WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 583, July 14, 2009 SPECIAL REPORT TAJIKISTAN: NO JOBS FOR RETURNING MIGRANTS Many plan to go back to Russia despite declining job prospects there. By Nafisa Pisaredjeva in Dushanbe, Sairahmon Nazriev in Qurghonteppa, and Bakhtior Valiev in Khujand
KYRGYZ ELECTION UPDATES 2009 LOW EXPECTATIONS OF PRESIDENTIAL POLL AMONG KYRGYZ VOTERS Informal survey suggests most people believe current president wont face serious challenge. By Timur Toktonaliev in Bishkek TURKMENISTAN: NEW PIPELINE, OLD HORIZONS? Authorities want capacity to shift gas to market from giant field, but many proposed export routes currently look less than viable. By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek UZBEKISTAN: SOVIET PESTICIDES LEAVE BITTER LEGACY Farmland still contaminated with DDT from past decades, experts say. By IWPR in Central Asia TWO CHEERS FOR KAZAK CAPITALS BIRTHDAY PARTY Officials say most of the millions spent on Astana Day festivities came from private sources. 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For more information about how you can support IWPR go to: http://iwpr.net/donate **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** SPECIAL REPORT TAJIKISTAN: NO JOBS FOR RETURNING MIGRANTS Many plan to go back to Russia despite declining job prospects there. By Nafisa Pisaredjeva in Dushanbe, Sairahmon Nazriev in Qurghonteppa, and Bakhtior Valiev in Khujand The global economic crisis has led thousands of Tajiks working in Russia to come home, but many say they are determined to go back despite the shortage of jobs. Up to 1.5 million of the seven million population of Tajikistan work abroad, mainly in Russia, and the money they send home is a major source of income for households, and is believe to be equivalent to twice the annual government budget. In a survey by the Tajik ministry of labour and social welfare among 6,000 returning migrants, 70 per cent of respondents said they had come back because of the economic crisis. A minority 40 per cent said they wanted to remain in Tajikistan until the Russian crisis eased, and hoped to find jobs in the agricultural sector or start their own business. When the Dushanbe-based think tank Sharq conducted its own study, it found that migration levels from Tajikistan had fallen by 20 per cent, with money remittances declining by 35 per cent. The Sharq study showed that the people who are still going off to wealthier countries like Russia and Kazakstan and are finding jobs there tend to be better educated, more experienced and full of initiative, but are also prepared to take on any work that comes along and put up with tough conditions. Those who are sitting out the crisis back in Tajikistan fall into two categories low-skilled under-24s, and better-off people with more ambition. GOVERNMENT JOB-CREATION SCHEMES For Tajikistan, with a surplus of labour since Soviet times, migration helped solve the unemployment problem especially after the economy was battered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and by the civil war of 1992-97. The government has tried to counter the effects of global economic crisis and shrinking labour markets abroad by creating new jobs at home. According to deputy minister of labour and social welfare Subkhon Ashurov, his ministry is planning to create 180,000 new jobs in farming and the construction industry. Former migrants may also receive plots of land and business training to help them get started. Career fairs are being held all over the country, and the ministry is planning to create an electronic job vacancy database and to work with employers to identify their needs. These measures will provide support to migrants in search of work, said Ashurov. However, returning migrants say that when work is available, it pays much less than even low-wage jobs in Russia. The Tajik interior ministry has a special department for migration, whose offices in Russia have been taking action on behalf of workers whose wages are being paid late or not at all. Journalist Jamoliddin Saifiddinov says that the government should be doing more. We need to provide favourable conditions for producers, relieve the tax burden, and support small businesses. Only through such measures can we can provide jobs for our citizens, he said. FEW JOBS, FOR LITTLE PAY Interviews which IWPR conducted among returning migrants in four different areas, and among Tajiks still working in Moscow, indicate a strong desire to return to Russia or remain there because work is so thin on the ground in Tajikistan. Sodik, 25, from the capital Dushanbe, has been looking for a job for three months. The jobs on offer at the career fairs are usually low paid. That is why I go from one building site to another, because people say that wages are higher in the construction sector. The wages offered at career fairs are usually below 600 somoni (135 US dollars) a month, while in Russia Sodik used to get 