Staunton, January 24 – Ecologists say that Beijing’s plans to develop Xinjiang will have “apocalyptic” consequences for Kazakhstan, making Lake Balkash into a second Aral Sea, drying up the Irtysh River, and leaving the residents of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Pavlodar, Karaganda, and Semeya (the former Semipalatinsk) without drinking water.
According to a report by Petr Bologov on the Lenta.ru news agency today, China cannot hope to develop its far west without water and thus has decided without any apologies to take it from the Ili and Irtysh, two rivers “on which those living in Central and Eastern Kazakhstan directly depend” (www.lenta.ru/articles/2013/01/23/irtysh/
Officials in the portions of Kazakhstan most likely to be affected are pressing for the construction of new reservoirs in order to guarantee that there will be enough drinking water for their populations (www.caravan.kz/article/36324), but they concede that even with those in place declines in the flow will affect agriculture and industrial production there.
China has refused to sign the Helsinki Convention on the Preservation and Use of Trans-Border Water Flows and International Lakes, although Beijing has said that it is prepared to negotiate about such flows with its neighbors. But that leaves neighbors like Kazakhstan in a less than advantageous position.
“The reduction of the size of trans-border flows of the Ili and Irtysh rivers is fraught with negative consequences for the unique lakes of Balkhan and Zaysan and the disappearance of the forests of the Ili Alataury, Dzhugarsky Alatau and Tarbagatay national part, Kazakhstan ecologist Bakytzhan Bazarbek said this week (http://megapolis.kz/art/Kranti).
He added that “if the Balkhash repeats the fate of the Aral, then from the bottom of the dried out body of water will rise thousands of tons of salt which will cover the entire eastern portion of the country,” leading as the disappearance of the Aral Sea has to environmental and health disasters across the land.
Bazarbek says that Astana has no choice but to find “a common language” with China, but so far, last week’s bilateral talks concluded only with a promise that the discussions will continue (www.minagri.kz/ru/small/news/v-astanie-sostoialos-10-oie-zasiedaniie-kazachstansko-kitajskoj-sovmiestnoj-komissii-po-ispolzovaniiu-i-ochranie-transgranitchnych-riek/3228/).