UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 7. Status of soil pollution in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia

National and regional priorities in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia

National priorities and targets in the Eurasian region are aimed at ensuring environmental protection, rational use of natural resources and implementation of international agreements in the countries. These priorities are included in national strategies, programmes and initiatives.

The characteristic feature of the Ukrainian environmental policy is active and open engagement with stakeholders, which in many cases becomes a driving-force for development, particularly for environmentally sound management of waste and pollution control. Similar progress is being made in Republic of Moldova, where the public has good access to environmental data, including that on soil pollution. Public hearings offered by the various state and international projects are productive, as can often be seen in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In the latter country, analytical laboratories that monitored soil pollution were closed down in 1997 and, since then, current levels of soil pollution cannot be measured locally.

Waste management is a priority in Ukraine, as demonstrated by the development of its regional waste management programme (Kravchenko, 2019). Only eight of the 25 regions have included, in addition to municipal solid waste management, a special programme for the management of medical, industrial, animal, and construction waste. Almost all of the eight regions are located in the west of the country, bordering the EU. Of these regions, two developed a programme for the management of obsolete pesticides, and five addressed the management of pesticides and other agricultural substances. However, none of the regional programmes covered all types of wastes, as required by European Union legislation, and limited measures were proposed for waste minimization.

Since 2016, the implementation of the European Union project “Ukrainian Civil Society for Waste Management in Europe” has focused on the introduction of European practices at national and regional level. The project supports the alignment of the Ukrainian legislative system with the European system, particularly for hazardous waste, mercury-containing waste, and waste recycling and prevention. Ukraine is also implementing several initiatives on municipal waste management. In L’viv, a new waste incineration plant is to be established in 2020 with the support of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. This plant will include a collection site for electronic and construction waste. Also in 2020, with support from a private-sector enterprise from Croatia, an incineration plant is planned to be built in the former Kropuvnitskyi radioactive landfill site (WM-Expo, 2018). In Khmelnitsky, projects for the collection of hazardous waste, including fluorescent lamps, have been implemented in 2018. Earlier, in 2015, a similar project was implemented in Kamenetz-Podilsky. Collection of plastics is implemented in a number of cities in central Ukraine including Kremenchug, Kropuvnitskyi and Poltava. Following extensive public consultations on the environmentally sound management of municipal waste, the decisions to build incineration plants and generate energy from landfill gas, are a major advance in waste management in Ukraine.

Similar improvements in solid waste management have been achieved in Republic of Moldova, with the support of international donors. The “Green Cities: Chisinau Solid Waste” project (EBRD, 2017) aims to: bring the landfill in the city of Tintareli up to European standards; improve the condition of the waste transfer station; and build a waste sorting plant. The project also focuses on improving the capacity of the municipal solid waste management company, Regia Autsalubritate, and establishing transparent contractual arrangements for the provision of solid waste management services.

In Kazakhstan, the 0.5 percent allocation of the State’s budget for environmental initiatives is insufficient to address the considerable challenges that it faces. The major environmental issues are the situation around the Aral Sea; the accumulation of untreated industrial waste; radioactive and industrial pollution; and an insufficient infrastructure for solid waste management. The Kazakh Concept of Transition to Sustainable Development for 2007-2024 aims to set a balance between economic and environmental goals. However, in reality, economic considerations tend to outweigh environmental ones, with the country’s emphasis on economic growth through the intensive exploitation of natural resources. One of the country’s major achievements towards environmental protection was the adoption of the Environmental Code in 2007, which integrates the main pre-2007 environmental laws and regulations with those adopted subsequently. The Code includes obligations related to international conventions and provides the legal basis for incentives for recycling and waste minimization. However, the waste prevention policy, including the introduction of clean technologies, is still in its initial phase. The objective of Kazakhstan’s policy is to harmonize national environmental legislation with international norms and standards, in particular with those of the European Union. The country is developing policies and action plans to meet the requirements of Conventions that it has ratified, the implementation of which is mainly funded from external resources. Kazakhstan’s environmental policymaking and regulatory functions have been separated. The consolidation of the various inspectorates has improved the enforcement of the regulations and has led to more effective integrated pollution control through enforcement notices and penalties. However, some of the regulatory requirements for soil pollution and waste disposal are unclear and unrealistic. Kazakhstan is developing rapidly and has positioned itself as the leading country in Central Asia. It ranks 50 out of 189 countries in UNDP’s 2018 Human Development Index, and its gross national income per capita has increased by approximately 62 percent between 1990 and 2018 (Shayakhmetova, 2019; The Astana Times, 2019). The establishment of the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources in August 2019 is expected to strengthen Kazakhstan’s overall environmental governance, particularly through its direct responsibility for solid waste management.

In comparison to neighbouring countries, Kazakhstan has made significant progress in public participation in decision-making and access to ecological information, including on soil pollution. However, certain restrictions remain and information on soil pollution is only shared with official organizations through a formal request.

The intensity of soil pollution in oil and gas extraction areas has increased (UNECE, 2008). The increasing construction of pipelines, oil and gas refineries, oil storage tanks and railways has increased soil, water and air pollution. While the environmental impact of pesticides and soil polluted with obsolete pesticides is a priority for national and regional authorities, the severe and persistent impact of mining, and oil and gas production on the environment, public health and safety are of less concern and are poorly represented in the literature.

Health and environmental protection have been included as priorities in both Kyrgyzstan’s Development Programme for 2018-2022 and in its Development Strategy for 2018-2040. The country is striving to create an environment conducive to human health by developing in harmony with nature, and promoting the protection of its unique natural ecosystems (Kyrgyz Republic, 2018).

Kyrgyzstan’s Health and Pollution Action Plan focuses on five primary sources of pollution that affect health, the pollution of soil by chemicals being one. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, environmental and occupational hazards are the second leading cause of mortality in Kyrgyzstan, surpassed only by dietary risk (31 percent) (IHME, 2015). The plan aims to solve the problems of radioactive pollution and land degradation by rehabilitating the territories affected by uranium waste and introducing the national radiation safety system. It involves the development of infrastructure for waste disposal and recycling. Engineered landfills based on the principle of Best Available Techniques are to be established in the cities of Bishkek, Karakol and Cholpon-Ata. Initiatives funded by the EU’s “Environmental Remediation Account” (2017-2022) focus on uranium legacy sites and aim to help Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to remediate their most dangerous sites.

Tajikistan has more than 32 million m3 of uranium tailings (WNA, 2020), much of which was simply buried in landfills in the 1990s without any containment or pre-treatment. The city of Taboshar is located 4 km from an abandoned mine site, which contains approximately 4.5 million m3 of untreated uranium waste, posing a significant risk to human health. The site has been selected for remediation under the abovementioned initiatives funded by the EU.

All countries in the region lack technological knowledge for converting mining waste into viable recycled products. Apart from recent initiatives in Georgia and Ukraine, there is very limited capacity in the region to collect and recycle plastic wastes.

More detailed data on national and regional priorities in the Eurasian region are presented in Table 8.

Table 8. National and regional priorities in the Eurasian region.