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Environment and health
Most of Kazakhstan is located in the arid zone, agriculture in these circumstances is extremely risky, and most grassland belongs to the desert or semi-arid type. Peculiarities of the country’s location at the centre of the Eurasian continent, with the associated climatic characteristics, means that Kazakhstan is among those countries having the most vulnerable ecosystems.
The quality of most water sources is unsatisfactory. Most water pollution is caused by discharge from the chemical, oil, manufacturing and metallurgical industries. Out of 44 water sources researched by the Kazakhstan Hydrometeorology Service Bureau, in 2002 only nine rivers, two lakes and two reservoirs where considered to be clean water sources; six rivers and one reservoir were listed as dirty or very dirty. In addition to industrial, extracting and refinery enterprises there are other polluters such as urban buildings, farms, irrigated fields, waste containers and storage facilities for liquid and solid wastes and oil products (UNDP, 2003).
The environmental crisis in the Aral Sea basin is a major disaster that has affected the territories of all five riparian Central Asian states, with a total population of over 40 million people. The intensive extraction of water for irrigation from the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers over the last 40 years has caused the level of the Aral Sea to fall by 17 19 m and reduced the volume of its water resources by 75 percent. As a result, the mineral (saline) concentration of the seawater has increased from 10 to 60 percent (UNDP, 2004). By the end of the 1980s, the Aral Sea no longer reached its former borders. As the waters receded, the Aral Sea split into the Northern Aral Sea within Kazakhstan and the larger South Aral Sea shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The desiccation of the Aral Sea has resulted in serious economic, social, and environmental degradation. Fresh fish production has virtually disappeared, salinity and pollution levels have risen dramatically, dust and salt storms have occurred often, and there have been measurable changes to the local climate. Drinking water supplies became polluted and human health problems increased sharply. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost in the fishing, agricultural and service sectors (World Bank 2008). In 2002, the heads of the Central Asian states decided to develop a ‘Programme of concrete action to improve the environmental and economic environment of the Aral Sea basin for 2003-2010’ (UNDP, 2004).
Salinity in lakes varies from 0.12 g/litre in east Kazakhstan to 2.7 g/litre in the central region. More than 4 000 lakes have been inventoried as saline. Irrigation development during the 1980s and 1990s in the basin of the Ili river, which flows into lake Balkhash, has led to ecological problems in the region, notably the drying up of small lakes. It has been estimated that about 8 000 small lakes have dried up recently because of the overexploitation of water resources.
In 1993, about 242 000 ha (11 percent) of the irrigated areas were classed as saline by Central Asian standards (toxic ions exceed 0.5 percent of total soil weight). These areas are mainly concentrated in the south. In 2010, irrigated areas, subject to salinity, amounted to 404 300 ha.
Over the past 10 years, over 300 floods have been recorded caused by different phenomena. Most damage is caused by flooding of the Ural, Tobol, Ishim, Nura, Emba, Torgai, Sarysu, Bukhtarma rivers and their numerous tributaries (UNDP, 2004).
Studies conducted in the framework of technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank ‘The availability of water supply services as part of poverty assessment’ showed that lack of water leads to the population becoming incapable of observing norms of sanitation and hygiene, resulting in increased morbidity; income level in water deficient areas per capita is almost two-times lower than the officially established subsistence level. As with many other countries, Kazakhstan is interested in finding solutions to the problems of environmental protection and promoting the rational use of natural resources.