EXCERPTS FROM VILLAGER INTERVIEWS
Albek Ermikbaev and his 6-year old daughter, Idona Ermikbaeva
The following interviews were conducted in November 2003 in Berezovka, Kazakhstan.
My name is Albek Ermikbaev, this is my daughter Idona Ermikbaeva, we live in the village of Berezovka.
Question: How/when did you first discover you daughter was sick? How old was she?
When she was 3 years old I began to notice that she often felt sick; she was always out of breath, always needing to catch her breath. At that time I never considered that she had asthma; I thought it was a temporary problem. Then I took her to the regional hospital where the doctors diagnosed my daughter with bronchial asthma. And that is how we found out; that was three years ago.
Question: Did they tell you why she developed asthma?
They said that her suffering was most likely the result of environmental impacts, because of our close proximity to the oil field.
Question: When the doctors diagnosed your daughter, what did they say about where you were living?
At our consultation with the doctors, we were told that the village of Berezovka has a very polluted environment and therefore we would need to find a new place to live. We were forced to move to Aksai and of course, the environmental situation there is not much better, but I do not have the financial resources to move further away. The doctors recommended that we move to the southern provinces near Almaty, where the air is clearer, but that is not an option for us.
Makhzom Zhymagalievich Ermikbaev (56 years old-father to Albek; grandfather to Idona)
My name is Makhzom Zhymagalievich Ermikbaev. I am 56 years old, and I live here in the village of Berezovka.
Question: What is your occupation? What observations have you made in the village over the past few years?
I was a farmer. I worked this land for several years, but in recent years, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the land was divided according to local government and farmed as a state-owned collective. In 1998 we organized the Berezovka corporate farm. We operated this way for several years, and then in 1999, by the initiative of the local administration, our land was divided into six limited partnership farms.
We are located next to the Karachaganak oil field, which is known all over the world. And although we are supposed to be glad about this, no one here is celebrating. Our environment is being destroyed; the local ecosystem is being destroyed.
They tell us that KIO works with the newest technology, but our observations tell us otherwise. Emissions are evident and the harmful matter in our air is not decreasing, but rather increasing.
KIO agreed to lease 396 hectares of Berezovka farmland, which is partially occupied by three gas refineries, roads, wells, etc. According to the Production Sharing Agreement, KIO is required to pay 17 million tenge [$113,333] for those 396 hectors.
Although KIO makes good on its payments, the money goes to the government, by whose initiative this land was divided into limited partnership farms in 1999. It’s the regional administration that receives payments for this land and it’s a fact that this money is then never paid out to those people living on and working this land.
Agricultural activity on this land is practically nonexistent; the government does not provide support; no one provides support. The equipment that was once used on this land is now obsolete and there is practically nothing with which to work.
Of the six limited partnership farms, which used to be collective land with one large herd, only one supports livestock and the total of that herd is only 23 heads. Residents in the village can no longer support their own livestock. Of the approximately 360 families that are currently living in the village, no one is able to maintain the herds they once did. This is directly connected to the fact that the six current farms are not able to provide feed for their herds. These six farms employ very few people, and what is produced on that land is distributed only among those who work there. Neither the farms nor our government provide for the villagers.
The injustice of the current land situation has a negative impact on the moods of the villagers in Berezovka.
In principle, when the 396 hectares of land was purchased it was divided among the villagers-0.3 hectares or 12,000 tenge per person. But this money has been paid through the directors of the six limited partnership farms and as of yet these directors have not dispersed any of this money among the residents of this village.
These six farms have been in operation now for 5 years and none of them have purchased even one piece of new equipment.
I would say that the story behind the creation of these six farms is one of corruption.
At the time when our collective farm was partitioned, it employed 160 workers. When the land was divided, so was our work force and we were each assigned to one of the six new farms. In other words we were supposed to be constituents of the farm to which we were assigned. However, in reality, we were fired. The directors of the six farms registered themselves as both heads and constituents of that land.
Question: Has the environment affected domestic livestock in the village? And if so, is this impact visible?
Yes, of course, without question. However, I feel that the human population is the most affected.
According to the Kinaseraev Academic Institute, which studies the impact of the Karachaganak oil field on ecology and human health, in the last year the death rate in Berezovka, in comparison to the norm, has increased 2.5 times.
And of course we have also witnessed the negative impact on animals. Practically no wildlife inhabits this area anymore. For example, we no longer see any ground squirrels here; they have become a rarity.
The numbers speak for themselves. For example, I can offer statistics from last year, 2002, which illustrate that the death rate was twice as high as the birthrate. In one year 11 people were born and 23 people died.
We have a document form the Ministry of Ecology that states that we are located within the 5-kilomter Sanitation-Protection Zone.
And earlier the belief was that Berezovka and the village of Tungysh would be relocated together. But as everyone now knows, Tungysh has already been relocated and the question of Berezovka is being re-examined. Why this is, we do not understand.
I remember when, Mr. Kusherbaev, the Governor of our Oblast, announced that Berezovka would also be relocated. Then, literally one year later, he made a 180-degree turnaround, claiming that in fact it is very possible to live unharmed in Berezovka.
In addition, there is now talk of reducing the Sanitation-Protection Zone to three km.
It’s well known that a lot of money circulates around this region and the village of Berezovka; perhaps that is the reason for these changes. Regardless, it seems to me that concern for the people ought to be their number one priority. And even more importantly, we need to be thinking about our children and our children’s children, so they grow up healthy.
Although everyone tells us that the equipment being used here is of good quality and that KIO is planning to implement a condensate reinjection system at their refineries, there is no openness here; everything is a secret; we don’t know anything.
The problem is we understand that gas reinjection can be harmful to the earth’s crust.Who can guarantee that everything is going to end up favorably for us?
Question: How many years have you lived here?
I’ve lived here since 1992.
Question: What changes have you observed in the village since you moved here?
Of course, the state of our environment has made a change for the worse. Even our government has concluded that current levels of atmospheric pollution are five times higher than they were just a few years ago. Naturally that has a negative impact on the human organism. Today people suffer from a variety of skin diseases that we never saw earlier. Also, in comparison to nearby villages, the cancer rate has significantly increased.
You may see a lone rabbit here or there, but other than that wildlife no longer exists in this region.
Of course, everyone understands that it’s our environment that is responsible for these negative changes; for the mass die off of animals, and people for that matter.