Shynar Izteleyova, Atyrau, Kazakhstan

The following interview was conducted in June 2003 in Alexandria, VA.
My name is Shynar Izteleyova, I live in Kazakhstan, in the city of Atyrau, located in the western part of the country.

Question: What do you do?

I am the director of a nongovernmental, environmental organization, which addresses issues regarding environmental and social issues affecting communities in western Kazakhstan. Currently intense oil and gas development and refining is taking place in the western regions of Kazakhstan.

Question: Why did you decide to help the village of Berezovka?

Due to the fact that the mission of my organization is to address environmental and social problems in western Kazakhstan, the issues facing the residents of Berezovka, which is located within the Sanitary Protection Zone (SPZ) of the Karachaganak oil and gas field, naturally came to our attention. Secondly, we have the understanding that if we don’t help the community of Berezovka solve the issue of relocation or understand the issue of relocation they will have a very difficult time helping themselves.

Question: In your opinion are human rights being violated due to operations at the Karachaganak field?

Yes, during several conversations with the residents of the village of Berezovka and in particular the initiative group, we explained that currently in this region there is a violation of the right to a clean environment, especially the right of children to a clean environment, to a healthy life, and a healthy future.

According to the United Nations’ poverty indicators, a region’s poverty level is partially determined by its access to a clean environment. Therefore one could say that the residents of not only Berezovka but all of the population points surrounding the field live in extreme poverty because they do not have access to a clean environment.

Secondly, there is also a violation of the right to participate in decision-making, in particular decisions that directly affect people’s lives. Since 1998, when information first became available on the current project, the villagers of Berezovka or Tungysh-both of which are located within the Sanitary Protection Zone-were not invited to any public hearings or to participate in any discussions regarding the project or environmental issues which arose during project operation. Therefore there was a violation of the people’s right to participate in decision-making.

The next right that has been violated is the right to access to environmental information. This is a violation of the Aarhus Convention, which the Republic of Kazakhstan has ratified. The village of Berezovka is located in an area in which people are exposed to toxic substances, exceeding allowable concentrations; concentrations which are extremely harmful to one’s health.

Currently operations turn out emissions an average of 2 to 3 times a day. However, no one-not the villagers, not the mayor-knows why or what these operating stations are emitting and what is worse, they do not know how to protect themselves in case of an emergency; there are no resources for protection against gas, no cars are available for evacuation, and according to the mass media, 30 minutes after an accident at the Karachaganak field, an entire village can be killed off.

And regarding the relocation of the village of Tungysh, there was a violation of the right to chose their place of residence. People were not given a choice but to accept those living conditions offered by KIO. This is an issue because the villagers of Berezovka would like to decide themselves where they will live and the conditions under which they will reside.

Therefore, we are very carefully examining the mechanisms by which the village of Tungysh was relocated because we feel that there was a violation of their right as citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan to choose their place of residence.

Question: Does the KIO project contribute to the sustainable development of the region?

One could say that there are various ways to interpret sustainable development. It involves sustainable economic development, the observation of environmental safety and sustainable social development. From that perspective we can say that this project provides environmental safety only on the national level, perhaps on the oblast level, but not for individual citizens. From the perspective of the residents of Berezovka, there is no environmental safety; people are suffering, plant and animal life is suffering and fish are dying.

Hunters have noticed that wildlife has disappeared. There are practically no birds left. The land is very beautiful here and people from this area could have lived off of the profits of ecotourism, but now all the nature is dying.

From a social point of view, the illnesses which plague people in Berezovka demand very expensive medicine. In addition, people have to travel far in order to be seen by doctors because local medics can rarely offer diagnoses. This has a very serious effect on the community’s financial situation.

We also noticed that in Berezovka this year, many cows gave birth to dead offspring. This also affects the financial situation in the village.

I wouldn’t say that a majority of people from the village works at the Karachaganak field. They received extremely low salaries and the social situation of this village is actually deteriorating. The Karachaganak project does not provide for the sustainable development of this region.

The environmental situation is becoming worse, flora and fauna are dying, nature is dying, and what is worse, people are sick and are forced to spend their income on treatment rather than providing for their family, vacationing away from the village, or educating themselves.

Most importantly, sustainable development is determined by natural resource use and its availability not only for this generation but also for the next generation. In the current situation, when gas and oil are exclusively developed, other natural resources are also destroyed and 15 years from now people are left with nothing on which to live.

The current project will leave nothing for the next generation; no gas, no other natural resources. This region will be barren, dead; an environmental catastrophe similar to what took place with the Aral Sea.

Question: What kind of a future awaits the villagers of Berezovka if they are not relocated?

What kind of a future awaits the villagers of Berezovka? Of course its difficult to predict, but I would offer this: currently in that village there are women of child-bearing age; women who ought to give birth, who are able to give birth and who are able to raise children. And if these women are sick they will never give birth to healthy children.

According to medical statistics, approximately 80% of women in western Kazakhstan have extremely low hemoglobin levels, which leads to oxygen deprivation and can cause brain damage in fetuses. What does this mean for the residents of Berezovka? It means that its next generation will not be healthy or fully functioning. Brain defects will result in a tormented and degenerating race. People will have no choice but to leave their homes with no place to go, they will be homeless.that is the kind of future that awaits this village. There is no other way out. If they remain, all their children will be sick, they will suffer, they will be tormented.

A frightening future awaits the villagers of Berezovka.