazakhstan pavilion “Nur Alem” cost almost 19 million dollars to the country.

14 U-shaped pavilions, a huge sphere of Nur Alem and a lot of other buildings and structures were built specifically for the exhibition at Nur-Sultan. The Nur Alem sphere is unique in the world and has 8 floors. The total diameter of the sphere is 80 metres.  

The main theme of EXPO 2017 was Energy of the Future.

The majority of guests visit Nur Alem to take a good selfie. The most popular place for smartphone-addicted people is the glass bridge on the eighth floor of the building.

Now the pavilions are almost empty, with very few tourists. Up to 40 stand assistants work now instead of 500 guides.

Nurlybek Kanaly, stand assistant:

“I work at the Energy of the Future museum. My work is very interesting, I like communicating with people. I am an environmental specialist, I’ve been working here for 1.5 years. The EXPO has given opportunities to many young specialists to find good job here.”

The pavilions are not crowded. Many visitors come here on weekends or holidays only, on weekdays they are almost empty.

Mainly newly wedded couples visit EXPO now. It has become a tradition.

Tourists with their families arrive here. Students from other countries arrive here hoping to see high technologies.

Pavel Khazov, a tourist:

“So many exhibits are here, terrific architecture. However, I think more interactive options could be added here. You cannot interact with many exhibits. It has dashed my hopes.”

EXPO was based on the Kazakhstan 2050 strategy, which was to reach 50 per cent in the national energy balance from renewable energy sources.

Photo courtesy of Nurbek Yergeshbayev

Nurbek Yergeshbayev, director of the international cooperation department of NK Astana EXPO 2017:

“Initially, we expected 100 countries and 7 international organisations to take part in the EXPO. However, their number reached 115 countries and 22 organisations once the exhibition was launched. Our special guests and participants of the exhibition were 28 heads of states, 36 prime ministers and their deputies. 55 thousand jobs were created.”

Approximately 130 technologies exhibited at the EXPO were selected by an expert group for their promotion in Kazakhstan.

7 technologies in oil and gas sphere were selected from Russia, the United States, China and Finland. Household and industrial sewage treatment, air quality control and waste management projects were selected in the environmental area.

The plan was to actively implement these technologies in 2018 for them to become the achievements and the legacy of the EXPO and to contribute to the economy of Kazakhstan.

EXPO 2017 was designed to give impetus to development of the green economy in Kazakhstan. However, no project has been implemented so far. 

Photo courtesy of Ainur Omar

Ainur Omar, an analyst:

“EXPO aroused indignation of all the nationals. Sometimes it was well deserved, and sometimes it wasn’t. Today the railway station, the exhibition complex, new airport terminal and new bus lines are all the legacy of the EXPO.

However, if we spent this money to create some new technology plant, which would lay a foundation for the innovative industry, it would have been more beneficial, in my opinion.  One of the obvious advantages is that EXPO contributed to domestic tourism, which was underdeveloped in Kazakhstan. Many Kazakhstanis arrived from the regions to see the capital during the exhibition.”

Many people compare the EXPO with a big start-up – 90 per cent of projects never pay off, and 10 per cent can be successful.

Zhangeldy Shymshykov, candidate of economic sciences and an expert, thinks that EXPO is more socio-humanistic rather than economic. According to him, Kazakhstan had an opportunity to draw attention by the exhibition, but millions of tourists never arrived there:

“I don’t trust official data. It’s no secret that many organisations were forced to buy tickets, including teachers, students, doctors, state workers. People from all regions of the country, especially in southern regions, complained they were forced to buy tickets.

Foreigners were not much interested. Every expense should have been counted. However, no one could exactly predict the profits and analyse the situation.”

Nurlybek Batyrov, a student:

“I bought a ticket at a discount, but I didn’t like the exhibition at all. Many students were forced to buy tickets, so we had no choice. The hopes were dashed. The money spent could have been used to increase scholarships, build schools and kindergartens.”

Nina Maksimova, a pensioner:

“I didn’t attend the EXPO because I’d rather go to a theatre or a concert. However, had they made it free of charge for pensioners, I would have attended it. Unfortunately, they sold tickets to us at a discount, but the price was still high.”

Many have agreed that 565.1 billion tenges (2.1 billion dollars) could have been used for more useful and vital things. For example, to improve the drinking water supply system in the districts where it is unavailable. Nur-Sultan (Astana) is still fired with coal. New technologies haven’t been beneficial, but the Kazakhstanis still wait and hope that new projects would give impetus to the development of Kazakhstan.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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