12/21/2022, 09.29
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Central Asia suffocates in smog

by Vladimir Rozanskij

After unjustified delays, governments in the region are beginning to worry about environmental problems. In the past year in Bishkek as many as 112 people have died from pollution alone. People are often forced to use all kinds of fuels for heating. Protests are multiplying.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The governments of the Central Asian states, after guilty delays, are starting to worry about fossil fuel heating systems for old-fashioned cars and bad urban planning: the main causes of the serious air pollution problems that are now suffocating the citizens of the local metropolises.

Coal-fired power plants and home stoves in the houses of major cities all over Central Asia spread a huge amount of toxic by-products into the air; icy roads are damaged by old cars moving slowly with increasingly worn-out studded wheels; and social networks are clogged with discussions about the unbreathable atmosphere, exchanging information about the purchase of air purification systems.

In winter, with dilapidated windows taped shut from November to April, the problem risks becoming truly catastrophic.

The political will to fight air pollution has traditionally been very weak in the region, but public pressure in the age of information technology is becoming less and less inescapable, making the consequences for the health of citizens obvious. In the past month, the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek has taken the top spot in IQ Air's rating of cities with the worst air quality, closely followed by Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city. In the top-20 worst cities are the Kazakh and Uzbek capitals, Astana and Tashkent.

The smog blanket is also clearly visible to the naked eye throughout the region, even with all its vast expanses of tajga, especially with images and shots from above. On the days of the highest concentration of toxic clouds, rumours of panic alternate with black humour, asking via Twitter for opinions on the effectiveness of the ,000 purifiers, and whether they 'can purify the whole street'.

A doctor in Bishkek, Ermes Izmailov, tells Azattyk that more and more patients are complaining of migraines and breathing problems: 'we see in the flu season that symptoms get worse and worse, the typical two-week cough now lasts more than a month'.

Research funded by Unicef states that as many as 112 people have died in Bishkek in the past year due to pollution alone, although the government has stated that it does not consider this information reliable.

Problems of this kind stem largely from the Soviet legacy, where it was the medium-sized towns that were more polluted, due to the higher concentration of heavy industry plants. Later, the growth in population and the number of cars made the situation increasingly dramatic, in urban areas where once only privileged people and party officials could move freely.

The villages scattered around the major cities are not connected to the gas infrastructure, and the inhabitants use all kinds of fuels, from coal to rubbish to discarded textiles, to keep the stove burning.

At the same time, new 20-30 storey buildings sprout like mushrooms in the big cities, blocking air circulation. Some governments, as in Kyrgyzstan, prefer to use the dirtier and cheaper locally produced coal instead of taking the more expensive imported one.

Protests are also multiplying with street demonstrations in many cities, in Bishkek and Astana, a small steppe town that in ten years has gone from 20 thousand to one million inhabitants, where out of 30 thousand homes only 5 thousand have gas in their houses.

In the poorest countries, such as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan itself, the transition to the use of cleaner energies is currently unfeasible, and it is hoped that at least a partial substitution of coal with gas and electricity will take place, hoping that winter will pass as soon as possible.

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