700 dollars for the same work. After several years in Russia, Sodik managed to earn enough money to buy a one-room flat in Dushanbe. Its unbearable working under very difficult conditions when you are far away from your family. But we got paid good money and we were able to feed our families, said Sodik. Now he is going to wait until the autumn and then go to Russia again, in hope that the situation has improved, Russia is a great country. It will find a way out of the crisis, and there probably wont be any problem with jobs this autumn, he said Samad, 34, in Khorog, the main town in Badakhshan, a remote high-mountain region in southeastern Tajikistan, came home after six years in Russia. But he has now given up the hunt for a reasonably well-paid job and will return to Yekaterinburg soon. Friends said life in Tajikistan had got better, and that there were many construction projects going on where one could earn the same wages as in Russia, he said. He spent two months looking for a job on a building site but found there were very few around and the wages offered were extremely low. My family is now living off the money I brought from Russia. I dont know what well do when it runs out, he said. According to Nazarbek Mamadnazarov, a lawyer at the Information Centre for Labour Migrants in Badakhshan province, out of 27,000 labour migrants from the area who annually leave Tajikistan for seasonal jobs abroad, about 1,500 returned in the first half of 2009. Of them, 200 went abroad again and more want to follow them after tasting life at home. The jobs on offer in Khorog are usually poorly paid. With prices rising each day, migrants are forced to go abroad again just to feed their families, said Mamadnazarov. It is a similar story in the more industrial Sogd province, in northern Tajikistan, where a majority of returning migrants cannot find jobs. Mother of three Etibor Ataeva in Kanibadam worked for six months in St Petersburg as the family breadwinner when her husband had serious health problems. Although she trained as a teacher, she took work selling from a kiosk and was able to earn enough to provide medication for her husband and feed the family. Because of the crisis, all of us traders were laid off, and the management kept only local staff. The others were fired, said Etibor. Im desperate and I dont know what to do. The job market in Kanibadam is absolutely full ... local enterprises are similarly trying to survive the crisis. Some of them have closed down, and their staff forced to take leave without pay. According to independent expert Firuz Saidov, migrants have been hit by the difficult economic situation in Tajikistan, the poorest country in Central Asia with around half the population living below the poverty line in 2008. Saidov also says that the knock-on effect of the global economic crisis can already be felt in Tajikistan some banks have gone bankrupt, factories have closed, prices for key export commodities aluminium and cotton have dropped, and migrant remittances have fallen. Many jobs in Tajikistan were created as a result of remittances, whose contribution to gross domestic product has been estimated at between 30 and 50 per cent. Tajik migrants who have spent several years working in Russia find it hard adjusting to wages at home. A migrant can expect a wage of 1,000 dollars, but even if the crisis means he gets paid only 300-400 dollars, he wouldnt get the same pay in Tajikistan, said Saidov. Khatlon, a large and mainly agricultural province in southern Tajikistan, is the countrys largest exporter of labour to Russia and Kazakstan. According to Izatullo Ismoilov, who heads the interior ministrys migration department in Khatlon, 44,000 have returned since September 2008, far more than in previous periods. The question now is how many of them are going back or plan to do so. Jurakhon Vohidov, who heads the government employment department in Qurghonteppa, a major town in the western part of Khatlon, said most of those who returned from Russia with the onset of the economic crisis have already left again. We expected to see rising unemployment and fluctuations of the labour market but it hasnt happened, he said. The Qurghonteppa labour market has remained stable because many migrants have returned to Russia, he said. According to Khatlon passport department, 140,000 of the regions 2.6 million people are currently abroad. LESS SKILLED WORKERS TRY LUCK AT HOME At the same time, there are some migrants in Qurghonteppa who do not plan to go abroad any more. These are often low-skilled workers who do not speak Russian well, and who found it hard to find employment for sustained periods when they were abroad before. Olim, 38, from the Bokhtar district, worked in Moscow and St. Petersburg for five years doing casual work on building sites. He always managed to earn enough to send something back to his family. However, the crisis made Olims hard life even more miserable. I couldnt