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The Town of the XXI Century 

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The Town of the XXI Century
Series of reports on ecological situation in Central Asia



Once, the poet Vladimir Lugovskoi called Almaty "the city of dreams at the bottom of the mountains". Probably, this was at the time when the city streets were occupied only by carriages powered by tired donkeys. In spring and autumns the city was covered by the disrupting fume raising from the animal organic wastes.

A lot of changes have taken place since that time. The city has turned into a cultural and industrial center, which until recently was also a capital of Kazakhstan and this has provided the city with a special charm. The city has its own history a part of which is dedicated to studying its, so called, ecological health.

The beginning of 1970s was marked by the first studies of the city air basin pollution, which were done by the Kazakh regional scientific research institute of hydro meteorology working based on the agreement with the architectural and planning department of the city executive committee. Even at that time the results of the research prompted well-grounded worries about the fate of the city. However, the acquired results did not lead to an appropriate reaction: they were not used later on in city building practices. Later the city executive committee discontinued financial support for the project, but the problems remained in place. Moreover, as the years were passing by, the problems become more serious and "burning".

In December of 1985 the State planning committee of the Kazakh Soviet Socialistic Republic adopted a complex targeted scientific and technical program entitled "Development and implementation of measures aimed at curing the air basin of the city of Almaty" (1986-1990). The program was developed by more than 50 scientific research and projecting institutes, higher educational institutions of Almay, ministries and agencies, supported by the State planning committee and the Almaty city executive committee.

More than ten years have passed since that moment. Within that time Kazakhstan has become a sovereign state. Currently development of the national economy is not marked by any outstanding successes. Many large plants and factories, which were providing jobs for thousands of people, are currently stopped. This is of course beneficial for the nature because plants and factories are not throwing harmful fumes into the air.

Has anything changed with conditions of the air basin of one of the most beautiful cities of Kazakhstan, Almaty? Even at those times it has been proven that vehicles serve as the main source of pollution in Almaty. As to the operation of the heat power plants, they still work and supply people with steam, hot water and the still throw fumes out of their tubes. In other words, even though, some plants and factories were closed or reduced their production volumes, the main "pollutants" have continued their operations and this means that the problem remains.

Almaty is situated at the bottom of Zailiskii Alatau mountains. Mountains blocking the city from the south and partly from the east present an unbreakable barrier for circulation of the air. Weak winds blowing at nights from the mountains, and at daytime - in an opposite direction, bring not only the coolness, but also serve as "blowers" of pollution in the northern direction. However, as a rule, in the city the air is not moving.

In autumns and winters in Almaty the weather is characterized not only by the absence of strong winds, but also by often strong temperature inversions. The danger of high air pollution increases in cases of combinations of weak winds and near-the-land inversions, which happens in cases of air stalemates.

Accumulation of admixtures, which usually happens in cases of weak winds and inversions, usually become even stronger in cases of fogs, when the effect of accumulation of admixtures can be observed and when the concentration of admixtures increases. Absorbation of admixtures is usually accompanied by development of new more toxic substances. For example, in cases of fogs sulphuric gas pollution very quickly reacts with oxygen, which results in development of sulphur anhydride and later development of sulphuric acid. Every year in Almaty there are 40-50 days when fogs cover the city for 4-5 hours. Sometimes these cases may coincide with critical levels of air pollution over the city. So, the smog is the product of of plants, vehicles and weather conditions. It carries hundreds of tons of harmful wastes, such as lead, carbon oxide, etc.

In winter, heavier and thicker cold mountainous air serves as a lens and covers the land surface of the city forcing warm air to move up. This "pillar" formed by cold air allows air layers to move vertically preventing the air from becoming cleaner and stimulating accumulation of harmful substances.

Increased concentration of dust in the air usually occurs during the cold period of the year. This is caused by the increased amounts of ashes thrown into the air by heating devices working in their winter regimes. The lowest levels of dust usually reached in May can be explained by the positive influence of the massive spring rains.

The situation in Almaty is characterized by autumn-spring "jump" of sulphuric gas concentration, and winter increase in concentration of carbon oxide.

Annual cycle of concentration of gas-like substances is influenced by the work of public transportation and numbers of cars on the roads, heating systems, plants and factories, types of fuel.

For example, the winter maximum levels and summer minimum levels of carbon oxide are related to the operations of the small heating stoves.

Several years in a row the republican health protection center of the Ministry of health care of the Republic of Kazakhstan studied the influence of pollution on the health of the people living in Almaty. Three methods of research were used during the study:

  1. observation of identical groups (mainly children);
  2. research of medical statistics;
  3. surveys conducted among people living in the cities.

The study allowed to conclude that the central part of the city, the rectangle formed by Kunaev street, Bogenbai batyr street, Ryskulov Avenue and river Vesnovka (Z zone) is the most heavily polluted. Here high levels of dust, carbon oxide, sulphuric anhydride, nitrogen dioxide pollution were registered. Medium level of pollution was registered in the rectangle formed by Furmanov street, Baizakov street, Abai avenue and Al-Farabi avenue (Y zone). "Orbita" microregion (X zone) served as the control part of the city and had the lowest coefficient of pollution. Observation of health conditions of children showed that the overall highest levels of diseases were registered in zones Z and Y. In these zones children often suffered from severe virus infections and diseases of breathing organs. They suffer from various diseases of the upper parts of breathing organs.

