The Campaign: 2003-Today

The Berezovka villagers are demanding relocation to a safe and healthy location of their choosing because of the toxic exposure they suffer. They are also requesting compensation for their suffering. According to Kazakhstani law, which stipulates a 5-kilometer Sanitary Protection Zone (SPZ) around the Karachaganak Field, the villagers should have been relocated upon the start of field operations. However, in 2003, KPO convinced the government to reduce the SPZ to 3 kilometers, claiming “superior technology” had been introduced at the field, effectively barring the Berezovka villagers from relocation. The SPZ was reduced without a state environmental assessment, without notice to local residents, without consideration for public opinion, and without public participation in the decision-making process—in violation of Kazakhstani law and the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. After three years of public protest, Kazakhstan’s Public Prosecutor found the 2003 decision to reduce the SPZ to be illegal, and the 5-kilometer SPZ was reinstated in 2006. However, neither KPO nor the government has made reparations to the villagers for the years of violations to their rights, or has made efforts to relocate the village.

Health Monitoring
When KPO and the government claimed that there was no toxic exposure in Berezovka, the villagers and Crude Accountability began conducting independent monitoring programs. Employing techniques used in US toxic and environmental justice communities for the past twenty-five years, we calculated that, as of 2003, forty-five percent of the population of Berezovka was chronically ill as a result of toxic emissions from the Karachaganak Field. The health study revealed that 688 members of the adult population were suffering regularly from headaches and memory loss: 599 had muscular-skeletal problems, 423 were suffering significant hair loss and were losing their teeth; 413 were suffering vision loss; 401 had cardio-vascular difficulties; 375 had serious gastroenterological problems; 308 had upper respiratory illness; and 260 were suffering from skin ailments.

The villagers, led by Svetlana Anosova, also conducted a survey of 100 high school students in the village and discovered that 95 of them were suffering from overall weakness, 83 regularly experienced severe headaches, 77 were suffering from memory loss and had frequent fainting spells, 67 had skin ailments, 49 were experiencing feelings of aggression and 34 were experiencing regular nose bleeds. Among 80 middle school children (ages 7 to 10) whom Svetlana surveyed, 45 had frequent headaches, 38 were suffering frequent stomach aches and weakness, 29 had skin ailments, and 24 were suffering memory loss, and 21 were experiencing regular chest pains. (Download health survey results.)

Blood samples taken by an independent laboratory in December 2004 indicated that the villagers were suffering from exposure to hydrogen sulfide and other toxins associated with petroleum extraction and refining.

Air and Water Monitoring
Independent Bucket Brigade air monitoring conducted by the villagers from September 2004 to August 2005 registered over twenty-five toxic substances in the air, including hydrogen sulfide, methylene chloride, carbon disulfide, toluene and acrylonitrile. The village water supply was found to be “not of drinking water quality” by an independent laboratory based in Orenburg, Russia. (Download data on toxins.)

Further evidence of KPO’s environmentally harmful operations was provided in April 2005 by the Western Kazakhstan Oblast environmental authority when it denied KPO’s operating license. The decision was made because of KPO’s numerous environmental violations, including emitting 56 thousand tons of toxic waste into the atmosphere in 2004, improper storage of toxic solid waste on the Karachaganak Field and dumping toxic effluent into the water table. (See the 2005 Uralsk Week article “Environmental Dregs” ).

In 2008, KPO was fined by the government 1 billion, 840 million tenge (USD 12 million 240 thousand) for violations of environmental safety standards. Thus far in 2009, KPO has paid 8.5 billion tenge in fines (USD 56 million 403 thousand), of which 4 billion tenge is for pollution of the atmosphere and over 500 million tenge is for violating land use regulations. (Read this April 2009 Kazinform article for more details.) According to the Western Kazakhstan Department of Statistics, KPO has violated toxic emissions standards 39 times in the period 2001-2006, with exceedences of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane and other toxins. (See the table “Emission of Pollutants by KPO into the Atmosphere form 2001-2006“).