find a job for four months. I had to live anywhere I could and went hungry at times. Those were the worst months of my life, he recalled. I dont want to go back to Russia. Even if I get paid less here, I would like to work in Tajikistan. Two months after Olim returned to Tajikistan, he is picking up small repair jobs in private homes. There are some Tajiks in Russia who have good jobs, but you wouldnt change places with some of the migrants, he said. Mahmadrahim, also from Bokhtar, said the job situation in Russia was making life harder and harder for Tajiks there. Some spend months looking for a job, and then cannot afford to come back to Tajikistan because they do not have the money for a ticket. For those at home, the summer finds them busy in their gardens and allotments, planting potatoes, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables to eat or sell. Many of them are going back to Russia again, because its impossible to survive on what you grow in your vegetable plot, said Mahmadrahim. Tajiks and other migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus face discrimination and racist hostility in Russia. Several newspapers in Tajikistan launched a campaign of protest against the hostile faced by labour migrants in Russia last winter, when 20-year-old Salohiddin Azizov was beheaded by Russian nationalists in Moscow. Life may be tough in Russia, but many Tajiks are hanging on there, either in work or looking for jobs, and hoping that the crisis will end sooner than experts predict. In a telephone interview with IWPR, Nazar, 25, who lives in Moscow, said he had been unemployed for two months but would not be returning to Tajikistan, although he had enough money to pay for the trip. He estimated that 40 per cent of his Tajik friends in Moscow had lost their jobs, but many planned to stay on , especially those who planned to apply for permanent residence in Russia. Nafisa Pisaredjeva, Sairahmon Nazriev, and Bakhtior Valiev are IWPR-trained journalists in Tajikistan. KYRGYZ ELECTION UPDATES 2009 LOW EXPECTATIONS OF PRESIDENTIAL POLL AMONG KYRGYZ VOTERS Informal survey suggests most people believe current president wont face serious challenge. By Timur Toktonaliev in Bishkek An IWPR straw poll suggests that most voters believe the outcome of the July 23 presidential election is a foregone conclusion, with incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiev likely to beat all five challengers. Even the other candidates appear doubtful of their chances of unseating Bakiev as he bids for a second term. Some analysts suspect that a number of candidates never expected to win, and have other reasons for putting their names forward. The leading challenger is Almazbek Atambaev, the common candidate of a grouping of opposition parties called the United Peoples Movement, UPM. The others are Temir Sariev, the Ak Shumkar party leader who broke with the UPM in order to stand; Toktaim Umetalieva, who heads the Association of Non-Commercial and Non-Government Organisations; Jenishbek Nazaraliev, a high-profile doctor specialising in treating drug users; and Nurlan Motuev, who heads the Joomart Patriotic Movement, is co-leader of the Kyrgyz Muslim Union, and defied the authorities by taking control of a coal mine and running it for a year in 2006-07, for which he was later tried but not convicted. Out of 45 people polled by IWPR, 38 predicted that Bakiev would win. Many were pessimistic about the election as an exercise in democracy. Fifteen said the results would be rigged, and the same number again refused to answer the question. People are profoundly uninterested in this election, as they can see everything is being done to ensure Bakiev wins, said one of the respondents, a taxi driver. They are tired of talking about it over and over again. Another respondent said, Who are we supposed to choose? You know, weve have had so many elections that now we dont expect anything from anybody. Weve kind of got used to Bakiev. This person concluded, The election will be unfair. I dont think anyone is in any doubt that Bakiev will become president. According to political analyst Mars Sariev, public apathy about politics results from belief that nothing will really ever change in Kyrgyz politics. The public perceives the political battle as something thats unconnected with them, he said. People are preoccupied with their own problems. Even if theyre unhappy, theres nothing they can do about it. There is also the fear factor; people are afraid of the powers that be. In public, each of Bakievs rivals is asserting that he or she will win as long as the vote is free and fair, that is. Toktaim Umetalieva, the only female candidate, ran against Bakiev first time round in July 2005, soon after opposition rallies led to the ousting of then president Askar Akaev. In that election, she scored the least number of votes of any candidate. This time, she is not optimistic. Lets face it, each of us [except