On my first day in Kazakhstan, I walked from the Caspian Sea to the Chinese border, visiting Baikonur space station, futuristic capital city Astana and the mountains near Almaty along the way. Not bad given that the country is the size of western Europe and I was rather jet-lagged.
The secret behind my whirlwind tour was not a pair of seven-league boots but a visit to the Atameken tourist attraction in Astana. Spread over several hundred metres, it consists of a walkable, miniaturised version of the vast Central Asian nation with model replicas of its most famous sights.
These included mosques and mausolea that testified to the rich history and culture of the Kazakh people and industrial facilities that reflected the huge mineral wealth and considerable economic achievements of the 20-year-old Kazakh state.
From wells and refineries in the oil-rich west of the country to coal mines and steel plants in the centre and east, via chemical works, hydroelectric power stations and rail lines, Atameken proudly portrays Kazakhstan’s economic vigour.
The work of the EBRD, which is holding its 2011 Annual Meeting and Business Forum in Astana, was represented by a model of the Ispat-Karmet steelworks, one of the Bank’s first projects in Kazakhstan. The EBRD also invests in the country’s financial, agricultural and power sectors, infrastructure – including roads, railways and wastewater facilities – and energy efficiency.
A key element of the EBRD’s strategy for Kazakhstan is diversification of the economy and a visit to Atameken shows why this is so important: oil and coal installations abound but those not linked to extractive industries – and hydrocarbons in particular – are in short supply.
Kazakhstan’s need for infrastructure development and for economic diversification – with agribusiness a particularly promising growth area – feature prominently in EBRD President Thomas Mirow’s speech to the Kazakh Investment Forum at the Annual Meeting on 19 May.
Also in Astana, the Global Green Growth Institute, a not-for-profit organisation, is hosting a launch event for the Kazakhstan National Green Growth Plan. This incorporates the EBRD’s own initiatives to support Kazakh efforts to promote environmental sustainability while maintaining growth.
If, with backing from the EBRD, investors and officials succeed in turning these aspirations into reality in the coming years, future visitors to Atameken could see a whole new range of economic wonders added to the site’s already impressive display.