Closed Doors at the IFC
In July 2003, Crude Accountability first engaged with the IFC project team responsible for the Karachaganak project. Together with Svetlana Anosova, we met with the team at IFC headquarters to discuss toxic emissions coming from the Karachaganak Field. While in Washington, DC, Svetlana also met with the Executive Directors responsible for Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as with the US Executive Director. One of the Executive Directors told Svetlana that in the macro economic sense, Karachaganak was good for Kazakhstan. There are winners and losers in life, he said. And, unfortunately, in this case, you are the losers.

Unfortunately, this DC-based interaction yielded nothing from the Bank except a series of meetings with KPO’s General Director, who was encouraged by IFC staff to meet with Svetlana. These meetings resulted in no change at the Karachaganak Field, and, in fact, upon her return to Berezovka, Svetlana was also harassed for the first time by local representatives of the Kazakhstani security police who told her to stop engaging with the World Bank about problems at Karachaganak.

Nevertheless, the Berezovka Initiative Group, Crude Accountability and Green Salvation continued over the next few years to contact the IFC’s project team regarding the concerns at Karachaganak. Each time, the concerns were simply dismissed by the IFC’s project team.

Official CAO Complaints
Three complaints have been filed with the IFC’s Compliance, Advisor/Ombudsman’s office since 2004 documenting the IFC’sviolations of its own standards in financing the environmentally destructive Karachaganak Field.

Complaint 1
The villagers filed their first formal complaint in 2004, raising concerns related to the impact of the Karachaganak Field on the health and economic well-being of their village, as well as the illegality of the reduction of the Sanitary Protection Zone. The CAO traveled twice to Berezovka and, in April 2005, issued an Assessment Report, finding that KPO had failed to comply with IFC standards for public disclosure and information dissemination of environmental and health data impacting local communities. (Download the Assessment Report.)

The CAO recommended that KPO reach out to the local community to build greater trust and work toward a more effective relationship. Crude Accountability offered to work with KPO to meet the recommendations of the CAO, but we never received a direct reply to our offers. Rather, KPO stated it would only agree to meet with the villagers if Crude Accountability and the other partners of the Berezovka Initiative Group were not at the table. The Initiative Group declined this offer, which was put forward by the CAO’s office as the terms of the negotiated settlement, stating that without its partners it would not negotiate with KPO. The Ombudsman’s function of the CAO’s office closed the case and passed it on to the Compliance function.

The result was a report by the Auditor, published in April 2008, which found numerous non-compliances with IFC standards at Karachaganak. (Download the Auditor’s Report.) One of the most troubling non-compliances was the discovery that no results for hydrogen sulfide monitoring had been reported between 2003 and 2006—the very years during which the Berezovka residents had been complaining they were suffering health problems due to hydrogen sulfide exposure. Not only did this discovery identify the lack of due diligence on the part of the IFC, but it demonstrated the lack of concern on the part of the company and IFC to take seriously the villagers’ concerns regarding hydrogen sulfide exposure, which were repeatedly made during this period. Instead, KPO, local authorities and the IFC claimed that concerns expressed by the villagers were misplaced, that KPO and Kazakhstani government monitoring demonstrated the field was safe, when in fact it appears that no monitoring for hydrogen sulfide was being conducted.

Complaint 2
In April 2007, Green Salvation filed a second complaint with the CAO regarding the question of resizing the Sanitary Protection Zone around the field, as well as emissions from the field. This complaint was transferred to compliance in November 2007, when it was determined no negotiation was possible in this case. Compliance found that the issue of the SPZ was outside of the IFC’s jurisdiction and closed the case in January 2008, as the emissions issue was covered under the first complaint, which was then under investigation. Green Salvation wrote a letter to the CAO regarding this decision in November 2007, underscoring the fact that the reduction of the SPZ at Karachaganak was a violation of Kazakhstani law and reminded the CAO that the IFC is bound by national law of, and international conventions signed by, the host country of a project. Unfortunately, this issue has never been adequately addressed by the IFC or the CAO.