Bakiev] has only a tiny chance of winning. You know, we dont all have the same opportunities, she told IWPR. Temir Sariev says he could win if the election was conducted in an above-board manner, but added, We come across unfair [methods of] competition as we go around the regions and meet people. Atambaevs chances are not rated very highly, even by UPM members. There will be no fair election as long as Bakiev is president, said Bakyt Beshimov, who is heading up the UPM campaign team. The authorities are using administrative resources and manipulation, methods which were tried and tested in a previous referendum and parliamentary election. At the same time, Beshimov said the UPM was relying on the good sense of the electorate. Our goal is to mobilise people to express their choice on election day, he said. Political analyst Marat Kazakpayev believes some candidates may be hoping that honourable defeat in the contest will raise their profile and lead to them being offered a post in the political establishment. For candidates, it will be a huge advantage to come in second or third. They will be offered good positions in the power structure, he said. Of the five challengers, only Motuev has indicated that he is not opposed to Bakiev even as he runs against him. O July 8, he withdrew from a scheduled radio debate with Bakiev due to be aired the following day. He told AKIpress news agency that the president had done a great deal for Kyrgyzstan in his first term. Our [election] programmes are largely similar, and we dont have anything to argue about, he said. We are like allies who have no disagreements between them. Moreover, I wouldnt want to distract him from his duties. Some analysts believe the opposition will wait until the election is over and then try to stage mass public protests around allegations of ballot-rigging. The situation may escalate right straight after the election, some time in the autumn, or else next spring, when current social and economic problems are aggravated, said Mars Sariev. At the end of the first week of campaigning, civil society activists also appeared pessimistic about the way the election was likely to go. A number of non-government organisations had earlier set up a group called the Union of Civil Organisations for Voters Rights, to monitor the election campaign and observe the ballot itselve. On June 30, the group held its first press conference where it spoke about the alleged procedural violations it had uncovered. According to Asiya Sasykbaeva, whose Interbilim organisation is part of the monitoring group, it was clear who was going to win from the way things were going. This is not going to be an election, but rather an appointment, she said during the press conference. Timur Toktonaliev is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kyrgyzstan. TURKMENISTAN: NEW PIPELINE, OLD HORIZONS? Authorities want capacity to shift gas to market from giant field, but many proposed export routes currently look less than viable. By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek Plans to build a new gas pipeline linking the resource-rich east of Turkmenistan with the west have renewed the debate about the countrys future export options. An official recently said the pipeline would give Turkmenistan the option of exporting in any of four separate directions. But analysts say logistical and above all political considerations mean Turkmenistan is likely to remain dependent on Russia as an export route for some time to come, with only China coming in as a significant new purchaser. After the Turkmen government put the pipeline construction work out to tender, it said more than 70 foreign companies had expressed an interest. The deadline for bids was June 27. Already a major producer of natural gas, Turkmenistan is anticipating a substantial rise in output thanks to the South Yolotan-Osman field, where an independent British audit published last year described a deposit ranging between estimates of four and 14 trillion cubic metres, with a best guess of six trillion. RFE/RL quoted an official from Gaffney, Cline and Associates, the British firm which conducted the study, as saying the midway figure would make South Yolotan-Osman approximately the fourth or fifth largest gas field in the world". Although the Turkmen authorities have long spoken of plans to hike export volumes, the prospect of massive new reserves is now starting to make decisions on export routes a priority, experts say. At the moment, the vast majority of Turkmen gas exports some 50 billion cu m of total production of 70 billion cu m in 2008 go to Russia. This uses two branches of the Central Asia-Centre, CAC, pipeline network, of which the main one runs from eastern parts of the country via Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. A western branch of CAC skirts the Caspian Sea, running from western Turkmenistan through Kazakstan to Russia. CAC pipeline is owned and operated by