Kazakhstan inherited a number of environmental problems from the Soviet era, above all the large areas of the former Soviet nuclear weapons test site in Semipalatinsk and the drying up of the Aral Sea.
In the so-called Polygon of Semipalatinsk , above-ground and then underground nuclear weapon tests were carried out from 1949-1961, regardless of the population living there. The polygon was closed in 1991 and Kazakhstan declared itself a nuclear-weapon-free state. The test site is still contaminated with radioactivity and will remain so for a long time. Even a quarter of a century after the closure is in the surrounding villages the number of disabled children and the rate of cancer among others sufferers unabated high. After the topic was not allowed to be dealt with in the Soviet era, there are now a multitude of harrowing reports and films (e.g. Life in Death Zone 1, n-tv, Life in Death Zone 2, n-tv, The Secret of the Atomic Bomb Trials, The Lethal Soviet Legacy). Even recently (autumn 2017) there seems to have been radioactive contamination in northern Kazakhstan, but its origin and extent have remained unclear. In the spring of 2020, plans were announced to store nuclear waste in the Semipalatinsk polygon. The planned construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan aroused particularly many concerns and loud protests in 2018/19, the dismantling of a fast breeder from the Soviet era posed considerable financial burdens for the population.
According to areacodesexplorer, the Aral Sea was an area of 69,000 square kilometers once the fourth largest lake in the world. As a result of huge water withdrawals from the two rivers that feed it (Syr Darja, Amu Darja), it dried up to an enormous extent in the Soviet era, a trend that continues to this day due to the enormous waste of water in Central Asia. The lake therefore only contains a tenth of its original amount of water, the surface has shrunk by approx. 75%. The now exposed former lake floor is a salt and dust desert. The consequences for the health of the population living in the vicinityare disastrous. Since 1987, the lake has been divided into a southern part of Uzbekistan and a northern part of Kazakhstan. The situation on this northern lake was stabilized by a dam so that fishing is now possible again. The lake and its surroundings on both the Kazakhstan and Uzbek sides are still a world disaster area. Kazakhstan plans to further stabilize the water level of the northern lake by changing the course of the Syr-Darya. Access to water has considerable potential for conflict throughout Central Asia, with regard to the Aral Seasome specialists saw positive political signals, but currently there seems to be again interstate tensions. Warnings are also being given about the drying up of the country’s second large inland lake, Lake Balkhash – and even the water level of the Caspian Sea is said to be dropping seriously. Experts warn against a desertification of Central Asia. Increasingly, it is not just the quantity, but also the quality of the water available for use that is a cause for concern. In the Mangistau area, which is rich in petroleum but poor in drinking water, the construction of a water purification plant on the shores of the Caspian Sea is currently underway tackled.
After a Russian proton rocket crashed shortly after its launch in Baikonur in the summer of 2013 and there were fears that the residents of Baikonur would be contaminated with toxic fuel, a movement against further rocket launches of this kind has formed, which is not only ecological, but also has political implications. The topicality of the problem was made clear to the residents of the area when a Soyuz capsule was successfully landed in October 2018. The former Soviet cosmodrome has been leased from Kazakhstan to Russia for around 200 million euros annually for 50 years and Kazakhstan is now looking for more influence to get on what is going on at the spaceport. In recent years there have been repeated signs that Russia could withdraw completely from Baikonur in the long term and / or that there are money worries, but experts are currently assuming that the spaceport will be preserved.
As only today became known, there was a serious incident during the Soviet era during the oil extraction, which could have caused enormous destruction. In the independent Kazakhstan, the regular increased oil production leads to enormous pollution of the environment. In cities, especially Almaty, but also Nur-Sultan, there is an enormous pollution of the air by fine dust and other car exhaust gases. In terms of its carbon footprint, it has held a top position globally for years.
In spite of all modern technology and strict guidelines, the basic attitude is economy over ecology, this also applies to the ” green economy “, which has been officially promoted and required for some time. Environmental awareness is poor not only among representatives of the state and industry, but also among the citizens. Yes, there is, especially in Almaty, although still a small, but growing number of people who are looking for nature and environmental protection commitment.