Empowering the civil society in Kazakhstan in the improvement of chemical safety

Empowering the civil society in Kazakhstan in the improvement of chemical safety

Activities financed by international organizations are obviously focused on state institutions, while focus on equally important stakeholder - civil society - was unrepresented and generally lacking. Attention to the local communities resulted in very important case studies that might help the civil society in Kazakhstan to deal with similar issues in the future.

Dana Zhandayeva, lawyer and former member of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee

CONTEXT

Kazakhstan has ratified the Aarhus Convention "on environmental democracy" in 2000. However, there are major gaps in its implementation. The legislation does not secure transparency of information and of political and administrative processes, and the court system has not served as an independent check of on government authority. In the Environmental Code, environmental justice is recognized as a principle that will inform government’s actions and decision-making.

OBJECTIVES

  • To improve the access to the information, public participation in decision making in environmental issues and access to justice, and overall empower the civil society in order to contribute to local development in Kazakhstan, especially in Mangystau region.

RESULTS

  • Methodology of independent evaluation of the Aarhus Convention implementation has been developed, and the first report produced. Participation of activists from Kazakhstan at the Meeting of the Parties in the Netherlands. All delegates were informed about the situation, and the Compliance Committee started to investigate the complaint submitted by civil society.
  • Participation in Working groups at the parliament for legislative amendments towards a "green economy". Several sets of recommendations have been developed, but only minor part adopted by the parliament. The biggest success is introduction of obligatory public hearings in decision making on environmental issues.
  • In cooperation with the Resource Centre of the Ministry of Energy, a pilot version on the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) was developed together with the rankings of the largest polluters.
  • Cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste – some of our findings were included in his report.
  • With the objective to check functionality of legislation, a first in Kazakhstan "public environmental expertise" was conducted – a tool that should enable the civil society to carry out independent assessment of an industrial project prior to its permission.
  • On-line map of the environmental hot spots of Mangystau Region was launched, covering 26 issues.
  • In Pavlodar, city with the most polluted air in Kazakhstan, a public campaign against construction of the waste incinerator was launched. More than 100 000 people signed the petition, 800 came to the public hearing, and the project was cancelled.
  • Public Consultation Centre was opened in Aktau to disseminate information on the environment and encourage citizens to deal with local issues.
  • Chemical analysis of camel milk in Mangystau was carried out to demonstrate the impact of environmental pollution on foodstuff and human health.
  • Within the Small Grants Programme, six local communities received financial and technical support to deal with environmental cases.
  • Several local issues were successfully resolved. Aktau municipal landfill, operating without a permit and polluting environment, was closed down. The municipality of Kuryk reconstructed sewer which polluted a school yard for years. Regional Tourism Department has fenced off Saura canyon to protect fragile nature. The achieved victories were widely published to promote practical use of the citizens’ rights and to encourage local communities to strive for better environment.

FACTS AND FIGURES

  • Public Consultation Centre provided 71 consultations
  • 45 articles were published in the mass media
  • At least 45 093 online readers
  • 3 995 people read the report on environmental justice in Kazakhstan
  • 10 round tables for the multi-stakeholder dialog organized (170 participants)
  • 11 525 page views www.ecocitizens.kz
  • Established and maintained network of 60 active civil society organisations
  • 6 local civic initiatives financially supported within the Small Grants Programme (total: €16 000)
  • 6 workshops for the civil society (153 participants)
  • 3 lectures in high schools, attended by 1 638 students
  • 2 workshops for journalists, 28 participants
  • 7 issues of the newsletter: 1 926 downloads and 365 regular recipients
  • 3 flyers produced and 2 130 copies distributed
  • 2 facts finding missions organised to Mangystau Region, ten places visited

PARTNERS

TESTIMONY

Six local communities in Mangystau received the financial support for their struggle with environmental issues. Two women's organisations in Baskuduk (30 000 people affected by the pollution) reached significant success.

The permission for Aktau municipal waste landfill operation expired in 2011 and the state authorities promised to open new waste management plant according to European standards. However, the reality was worse and worse. The project had significant delay and the waste management company kept using overfull landfill still in 2015. Closest family houses of fast growing town Baskuduk were only 50 meters far from the landfill. Constantly blowing wing was distributing garbage in surrounding steppe – and private gardens. Frequent fires polluted the air.

Local civic initiative Baisheshek carried out a public opinion survey, organized a public hearing with participation of the state authorities, and started a campaign against illegal operation of the industrial site in the mass media. After several months, the state authorities recognized the requirements and the landfill was closed down.

Another civic initiative, Zhas-Dauren, conducted the public awareness campaign. They explained their neighbours that organic part of the household waste can be composted and that quality of environment in the town can be improved by trees planting. Interested families could get tree seedlings for free and beautify their yards.