Gazprom, the Russian giant gas producer and trader. The other working pipeline runs south to Iran, again from western Turkmenistan, with a throughput of around eight billion cu m a year. According to an energy analyst based in Turkmenistan, who asked to remain anonymous, once gas from South Yolotan arrives in western Turkmenistan via the new domestic pipeline, it could go south to Iran, west across the Caspian Sea, or north to Russia as is now the case assuming the pipeline infrastructure is in place for some or all these variants. One reason for building a pipeline from east to west Turkmenistan could simply be to feed the existing Iranian and CAC routes. However, when Dovlet Atabaev, European mission head of the Turkmen presidential agency for energy resources, addressed an energy conference in Paris on May 29, he made it clear the intention was to anticipate other export opportunities by making it easier to move gas around the country. The East-West [pipeline] can provide stability for deliveries of Turkmen gas in four directions Russia, Iran, China and if the TAPI [Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline] project is implemented, going through Pakistan and India, he said. Foreign ministers from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan signed a framework agreement on construction and contractual issues when they met in April to discuss the TAPI project. Although the agreement speaks of a construction start date of 2010, energy experts interviewed by IWPR said that despite huge demand for energy in Pakistan and India, the trans-Afghan route looks uncertain, because of the continual warfare in that country since the pipeline was conceived in the Nineties. That suggests that international financial institutions will be reluctant to underwrite such a high-risk venture. As for expanding export capacity to Iran, Rovshan Ibrahimov, head of the international relations department at Qafqaz University in Baku, says this route is less than promising. Iran is not an ideal option for Turkmenistan, as it is viewed as a pariah state by the international community, he said. Developing relations with such a state could have adverse consequences for Turkmenistan. In addition, the energy expert in Turkmenistan noted that Ashgabat has had its differences with Tehran over gas prices, just as it has with Moscow. The westward direction of the new internal pipeline leads inevitable to speculation about the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline, TCGP, a western-backed route which would run on the Caspian Sea floor to Azerbaijan, from where it would link up with the proposed Nabucco pipeline, running from Turkey to Austria via southeast Europe. Because it would skirt Russia, Moscow would most likely put pressure on regional states not to be part of the TCGP project. Implementing this project would require the support of western countries, above all the United States, said Ibrahimov. One major objection that the Russians could bring into play is that ownership of the Caspian remains under dispute, 17 years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Iran, in particular, wants to divide the sea by a different method from the one favoured by most of the former Soviet states, as it lays claims to a larger slice of the waters, seabed and any oil and gas deposits located there. Russia, Iran and Kazakstan will not agree to any project in the Caspian basin without this issue being resolved, and Azerbaijan is very likely to take the same position, said Annadurdy Khadjiev, a Turkmen economist based in Bulgaria. The Chinese pipeline, which will run east via Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, is expected to be ready by the end of this year, with a capacity of 40 billion cu m a year. The energy based in Turkmenistan said this route offered the most realistic alternative to Russia. China is a large and fairly wealthy country with the capacity to invest in building things like this long [7,000-kilometre] pipeline, he said. Beijing has demonstrated its interest in Turkmen gas by announcing plans to invest three billion US dollars in South Yolotan-Osman, as Turkmen state media reported on June 6. With many obstacles in the way the other alternatives with the possible exception of the Chinese one Russia looks set to remain a key player in the Turkmen gas export market. To head off further progress on TCGP negotiations, Moscow has proposed an expansion of CAC. To expand capacity, the western branch would be expanded and an additional pipeline laid alongside it. Plans for Gazprom to acquire exclusive rights to build the new pipeline were thrown in doubt when Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov confounded expectations by failing to sign an agreement when he visited Moscow in March. Already arguing about the gas price level for 2009 in a world environment of low demand, Moscow and Ashgabat rowed over Gazproms decision in April to cut the