How Kyrgyzstan handles explosive materials. What did state authorities learn from the explosion in Beirut?
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August 4, 2020 became a tragedy for the Lebanon city of Beirut. Two powerful explosions shook the port of Beirut. 170 people became victims of the blast. According to the official authorities of Lebanon, the cause of the explosion was unsafe storage of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate for six years.
Explosions of hazardous substances are not new for Kyrgyzstan. The tragedy of explosion of household fuel gas happened in Bishkek in 2019.
Back then, onNovember 8, three strong blasts took place in Bishkek that turned into fire. Nothing was left from the fast food outlet Antoshka in the centre of the capital of Kyrgyzstan. As a result of the incident, a young girl who worked in the café died, and 14 people were injured. According to the police information, the reason was the explosion of household fuel gas.
Meanwhile, the activity of such facilities and other business entities may not be inspected as the country has set a moratorium since January 1, 2019 to January 1, 2021. The government explained these measures by their wish not to “nightmarize” the business.
According to Taalaibek Omurzakov, the head of the Fire Inspection Office of the State Inspectorate of Ecological and Technical Safety of the Kyrgyz Republic, the moratorium has already led to major incidents with deaths and injuries. After the explosion in Antoshka and two other major fire incidents, the State Inspectorate of Ecological and Technical Safety addressed the government to get permission to check separate business entities for fire and technical safety.
Hazardous season for Kyrgyzstan
One of explosive agents imported to Kyrgyzstan every year, according to Taalaibek Omurzakov, is fireworks. He said that before the New Year’s Eve the country imports a lot of fireworks from China, which is sold spontaneously in all regions.
“Last year, we had a moratorium during the ‘season’ and we carried out inspections. In fact, we failed to inspect and just gave our recommendations in all the regions, Bishkek and Osh. This year, there’s no moratorium,” he said.
According to Omurzakov, despite the fact that special fairs are organised for selling fireworks in compliance with all requirements, there are still violations. In particular, according to the representative of the State Inspectorate of Ecological and Technical Safety, sales are carried out on weekends when the controlling authorities have days off or after 8:00 pm.
“In the meantime, I would like to note that according to our analysis, our population has begun to use less fireworks compared to 10 years ago,” he said.
Anything can explode in Kyrgyzstan if standards are not met
Bolot Ibraev, the head of the industrial safety department of the State Inspectorate of Ecological and Technical Safety of the Kyrgyz Republic, said that one of the large explosive facilities are Gazprom and Kyrgyzneftegaz. The State Inspectorate of Ecological and Technical Safety can inspect such strategic facilities only once a year. However, the moratorium does not apply to these facilities. In addition, boiler houses are hazardous in the country. According to the State Inspectorate, they are inspecting boilers that operate above 110 degrees.
In addition, oil storage tanks are potentially explosive. According to the representative of the State Inspection, such facilities are under control. The agency inspects technical condition of the tanks. According to Ibraev, the access of people to these facilities is under strict control. At the same time, due to the moratorium, inspections are not carried out at these facilities.
Also, plant materials can explode in Kyrgyzstan if improperly stored. For example, grain must be stored in warehouses in proper conditions, otherwise smoke can occur and lead to explosion.
Also among the explosive objects, as Bolot Ibraev said, are white chalk factories. Dust from chalk production can explode in case of fire.
“We are also working to prevent spontaneous sales of household fuel gas and its refuelling outdoors. We carry out this work on a regular basis,” the head of the industrial safety department said.
Meanwhile, the events in Beirut, where a powerful explosion occurred, do not cause concern of the inspection agency of Kyrgyzstan. When the State Inspectorate was asked if the agency would carry out additional inspection after the event in Lebanon, they said no referring to the moratorium.
The head of the mining supervision department of the State Inspectorate of Ecological and Technical Safety, Zhyrgalbek Muratov, said that the department inspects facilities that carry out explosive works. The services of such companies are used by enterprises developing mineral resources. Major facilities that produce and store explosives are located in the village of Serafimovka in Chui region and Zhel Aryk in the town of Balykchy. However, these facilities have not been inspected for two years because of the moratorium.
Hazard at every turn
The chair of ‘Independent Ecological Examination’ Public Association, Oleg Pechenyuk, said that explosives in Kyrgyzstan are sold outdoors in Kyrgyzstan. Such explosives comprise nitre for fertilisation, which is sold during seasonal work in bags on the roadside, gas cylinders that are filled both outdoors and at filling stations. It’s not the problem of explosives, it’s the problem of safety during their production, transportation, storage, selling and application.
“An explosive can be made from anything. The problem is the moratorium on inspection of business entities. Currently, we cannot control activities of business entities because of the moratorium. The moratorium applies to many kinds of operations that are hazardous for life and health, the environment,” he said.
As an example, Pechenyuk said that an explosives factory was launched in Kemin district in 2018. Due to the moratorium, the regulatory authorities can inspect this enterprise only for a limited score of reasons.
“In fact, [we can inspect them] only after something happens,” he said.
In his opinion, protection, inspection and control of enterprises or locations of storage of hazardous substances is a very important question.
“In fact, everything will be safe if we monitor the situation and apply relevant precautionary measures on time,” expert Oleg Pechenyuk said.
According to him, currently the government of Kyrgyzstan decides whether to extend the moratorium on inspection of business entities due to the pandemic. However, at attempt to relieve the burden on business entities may affect the implementation of constitutional right to a favourable environment.
State Inspectorate can be granted the right of inspection again
Deputy Minister of Economy of Kyrgyzstan Bekbolot Aliev said to CABAR.asia about the agency’s intention to grant the right of inspection of business entities to some supervisory authorities despite the valid moratorium. He said that he meant state agencies that check entities for technical, health or state safety. Among them are the State Inspectorate of Ecological and Technical Safety and State Inspectorate of Veterinary and Phytosanitary Safety.
“We started to make the exclusion list since the beginning of the pandemic. As you know, we offered to prolong the moratorium on inspection of business entities until 2022. However, we suggest adding some exclusions for certain agencies to this initiative,” he said.
Aliev explained that once the decision on the moratorium prolongation is made, the moratorium for the State Inspectorate will also be removed. The agencies will be able to check all business entities for safety.
“We all remember what happened in Beirut,” he said.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.