EBRD and EU boost Kazakhstan’s sustainable supply of water

By Volker Ahlemeyer

EBRD and EU help supply Kazakhstan with sustainable water

EBRD and EU improve quality of life for almost 4 million Kazakhs

The Aral Sea is disappearing. Fishing communities have moved and stranded ships now dot the wide Central Asian steppe like a mirage.

What used to be the world’s fourth largest lake is now reduced to 10 per cent of its former size. It has become a symbol of environmental damage, caused by inefficient water use and irrigation techniques during Soviet times.

Together with the European Union, the EBRD is working to improve and renovate the water supply systems in cities across Kazakhstan.

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Only few water resources remain in southern Kazakhstan, among them the Syr Darya river. Much of the infrastructure is derelict though, which is partly due to inadequate maintenance, partly to the country’s harsh climate ranging from -50°C in the winter to +50°C in the summer.

It’s all the more important then that water is used efficiently.

The EBRD and EU are working with the Kazakh authorities to ensure people have adequate access to water and improve other municipal services across the country. The first city to participate in the new programme is the regional capital Kyzylorda, a few hundred kilometres east of the Aral Sea.

Bagdat Saginbayeva lives with her husband, brother and four children in a small two-bedroom flat, which she bought two years ago. It is a busy household and there is always something to do: cooking, cleaning, preparing baby food – all activities which require water.

“We live on the fifth floor and have a water pressure problem,” she said. “The water does not reach our floor properly, so we have to use a pump. Our water pump is electric. It's insufficient as we are paying separately for water and electricity.”

At the same time, she realises that she is lucky when compared to other people in her block of flats.

“Our neighbour from the third floor does not have a water pump, so she comes to get the water from me.”

A lot of investment is urgently needed for the country’s water infrastructure: new pipes, pumps, water purifiers and other energy efficient equipment. The EBRD provides loans, while the EU and the Kazakh authorities complement them with grants to prepare and support the Bank’s activities.

Kyzylorda’s water is sourced from the Syr Darya river, explained Nurzhan Dikhambayev, Acting Director at Kyzylorda’s water company. His goal is to modernise the water supply and wastewater collection systems. Using energy efficient technology in the company will help to achieve this, he said.

“Other regions of Kazakhstan face the same problems. Our project will be a good example for other Kazakh cities in the water, wastewater and district heating sectors,” he added.

“Together with the EU, we are reaching out to Kazakhstan’s regions to modernise municipal services over the next few years,” said Bakhtiyor Faiziev, Principal Banker in the EBRD’s Almaty office.

Doing so is a challenge in a country, which is the ninth largest in the world but also one of the most sparsely populated, he pointed out. This is the reason why the two partners involve the local authorities in an active dialogue to ensure long-term improvements.

The initiative has already borne fruit. More and more Kazakh cities want to take part in the programme: eleven major ones so far and the number is still growing.

It will help them provide their citizens not only with a better water supply but also a cleaner wastewater system and less energy waste when heating their homes.

In total, the programme is expected to directly benefit some 3.8 million citizens across the country, improving their quality of life and helping Kazakh cities on their path to a sustainable future.