The Town of the XXI Century
Series of reports on ecological situation in Central Asia
CITIZENS HAVE MORE RIGHTS IN A LEGAL
IN THE COUNTRY, WHICH WAS CALLED THE UNION OF THE SOVIET
SOCIALISTIC REPUBLICS, NOBODY KNEW THE WHOLE TRUTH.
Information about any event was filtered by numerous censors, and only in
very rare cases citizens of the country got it in an almost complete format.
This secrecy was related even to weather conditions. If there was a flood or a
storm in any of the country's regions, then these facts were reported with
plenty of reservations. Citizens of the former Soviet Union remember the
catastrophe at Chernobyl very well. The reports about this tragedy were
broadcasted by the All-Union radio and appeared on the front pages of central
newspapers several days after the explosion in the reactor. Specialists suggest
that, if the information about the explosion had been timely given out to the
people living in surrounding towns and villages, then the number of injured
could have been lower. To liquidate the consequences of the catastrophe at the
Chernobyl nuclear power plant, hundreds of thousands military personnel were
moved into the region. Many of them currently have various kinds of
disabilities. The secrecy regime prevented victims of radiation from proving the
fact that they had become disabled people because they had been involved into
the liquidation operation.
"Silence is a crime", - this is what doctor of mathematical sciences Ivan
Chasnikov stresses in one of his books. For example, he writes: "Hiroshima,
Semipalatinsk, Chernobyl … Tragedies, which are now counted by tens and
hundreds. More than 690 space objects with nuclear reactors and radio isotope
generators are flying over our heads. Emergencies and throws of radioactive
substances into the atmosphere, on the ground or into the ocean take place all
over the planet. It is a crime not to hear these alarm signals, which are sent
to the humanity. It is even a bigger crime to keep silence about them…"
Silence also means huge economic losses, which could have been prevented, if
appropriate information had been timely distributed among the people.
IN JUNE OF 1998, IN ORHUS (DENMARK) MINISTERS OF EUROPEAN COUNTRIES SIGNED A
CONVENTION, WHICH IS CALLED "THE CONVENTION ON ACCESS TO INFORMATION, PUBLIC
PARTICIPATION IN DECISION-MAKING, AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE ON ENVIRONMENTAL
Below listed some of the provisions of the Orhus convention:
Each person has the right to live in the environment, which is
beneficial for his or her health and well-being and must individually or
together with others protect and improve the environment for the benefit of
the current and future generations.
To secure the opportunities to protect this right and to
fulfill this duty citizens must have access to information, the right to
participate in public decision-making process and to have access to justice on
environmental matters, and, in connection wit that it must be admitted that
citizens may need assistance to fulfill their rights
In environmental matters, the improved access to information
and public participation in decision-making increases the quality of the
decisions made and improves the process of their implementation, assists in
better distribution of information on environmental matters, provides the
public with the opportunity to express concerns and allows government agencies
to appropriately account for these interests.
The public must be aware of the procedure for participation in
the decision-making process in cases of issues related to the environment,
must have free access to them and know how to use them.
Complete consideration of ecological aspects is very
important, when decisions are made at the government level and this leads to
the importance of possession of the most precise, complete and up-to-date
ecological information by the government agencies.
It is desirable to assist in ecological education to deepen
the understanding of processes related to the environment and stable
development and to stimulate wide distribution of information about decisions
influencing the environment and stable development and its participation in
adoption of these decisions.
Of course, this does not represent all the texts of the
Convention, but its main provisions are related to the Right to:
ARE CITIZENS READY TO USE THEIR RIGHTS?
It is interesting to find out how prepared are citizens of Kazakhstan to use
such kinds of rights.
Association of sociologists and political scientists of Almaty has conducted
comparative analysis of the responses presented by 4 groups of people regarding
the levels of their awareness of and concerns related to the level of the
society's ecological consumption. The survey showed that for all groups of
people information presented by the media and personal experiences represent the
main sources of information.
Evaluation of the respondents shows that the ecological issues have not been
considered as priorities of the state policies. This tells us that state
ecological agencies are not occupied with raising the issues of state ecological
security, they are not resolving these issues and even have no capabilities to
attract public and governmental attention to these issues.
The majority of respondents (57,2%) do not know about activities of the state
environmental protection services. A quarter of them knows about the fact of
existence of the Ministry of ecology and biological resources. One respondent
mentioned UNDP. Three respondents for some reason added State Auto Inspection to
the ecological protection agencies. The predominant attitude toward activities
of state ecological agencies is: in 70% of the cases - the quality of activities
People know even less about activities of the ecological non-government
organizations. 61,6% stated that they did not know anything about their
So, people are not really ready to use their rights related to restoration of
order in their, so to say, "own house", if we refer back to the etymology of the
In connection with these facts it is appropriate to recollect the almost
detective story, which happened with the toxic wastes, which were moved into
Russia at the beginning of last year. The story is entitled:
KAZAKHSTAN MAY BECOME A GARBAGE COLLECTOR
The appropriately informed "greens" decided to prevent the shipment. And the
desperate customs officials finally found a way to deal with the lots of wastes
- sold them to the commercial firm "Stroymontazh", which decided to process the
wastes in Ust-Kamenogorsk. It has not been possible to find out whether the
wastes reached their new destination, but the probability of this happening is
quite high, says the Head of the department of state control of protection and
exploitation of the mineral resources and plants of the Ministry of biological
and ecological resources of Kazakhstan, Sandybek Omarov. He considers that in
the Republic there are no opportunities to ensure full-scale control over import
and export of toxic wastes. So far Kazakhstan has not signed the Bazel
Convention of 1989, which allows to control movements of almost each kilogram of
wastes taken in or out of the country.
Let us look at this story from the standpoint of the Orhus Convention. It
requires government officials to inform the citizens of Ust-Kamenogorsk about
the fact that toxic wastes will be processed in their town and this may cause
certain negative consequences. This was the way to execute the right of the
people to get information.
The second aspect is related to the fact that people or public unions. After
long unclear trips from one customs point to another it was decided that these
toxic wastes will be processed in Ust-Kamenogorsk.
At first, an Israeli firm "Lev Gubenko" moved the wastes through France to
Russia. It was planned that they would be processed at "Uzhuralnikel". However,
as soon as the ecological departments of the plant analyzed the samples of the
wastes, they immediately refused to accept the wastes. The interesting detail is
that the wastes were registered as nickel and cobalt raw materials, however, in
reality the wastes contained highly toxic substances. The dangerous cargo was
moved back to the supplier. It was stopped at the Baltic customs line.
Despite the fact that the Minister of ecology of France ordered the cargo to
be shipped back to France, "Lev Gubenko" was not going to take care of the lots
of toxic materials.
After several failed attempts to sell the toxic wastes the Baltic customs
officials made a decision to bury the wastes at the Krasniy Bor testing range
near Saint-Petersburg. However, had to inform the government officials about
their attitude toward processing of toxic wastes in Ust-Kamenogorsk. And the
government officials had to consider the opinion of the people. That was the way
to execute the right of the people to participate in solution of ecological
And, finally, the right to justice could have been executed in the following
case. Let us imagine that, in the end, toxic wastes arrived in Ust-Kamenogorsk.
As a result of the fact that the wastes were processed, people living in the
city started to get sick more often and allergic reactions became more wide
spread. People have the right to send an appeal to the court in order to require
those responsible for the situation to compensate the moral and material damage
caused to the people living in the city.