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China may turn Kazakhstan into desert

25 january 2013, 13:10
3
Illustration by Marat Tursynov
Illustration by Marat Tursynov
Black Irtysh-Karamai channel. Photo by centfrancs / Panaramio
Black Irtysh-Karamai channel. Photo by centfrancs / Panaramio
Head of the ECOSOS project Bakytzhan Bazarbek said that Kazakhstan could face an ecological disaster in the nearest 10-20 years if it fails to solve the issue of joint use of the Ili and Irtysh rivers with China. Balkhash lake may become the second Aral Sea, Almaty will become the second Atlantis, the citizens of Astana, Temirtau, Karaganda, Ekibastuz, Pavlodar, Ust-Kamenogorsk and Semey will be cut off from fresh water, Irtysh will turn into a chain of bogs and slack waters, while Bukhtarminskaya and Shulbinskaya hydro-power stations will stop, the ecologist told Megapolis.

According to the expert, this catastrophic scenario is forecasted in relation to China’s plans to divert the waters of the Ili or Irtysh rivers to water its semi-desert lands of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Chinese are currently constructing a 300km channel Black Irtysh-Karamai, water reservoir, dam, hydro-power station and other water facilities.

“Lowering the trans-border flows of the Ili and Irtysh rivers may cause depletion of the unique lakes Balkhash and Zaissan and extinction of forests in Ile-Alatau national park, Dzungarian Alatau and Tarbagatay,” the ecologist said.

“If Balkhash repeats the sad story of the Aral Sea, a real threat will be hanging over Almaty and its citizens. Thousands of tons of salt will be picked up by wind from the drained bottom of the lake and will be carried to Almaty and the whole eastern Kazakhstan. Salt winds may cause melting of almost 95 percent of all the glaciers near Almaty and the whole Alatau. The melt-waters streaming down the mountains will be likely to simply wash Almaty away in a mud-flood.”

The speaker said that after the channel Black Irtysh-Karamai reaches its full capacity, “the water intake from Irtysh will be increased from Chinese part almost 5-fold”. “The Irtysh River may become so shallow that the water will reach only as high as the knees,” Bazarbek said.

According to the expert, the problem is that China still has not acknowledged the international conventions on protection of trans-border waters. Several agreements on the use of transborder rivers have been signed between Kazakhstan and China, but these documents do not provide the terms that would make it possible to regulate the water intake.

The ecologist suggested to bring in a third party, Russia, to influence Beijing. The issue of Irtysh shallowing is of a direct concern to Russia. Besides, the problem of transborder rivers can be discussed in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Earlier Tengrinews.kz English reported that Kazakhstan was planning to settle the issue of transborder rivers with China by 2015, while the Chinese party stated that transborder rivers should be divided based on the number of people living along the river banks.

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