EXCERPTS FROM VILLAGER INTERVIEWS
Svetlana Yakovleva Anosova (50 years old)
The following interview was conducted in November 2003 in Berezovka, Kazakhstan.
Question: What was the flora and fauna like earlier in the village as opposed to now?
Earlier our village was very clean and green. Hunters who often spend time outside have observed a significant change in the wildlife of our region. For example, all the grasshoppers have disappeared, the number of frogs has significantly decreased, the fish who live in our ponds smell like oil, and very few ground squirrels remain, although earlier they were extremely widespread in this area. And birds which were once numerous, no longer live in this area.
Question: How did you come to realize that people were suffering?
Through conversations and personal observations we came to the conclusion that people were suffering from new illnesses such as skin rashes, which doctors simply could not diagnose but rather would offer different treatments, none of which ever worked.
We also observed that when residents who were ailing would temporarily leave the village for Russia or someplace several kilometers away, they would pack all of their medications but never need them because there they would feel healthy. Then, once they returned to the village, all of their symptoms would return. Therefore, through our own personal observations and conversations, we came to the conclusion that the oil field does have an influence.
We have openly received published information from KIO sharing the results of their analysis of the air, water, and soil, but these results never exceed permissible concentrations and despite that fact, we ourselves feel the impacts of the oil field.
Question: When did you first begin to feel these effects?
Just in the last few years. In other words, we have come to the conclusion that these harmful substances are building up in our systems and as a result people have just recently become sicker. There are instances of cancer (leukemia, brain cancer, etc.), upper respiratory illnesses, a massive amount of illnesses, and illnesses which were once typical have now taken on a much more severe form. Not long ago I spoke with a few doctors who told me that hypertension used to affect only a few people in the village and now every second person suffers from high blood pressure.
Question: What is the current situation today and why did you first form the initiative group?
There was a meeting held here in Berezovka, which was attended by our Deputy to the High Council of the Lower House of Parliament (Zemyanov, Valery Yanovich). When villagers began to ask him questions, he realized that the environmental situation here was very complicated and said, you are young; you are teachers and doctors and residents in this village; you ought to create an initiative group to fight for your rights and the health of your children; no one is going to help you unless you yourselves act first.
Question: What is the situation now?
The situation is much more complicated. People are sicker and sicker; everyone’s situation becomes more and more complicated. Nothing is better. In addition, people are not able to treat themselves because so many are unemployed or on pension and cannot afford medicine, and therefore right now things are extremely complicated. Pensioners are spending their entire pension on medication. But that’s a temporary fix anyway, medication doesn’t actually help. A little time passes and then you need to be treated all over again.
Question: In your opinion, how has the oil field affected the health and culture of the residents of this village?
Well of course life is worse because when the economy fell so did several structures within our community, such as our kindergarten program. Children today receive no education or discipline before they enter school. If their parents aren’t working, then the children stay at home, but either way they are not experiencing the kind of development they would in kindergarten.
Our Cultural Center long ago fell into ruin. It is very cold there; when we hold concerts at the center nobody comes because it’s not even possible to sit inside, it is so cold.
Drinking is a terrible problem in the village. Young parents drink; older people drink, they drink because of instability, they drink because of all of their problems; people have no other way out.
This village that was once beautiful and strong and active is now in ruin. There are big families in this village that don’t even see bread every day.
Question: What is the life expectancy here?
Of course there are people here who live to be older; they live into their 90s. But that is only in a few cases. In the past years people have been dying much younger–40, 45, 50.
Question: What kinds of observations have you made regarding the health of children?
Children suffer from illnesses that usually appear only in adults; their legs are sore, they have pain in their chests, their hearts and their stomachs. We have noticed that children’s hair turns gray, many children complain about having gray hair. Children’s hair falls out, their noses bleed at night while they are sleeping…weakness, memory loss. I spoke with a Russian Language teacher who explained ‘for me to assign the recitation of a poem is simply a tragedy for everyone. Students study hard, its difficult to learn, and then when they are asked to recite the poem, they can’t remember.’ In other words, their memory is weak. When we conducted a survey amongst the students, 77 of our 100 children surveyed, admitted themselves that they have poor memory.
In addition, several children have bad teeth. Even their baby teeth are turning black. And they fall out; they rot, turn black and fall out.
Out of 100 upper classman who were surveyed last year, 34 answered that they often experience fainting spells.
Question: Please talk a bit more about the meeting you had in October with Sabina Cosic [IFC] and representatives from KIO. What did they say? What did you talk about? What were the results?
Recently we had a meeting here with a representative from the World Bank. They came to deliver Karachaganak project documents in Russian, which we had requested earlier from them [and they] said that they were interested in understanding the veritable situation, in other words the truth: to what extent the oil field actually impacts people’s health, how serious are the issues in our village, and they promised to help us figure out our problems.