amount of gas coming through CAC. Turkmen officials said the reduced flow was the cause of an explosion in the pipeline. In a statement on June 1, Gazprom's deputy board chairman Valery Golubev said market conditions had changed, and Ukraine which takes most of the Turkmen gas his company buys had cut its consumption by half. "Since Europe is no longer buying gas at [earlier high] prices, we... cannot sell your gas at your price," said Golubev. According to some analysts, the dispute has prompted Turkmenistan to focus more on alternative routes which would bypass Russia and loosen that countrys grip on its gas exports. Berdymuhammedov understands that the time has come to weaken Russias influence, said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Endowment, a think-tank in Moscow. Ashgabats main act is to put up resistance to Gazprom. There is a serious political game going on, with unforeseeable consequences. However, others believe that with the possible exception of the Chinese pipeline talking about alternative routes is by and large a useful way of driving a hard bargain with the Russians The Turkmenistan-based expert said the ongoing disputes with Moscow did not mean the two states were falling out, merely that each was trying to secure the best possible terms. If Ashgabat starts taking steps to implement other projects, then Russia wont be able to dictate terms and will become more compliant on prices and on compensation for pipeline blasts, he said. The analyst said Moscow might win not only the CAC extension contract, but also the bid for the internal, east-to-west pipeline. One cannot rule that Russia will offer Turkmenistan good terms for building the east-west pipeline, offer higher prices for gas than Iran or Turkey, and thus maintain its position in the region, and also its influence over the Berdymuhamedov administration. Malashenko, too, argues that Ashgabat would be wise to avoid alienating Russia even if it pursues alternative projects. In any case, if they fall out with anyone [future partners], they will come back to Russia, he said. As the Turkmenistan-based energy expert put it, The game continues. Inga Sikorskaya is IWPR editor for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. UZBEKISTAN: SOVIET PESTICIDES LEAVE BITTER LEGACY Farmland still contaminated with DDT from past decades, experts say. By IWPR in Central Asia Experts say agricultural land in northwest Uzbekistan is so permeated with pesticides from past decades that it still presents health risks for the farmers who work it. The soil in Khorezm region and the adjacent autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan is still full of chlorine and other chemicals from the DDT used in cotton production in the Soviet period. So intensive was the use of pesticides from the 1940s to the end of the 1960s that the Khorezm and Karakalpakstan had 78 aerodromes used by cropspraying planes. By the early 1970s, DDT was banned as a general agricultural insecticide in the Soviet Union and the United States, and was outlawed by European states over the next few years. Some reports suggest the pesticide continued to be used in parts of the Soviet Union such as Central Asia. DDT can remain in the soil for years without breaking down, and given the large volumes used in Soviet Uzbekistan, it continues to contaminate farmland. A scientist in Khorezm says he has data showing that soil contamination by chlorine-based pesticides is 30 times the permissible level. In the mid-Nineties, government environmental scientists in the newly independent Uzbekistan conducted surveys which led to action to clean up the most polluted areas chemicals were removed from cropsprayer airstrips and chemical storage facilities all over Uzbekistan, and placed in underground concrete bunkers. However, no action was taken to decontaminate the farmland, such as taking fields out of use while the topsoil was removed. In 1998, land in Uzbekistan was parcelled out to newly-created private farms under a leasehold arrangement rather than outright ownership. The old aerodromes were turned into farmland as well. A journalist in northwest Uzbekistan, who asked not to be named, said the land distribution process was not accompanied by an assessment of soil condition. As a result, he said, Farmers were mostly ignorant of the state the land was in and they spread the contaminated topsoil far and wide as they levelled their fields. Although cotton continues to be grown on a massive scale as the countrys prime export earner, these days private farmers use some of their land to grown fruit and vegetables, either to eat or to sell at local markets. The presence of DDT presents a dual risk chemicals in the soil may affect farm workers directly, and can also make their way into the produce on sale at the market, scientists say. I get a reaction my arms often itch and I get headaches, said a farmer in the Khiva district of Khorezm. I dont spend too much