With the start of autumn and winter, Central Asian cities are enveloped in smog. Some big Central Asian cities, such as Bishkek and Almaty, have been suffering from heavy air pollution over the past few years. Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek with more than 1,5 mln population is often in the top of the World Air Quality Index among the major cities like Dalhi, Lahore and Mumbai, with a high level of PM 2,5 particles in the air. Experts are pointing out several reasons for it.
In 2022 UNDP in Kyrgyzstan did research on the reason for air pollution and its consequences on health, with a precise output that air pollution is causing an increase in cardiovascular diseases, stroke, lung cancer, and allergy diseases in children and women. Despite the result of research and statements made by local environmental NGOs, the government in Central Asia remained inactive in regard to poor air quality, and its effect on health.
A lawyer from Bishkek, Ikramidin Aitkulov broke the silence on the 8th of February this year and filed a complaint to the General Prosecutor’s Office on the work of some Government organizations and Bishkek Power Station. The reason for his complaint was a heart attack he’d had in December 2020, with the subsequent operation and health complications. The lawyer blamed Bishkek Power Station for the deterioration of his health and demanded to open several criminal cases against the institution.
“They keep talking about the issue, but it is unreasonable that the authorities did not take action. I view the authorities’ failure to act as an attack on people’s lives. The reason is that this is seriously harming the health of the population, and everything will be known as soon as the healthcare statistics are presented. Responsible persons and state control bodies have proven that they are not fulfilling their duties since the BPS was repaired in 2017; BPS is hiding its numbers on air pollution,” – said Aitkulov to CAN EECCA.
What is the BPS?
Built in 1961, the original Bishkek Power Station produces energy for the city. The plant provides heating and hot water to 2350 apartment complexes and at least 1840 private homes, serving more than 112,000 customers. The power station is mainly fuelled by coal.
Government bodies blame each other
A day ago, when lawyer Aitkulov made his complaint, Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Technical Control Dinara Kutmanova made a statement about the audit control of Bishkek Power Station’s electrical filters installed to its boilers.
“BPS, which is one of the main causes of air pollution in the city, has been inspected only once during so many years. The Ministry did not have special equipment or trained specialists to inspect it. That is why we talked to an audit company with a certificate in Russia, and they inspected it for free. The report’s results came to me on the 30th of January, 2023. It turned out to be the same as I suspected earlier. According to the specified amount, 18 thousand tons of ash should be emitted per year. But is this norm being met? Auditors checked the filters of 12 boilers. As a result, the pollution particles in boiler No. 3 were nine times higher than Russian state standards, in boiler No. 4 seven times, and in boiler No. 9 it turned out to be 12 times higher during the technical audit. The electric filters were not working. They were simply turned off.” – said Kutmanova.
In the meantime, the BPS refutes Kutmanova’s statements and informs that the electric filters are working as usual, and the Bishkek Power Station is not working with Russian standards.
Environmental justice should be in demand
Azhar Baisalova, a representative of the NGO Movegreen, says that the Government has been studying the cause of the air pollution for several years, and the state agencies have been blaming each other, but no serious steps have been taken to deal with it.
“The Government should empower environmental safety policy. The current situation is the lack of stable policy and control in government agencies. If more people report serious consequences of air pollution, it will be easier to solve the problem. Only demanding environmental justice can bring some change to environmental security. Currently, the Kyrgyz Government is not putting climate or environmental issues as the top priority.”
What is the main reason for air pollution in Bishkek?
According to the last research made by UNDP in Kyrgyzstan, the main reason for air pollution in Bishkek is the private sector. Currently more than 63 thousand households across the city use coal for winter heating.
Another reason is the extra emissions from vehicles. For example, more than 900 thousand cars are registered in Bishkek, while the city is designed for a maximum of 50 thousand private vehicles. Emissions from power stations, which provide heat to apartment buildings, also greatly affect air quality. However, authorities of the power stations do not agree with this claim.
Now, time will show whether the General Prosecutor’s Office starts an investigation with the requirement of lawyer Aitkulov. The response to the official appeal should be sent by February 20. Until then, Aitkulov is gathering signatures in support of his appeal.
By Baktygul Chynybaeva, Communication Manager of CAN EECCA