Civil society representatives from Central Asia discussed the environmental impact of Chinese investment projects in their region.
On June 3rd, civil society and NGO representatives, experts, and journalists from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan gathered together over Zoom conference focusing on the environmental aspects of various development projects financed by Chinese investors in the region. All discussed projects are part of the Belt and Road initiative – a global development strategy adopted by China.
The webinar consisted of presentations by regional experts including Dr. Evgeny Simonov, International Coordinator of the Rivers without Borders Coalition coordinator; Sergey Solyanik, Crude Accountability consultant; and other regional experts.
The presentations were focused on specific investment projects throughout the Central Asian region. Despite the wide geographical and economic scope of the discussed projects, they all had similar issues.
The participants noted that one of the most pressing issues is the hurdles to timely and unrestricted access to information necessary for environmental review of investment projects. Among other issues of the Belt and Road Initiative projects the participants named the lack of environmental standards and oversight.
“There are no designated authorities responsible for environmental control for strategic plans and policies or concrete projects of the Initiative. There are no binding rules and standards for financial institutions that support the Silk Road initiatives,” says Evgeny Simonov, International Coordinator of the Rivers without BordersCoalition.
In his presentation, Crude Accountability consultant Sergey Solyanik concentrated on the so-called 55 projects, the plan – part of the Belt and Road Initiative – to build 55 Chinese industrial projects in Kazakhstan. No information about those projects was disclosed to the public until earlier this year, when the names of the projects were published, thanks to pressure from civil society.
However, as noted by Solyanik, the public still lack access to details, and the public has rightful concerns that some of the industrial projects would have “dirty” and outdated technologies and unsustainable practices.
One of the examples of such a project named by Solyanik was the Cement Factory “Gezhouba Shieli Cement” in Kyzylorda Province, Southern Kazakhstan. Residents of Shigey-Kadamanov, a village close to the factory, complain about the smell and dust.
“If you look at the map, the houses closest to the factory are not further than 500 meters, while, according to the sanitary rules of Kazakhstan, the sanitary protection zone for such sites should be no less than 1000 meters,” says Solyanik. Local residents were not consulted before construction began.
All projects and their environmental impact reviews should be discussed with local communities, and their opinions should matter.
Kazakhstani government officials and representatives from the embassy of China in Kazakhstan did not join the Zoom call although they were invited.
The webinar was a result of the partnership between Crude Accountability and the Social and Environmental Fund and other NGOs of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The webinar was part of a project w to conduct an environmental review of the Belt and Road Initiative and was supported by the US Embassy to Kazakhstan.
For more information: Sergey Solyanik, project coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.