Naturally, the goal of all our demands is relocation–involuntary relocation–and they promised to examine and discuss that issue.
Question: What kind of relationship do you have to local and regional authorities?
Regional and Oblast authorities focus on social issues, social improvement. Last year our entire village was gasified and that process was initiated by the regional administration. The gasification was free. The school was remodeled. In other words, all the administrations efforts are directed towards social projects. Of course they’ve also promised to build a new road, provide us with telephone service, in other words, improve the living conditions for the villagers. But we think that regardless this will not solve our problems because either way you can’t pay for or exchange air and we still breathe emissions and the situation will just continue to get worse. This is what we think.
Question: Who paid for all of this?
KIO allocated the funds for these projects and our local administration then decided how to spend that money. So far the funds have been spent on gasification and remodeling; next year they promised to remodel the Cultural Center. Of course this all sounds fine, but none of it will solve our problems.
Question: Have you appealed to the local authorities and if so why, how, and what was their response?
The answers we have received are not satisfactory. When we submit an appeal regarding the border of the Sanitation-Protection Zone and the fact that people here are suffering and that something needs to be done, the Oblast responds by saying we are not located within the SPZ, everything is fine in the village, KIO is doing everything they can to improve the situation; they have clean equipment and excellent technology, they observe all the necessary environmental protection regulations, they do everything very well, but the feeling we have is exactly the opposite.
Question: You have formally approached the authorities?
Yes, and they told us that everything is fine in your village.
Question: And the authorities here in Berezovka?
They say the exact same thing. Everything is fine, there is no excess, the air is clean. We would visit your village with pleasure, everything is wonderful, it’s practically a resort area.
Question: What’s the most offensive about your exchanges with local authorities?
Of course it’s offensive to us when we speak out about our problems and no one listens to us. They simply turn their backs to us.
And when we hold meetings here in order to pose questions or explain our situation the authorities will always try and steer the meeting to another topic. They say, ‘you need roads, you need this and that.’ They try and distract people; they won’t touch the topic, its not worth discussing.
Question: What are the villagers’ demands?
Six months ago we wrote out a petition, we wrote our demands, we sent them to Parliament and our regional governments, but never received a response. We demand relocation, but not because it’s what we want. We are all residents of this village, many of us grew up here, our parents were born and grew up here, our children grew up here, its our motherland and we would never voluntarily throw it away. But we are forced to make this demand because we understand that to live here is impossible. To continue on here would be even worse. We already see that in our own children.
Question: Would compensation be adequate, if offered?
I can’t be sure of the exact sum, if in fact compensation were offered, but yes, there could be a situation in which a family would accept the money if it would enable them to move and buy land. I think in that case people would accept the money and they would leave the village, especially those who have children.
Yes, if the compensation were significant than I do think that for a portion of the village it would solve their problems, especially for those who have somewhere to move; a support network elsewhere. Those who don’t have that option would want new land to be purchased in an environmentally clean area.
Question: What about you personally? Does the idea of compensation make up for health impacts?
Only if it allows us to move. If we have to stay here, then no kind of compensation will help.
Question: Have people here received any kind of compensation?
No, no concrete compensation, no money. My home is gasified for free, that is my compensation.
Question: And money?
No, there has never been any discussion about financial compensation.
Question: What percentage of the village demands relocation?
Over half the village supports relocation.
Question: The people who operate that oil field are rich; you are poor. Who is guilty for this? Is it KIO is it the local government? What do you think?
Because of the fact that so many people are without work—-and this is not just a problem in this village, but also throughout our region and our Oblast and the entire country of Kazakhstan–they cannot provide for their families.
Our village is an exception because we are located next to this oil field. The issue of the Sanitation-Protection Zone still has not been decided; we consider that we are located within this zone. There are enormous profits at that field that contribute to the wealth of Kazakhstan, the entire republic profits. And our village is poor, without work, tossed aside and negatively impacted.
It’s impossible to place the blame for our situation on any one person. Local authorities have completely forgotten about us. And to the foreign companies, a village of 1300 people…it’s not the company’s people, it’s not people from America or England to whom the hearts of every Englishman, American, Italian and Russian would go out. This is Kazakhstan. And it’s our own government that should be caring for us; they ought to think about how we live, who are our children. We have pregnant women with low hemoglobin; 2 or 3 times lower than average. This means that we are giving birth to an unhealthy generation.
Whose problem is this? We are ready to send out an SOS.who will help us? We turn to whomever we can, but who will help us? I don’t know,we’ve already prayed to God. We just don’t know who will help us get out of this situation.