23/04/2003, Olga Steblova
Hydroresources of Siberia may help Kazakhstan yet.
The information flow about a rapprochement between Russia and Kazakhstan, literally drenching the societies of both countries, is still lacking concreteness, to say the truth. Of course there are contracts on development of cooperation in the oil & gas area, there is an idea of an atomic power station construction on Balkhash…
But at the same time we don't hear much about any serious improvements in, say, the transport area or high technologies. A news about a decrease of volumes in the Russian-Kazakhstani trade was not totally unexpected. The integration of the two counries reminds a sort of an oscillating system so far, periodically changing its status in various points.
In relation with this a project remembered not long ago can become potentially very important. It's about Siberian rivers turn South, to Kazakhstan and its neighbouring Central Asian Republics.
This idea is quite worthy of becoming one of the central projects of the economic integration. The idea of Siberian rivers turn has quite a long history. It was discussed and studied yet in the USSR, during the Brezhnev "stagnation". The essence of the idea was the same as now: to eliminate at the expense of surplus water resources from Siberian rivers the scarcity of hydroresources in Southern regions, allowing them to develop the agriculture successfully for the Union needs. The economic content of the project did not provoke any doubts, but possible ecological risks became a reason of an opposition of Russian society circles, headed by a number of famous writers, to it.
During the Gorbachev times the authorities started to listen to the people and the project was frozen and subsequently due to the collapse of the USSR, it became history. And now it's remembered.
The realisation of such a large scale project is very difficult not only from the point of view of necessary resources. In the first turn the whole complicated "entanglement" of interests that are likely to be involved should be studied. Those are the interests of Russia and Kazakhstan on the State level, as well as those of their regioins, to be involved in the project, and in the future - the interests of Central Asian Republics of CIS, to which the water channels could be extended theoretically.
As for to Kazakhstan, it can only profit from that, in general as well as on the level of separate provinces. It is well-known, that the Republic occupied the last place (!) in the list of hydroresources availability as counted upon its territory square area already in the beginning of the 90-s (!) among all post-Soviet countries. Since then the situation only aggravated. But even the current problems are not the limit: the launching of well-known projects on the settlement of transborder rivers flow, a progressing ice melting in Tyan Shan mountains will worsen the situation even more. And Kazakhstan already now perceives serious problems in the economy, the agriculture, the water supply to residential areas. For instance, according to the calculations of national experts, already in the nearest future the country might lose up to 50% of its cultivated lands due to the soil degradation. And the water supply problems are not among the last reasons for that.
A separate issue is the water supply for big cities, the capital included. Hopes for an extensioin of Irtysh-Karaganda capacity may not be justified, if in China the programme of Black Irtysh flow settlement is realised eventually.
In these conditions the water from Siberia would undoubtedly become the "saving moisture" for Kazakhstan without any exaggerations. By the way, some experts in demography think that a sufficient population would never be able to live on the territory of the Republic due to an objective reason - the lack of water resources. This is another, perhaps, the main reason for Kazakhstan's interest in this project.
The whole thing is much more complicated in Russia. On the State level it might be interesting, perhaps: such a grand project could stimulate industrial enterprises and whole areas, create a mass of jobs. But on the level of the regions, in which these rivers flow (obviously, Ob and its tributaries are implied) objections are possible. Maybe they are going to be well-grounded. The project will require not only big investments, but also a very serious preliminary expert work, taking into account the public opinion in the regions concerned.