Complaint 3
In May 2008, Crude Accountability and Green Salvation filed a third complaint with the CAO, specifically addressing the issue of the Sanitary Protection Zone. In October 2007, Crude Accountability learned that the Kazakhstani government had officially recognized the SPZ at five kilometers, a fact that had been under dispute from 2003-2006 when the government and KPO claimed the SPZ was three kilometers. However, neither KPO nor the Kazakhstani government had undertaken the necessary public disclosure or participation procedures required to make the change in the size of the SPZ legal. Thus, Green Salvation, the Berezovka Initiative Group and Crude Accountability repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the three-kilometer zone.

The third complaint describes how the IFC is out of compliance with its own regulations regarding involuntary resettlement at Karachaganak. With the SPZ at 5 kilometers, Berezovka is entitled to relocation according to Kazakhstani law. The reduction of the SPZ, the introduction of progressive technology at the field and the partial change of the technological process at KPO were done without a state environmental assessment, without informing the local residents, without considering their opinions, and without their participation in the decision-making process. This is a violation of the Aarhus Convention and the Republic of Kazakhstan’s 1997 Law “On Environmental Assessment.” IFC has very clear regulations regarding involuntary resettlement, provision of prior information to the public, compensation, involvement in decision-making, etc. The boilerplate of activity is very clear for the IFC in this type of instance.

The complaint makes it clear that Berezovka residents are not willing to negotiate on whether or not to relocate—this is purely a question of law.

In March 2009, the CAO published an Assessment Report and suggested continuing negotiations regarding relocation. Following this, the organizations officially declined assistance from the Ombudsman and requested that the CAO transfer the complaint to the audit function, as was then done in May 2009. In October 2009, specialists from the CAO concluded that the question of the SPZ’s reduction lies outside of the IFC’s jurisdiction, and the complaint was closed.

Human Rights Abuses
In December 2004, Crude Accountability traveled to Berezovka to conduct a human rights seminar and other meetings. Staff members and Berezovka Initiative Group members were repeatedly detained and harassed by local police and authorities during that trip. Police officials approached them every day to “verify” their documents during their stay in Berezovka. One American staff member was taken to the Akimat (regional authority) in an unmarked car and interrogated by representatives of the public prosecutor’s office, the regional authority and police for over an hour. The authorities repeatedly asked the same questions, and demanded that she sign a statement declaring that she would not engage in any organizing activity while in Kazakhstan. She refused to sign the statement.

During the same trip in December 2004, Crude Accountability organized a medical study at an independent medical clinic in Aksai, Kazakhstan, the closest major city to the village, about 20 kilometers away. Women from the village, who volunteered to give blood, were physically and verbally threatened by the police, who physically grabbed them on the street, attempting to take them away in cars for questioning at police headquarters. The women resisted, which is the only reason they were not taken away. Police also threatened participants of Crude Accountability’s human rights seminar, held on December 12, 2004 in Berezovka, demanding identification papers, and photographing and filming participants during the seminar.

Since December 2004, Zhasil Dala’s leader, Svetlana Anosova, has been repeatedly harassed and threatened. Some regional journalists have published articles with false information about Crude Accountability’s and Initiative Group activities, publishing personal information including passport numbers. One of these articles—claiming that Crude Accountability’s Executive Director, Kate Watters, is a criminal—is published on KPO’s website.

Kazakhstan’s Guarantees of Human Rights
The Republic of Kazakhstan guarantees its citizens the right to a clean environment and states that not only do citizens have the right to a clean environment, but that citizens are also obligated to protect it.

Citizens also are guaranteed the right to know about and participate in environmental decision-making processes. Kazakhstan is a signatory to the Aarhus Convention, which states that the public must be informed of environmentally significant decisions and provided with the opportunity to participate in decisions impacting their environment. The Aarhus Convention also guarantees access to legal recourse when those rights are denied.