The study of the demand for medical services shows that annually the numbers of requests of medical assistance in zones X, Y, and Z are respectively, 534, 657 and 924 per 100 thousand people.

In zone Z, the number of medical assistance requests related to diseases of breathing organs is 12,5 times higher than in the control zone.

Analysis of requests related to diseases of digesting organs showed that zones Z and Y were characterized by higher levels of stomach ulcers and chronic diseases of gall ways, than zone X.

Higher death rate (in comparison with the control zone) from severe pneumonia was registered in Z zone

Toxicologic literature describes the influence of particular environmental factors on people's health - functions of many variables, integrated measure of the quality of the environment. Knowing the main substances thrown into the air by the city's industrial installations and the most polluted zones, it is possible to predict the types of diseases dominating in each of the regions.

For example, excessive concentration of heavy metals leads to development of cancer-related diseases: (cadmium, arsenic, chrome); heart and blood diseases (lead, cadmium); bone diseases (aluminium, strontium), and also nerve system diseases (lead, mercury).

Summarizing the results, it is possible to suggest that the multi-year studies done in Almaty show that there is a direct connection between health conditions of the people and atmospheric pollution.

As a result of the influence of understandable reasons the program of curing the air basin of Almaty, adopted at the beginning of 1990s, was not implemented. But this does not mean that the ecological situation must further deteriorate in the southern capital. Let us quote some parts of the report presented by the head of the city environmental protection department, Mr. Arynov.

The beginning of the year 1999 was marked by the introduction of the complex program aimed at improving the ecological situation in the southern capital of Kazakhstan.

In Almaty birth rates are falling (from 17,5 per 1000 people in 1988 to 10,6 per 1000 people in 1997) and death rates are increasing (from 8 per 1000 people to 11). In Almaty the natural population growth coefficient is the lowest among all regions of the Republic.

At the current stage of development of the city slution of ecological problems must be based on the new economic relations and must follow the "Kazakhstan-2030" strategy and the Presidential Decree "On the first priority measures aimed at improving the health conditions of citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan".

The "Taza aua - zhanga daua" program provides for implementation of a clear construction policy, which takes into consideration the ecological regional division of the territory of the city and the level of acceptable ecological pressures. New appropriate construction and planning rules are developed for the city of Almaty considering the new general city construction plan.

Implementation of the program will be carried out together with the projects of the National plan of actions aimed at environmental protection for stable development, which is administered by the Ministry of ecology and natural resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which determine the priority decisions related to ecological problems.

Each block of the program provides for actions aimed at development of production and distribution of services, which have positive ecological and social-economic impact, increasing the level of employment of the people.

The program contains 10 chapters and will be implemented within the period from 1999 till 2015.


Proposed measures aimed at reduction of the harmful influence of vehicles are based on development of services provided for various automobiles, improvement of traffic, increased numbers of ecologically safe vehicles.


One of the main ecological problems of Almaty is related to operation and exhausts of heat power production systems, the majority of which are out-of-date both morally and physically. Real decrease in the level of technological influence on the environment can be achieved if the power producing systems are forced to use liquid natural gas.

Renewable power supply sources must be used together with conventional methods of power production (coal, oil). Construction of housing must be accompanied by installation of solar collectors; energy preserving materials and technologies must be used.


The program outlines measures for renovation of the "green resources", increase in financial solvency of parks, construction of government-operated and private recreational zones with elements of entertainment centers.

Water preserving technologies and preservation of the available water resources and their appropriate quality - this is the foundation of all the measures proposed by the program.

Utilization of industrial and household wastes and recycling are viewed as the main measures for protection and rational exploitation of lands.


The program provides for establishment of the system of stimulation of the rational exploitation of natural resources, establishment of credit lines aimed at financing of ecological measures, development of privileged ecological taxation, development and transfer of ecologically clean technologies through special centers


Here the main measures are aimed at improvement of the system of environmental monitoring, conservation of resources and energy, rational exploitation of the nature.


Wide media coverage of ecological problems of the city and the ways to resolve the problems, education of ecological specialists, improvement of the system of ecological education.

As sad as it may be, but the cities are still the main destructors of natural harmony. Luckily people have understood that if we continue to be guided by Michurin's words: "We do not have to wait for the benefits granted by nature - we ought to capture them from the nature", then we can completely destroy forests, lakes, animals, birds, and, in the end, people. That is why, currently, building cities and villages, educated architects are trying to preserve natural landscapes as much as possible.


People living in Almaty know the family name Baum very well. Eduard Ottonovich Baum (1850-1921), scientist-forester, provisor pf forestry of the Semirechie region. During more than quarter of a century he served as the Chairperson of the Semirechie agricultural society. In 1874 he moved to Verniy (that was the name of Almaty city until 1921) after graduation from Petrov agricultural and forestry academy of Saint-Petersburg land institute. At first he served as the forest-keeper of the general-governor of Semirechie region, he selected samples of plants, brought some types of plants from Russia. He brought and planted many valuable kinds of fruit and pine-trees. He initiated publication of the decree requiring all people living in the city to plant at least 20 decorative and fruit trees in front of their houses. The young trees were given out to people free of charge…

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