The reduction of the Sanitary Protection Zone around Karachaganak occurred with no public consultation and citizens were informed of the reduction only after the decision had taken place, in clear violation of their rights.

The ongoing toxic emissions from Karachaganak into the air, soil and water in and around Berezovka violate the rights of these citizens on a daily basis.

Sociological Survey
In early 2005, the Berezovka Initiative Group decided to conduct sociological research to understand the demands of Berezovka residents regarding relocation and compensation. The Initiative Group enlisted the organizational support of Crude Accountability and the expertise of a Moscow-based sociologist to develop the survey. Trained in sociological interview techniques, the Initiative Group conducted door-to-door interviews with decision-makers of 258 households in Berezovka during the spring and summer of 2005.

The surveys were then sent to independent sociologists of the Russian Academy of Sciences for analysis. An overwhelming majority—90% of Berezovka residents stated that they were in favor of relocation of their village, with only 7.8% opposed to relocation. The main conclusion: “the local residents consider living in this territory a problem and demand a prompt resolution, for they do not have sufficient strength or resources on their own to cope with the situation. A delay in resolving this problem or, worse yet, ignorance of the problem may lead to social tension, capable of developing into protest activity, conflict situations or apathy.” (Download survey results.)

2006 Public Hearing
In May 2006, Crude Accountability, in partnership with TAN, held a public hearing in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, to discuss the ongoing environmental health problems at Karachaganak. The hearing was attended by representatives of the regional environmental authority, representatives from the prosecutor’s office, residents of Berezovka, the press and by Deputy Zhamalov. Deputy Zhamalov chaired the meeting and promised to participate in the Special Commission created by the Ministry of Health, which would investigate the ongoing environmental health problems in Berezovka. Read more about the public hearing in the Uralsk Weekly article “KPO Listens and Corrupts the Air“.

The Commission traveled to Berezovka in July 2006 and issued a report in August basically reiterating the findings published earlier by KPO and the Regional Environmental Authority. No new, independent research appears to have been conducted.

Courtroom Activities
In January 2007, at the request of Berezovka residents, Green Salvation requested information regarding KPO’s environmental impact from Western Kazakhstan Oblast’s Department of Statistics. The Department refused to provide the information, citing the confidentiality of the information. In February 2007, Green Salvation filed a lawsuit against the Department as this is not secret information, in accordance with Kazakhstani legislation and the Aarhus Convention. However, both the city and oblast courts refused to satisfy the lawsuit. At the end of 2007, Green Salvation appealed to the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court. In March 2008, the Supreme Court satisfied the lawsuit and required that the information be provided to Green Salvation.

In June 2008, Green Salvation, the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, and the Nationwide Public Association “Shanyrak” filed a lawsuit against the Government of Kazakhstan in defense of the interest of Berezovka residents. The plaintiffs demanded that the decision to reduce the Sanitary Protection Zone be acknowledged as illegal, and to require the Government to resolve the issue of relocating the residents of Berezovka and providing them with adequate compensation for the material and moral damages they have incurred. Nearly nine months under various pretexts, the courts of Astana city refused the review the case at all, and then refused to consider it based on the fundamental nature of the case. Finally, in April 2009, the lawsuit was reviewed by the Astana Court, which acknowledged the reduction of the SPZ as illegal, having confirmed the very fact that the citizens’ rights were violated. The lawsuit’s second demand—that the Government resolve the issue of relocation and compensation—was not satisfied by the Court. The plaintiffs are currently appealing this second decision by the Astana Court in the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court.

Campaign Next Steps
Crude Accountability and its partners continue to fight for relocation for Berezovka using a combination of monitoring, human rights and other strategies. Please check back here for regular campaign updates! And please consider joining in this fight for environmental justice by supporting Crude Accountability!