time in the fields. A mother in the nearby Urgench district said her school-age daughter and the teachers often told her of cases where pupils showed signs of unexplained allergies or headaches in the classroom. They send the children home immediately, she said. The school doctors say it isnt good to live near the fields; its dangerous. Scientists say pesticides containing chlorine increase the risk of allergies, digestive tract ailments and premature births. A doctor in Nukus, the local capital in Karakalpakstan, said he had noted a rise in the incidence of illness among people living close to contaminated fields or consuming fruit and vegetables produced on such land. Weve got a serious risk here and theres a whole range of associated illnesses, he said. These include anaemia, digestive tract and stomach ailments, hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and immune system and endocrinal complaints. A scientist at the Al-Khwarezmi university in Urgench said traces of chlorine based pesticides had shown up in samples of mothers milk. In 2006, two local non-government groups, Women for Stable Development and the Save the Aral Sea and Amu Darya Alliance, published a report highlighting concerns about an underground spring 40 kilometres outside Nukus from which people were drawing water. The spring was located on a former aerodrome used by cropsprayers, and an environmentalist involved in the survey said chemicals were seeping into the water source. The old airstrips were supposed to have been cleaned up, but volunteer with a non-government group in Nukus said when the wind was blowing from that direction, the nearby village of Qypchoq was hit by the acrid smell of chemicals. People choke, and many children end up in hospital, he added. Despite warnings from doctors and activists, the community here, in what is a particularly arid part of Uzbekistan, continues to take water from the spring to drink and cook with. (The names of interviewees have been withheld out of concern for their security.) TWO CHEERS FOR KAZAK CAPITALS BIRTHDAY PARTY Officials say most of the millions spent on Astana Day festivities came from private sources. By Irina Sevastyanova in Astana and Marik Koshabaev in Almaty While many people in Kazakstan were dismayed at lavish spending on celebrating their capital citys birthday earlier this month, government officials insisted they were justified in trying to inject a little cheerfulness into the depression of an economic slowdown. Renowned tenor Placido Domingo joined local and international celebrities as Astana celebrated its 11th anniversary as capital. With tickets for Domingos performance priced at between 500 and 1,000 US dollars, this was clearly not a concert for the masses. There is a major effort under way to portray a once forgotten town as a pretty important location in the Eurasian steppe where major events can be staged, said political analyst Eduard Poletaev. Known variously as Akmolinsk, Tselinograd and Akmola in past years, the city in north Kazakstan was renamed Astana to coincide with its designation as Kazakstans new capital, replacing Almaty in the southeast, which remains the main commercial centre. Some 1.1 billion tenge, or eight million dollars, was spent in the run-up to this years July 6 anniversary. Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov told a press conference in late June that the city authorities provided 120,000,000 tenge for the Astana Day festivities. All the rest more than a billion tenge is being provided by national companies and sponsors, he said, in remarks quoted by the Gazeta.kz website. One can say the festivities are coming out of non-budgetary funding. Until four years ago, Astana Day was celebrated on June 10, but the date was then moved to July 6 to coincide with the birthday of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, for whom shifting the capital from Almaty was very much a personal project. Poletaev says questions about the scale of the spending first began being asked last year as the global financial crisis started to make itself felt in Kazakstan. The crisis has had multiple effects on the Kazak economy, from falling oil and metals export revenues as global demand contracts, to business closures, frozen construction projects, and job losses as the banks rein in their lending after borrowing heavily on international markets. Gulnur Rahmatullina, who heads the department for economic research at the Institute for Strategic Research, expressed worries about the level of spending, even though her institute is affiliated with the presidents office. I think it would be possible to do the celebrations more modestly, she said, noting that in recent months the authorities have urged people to make savings in this time of economic crisis. Now every family is postponing all major expenditures such as buying a car or house, and even home repairs, she said. Kazak finance minister Bolat Jamishev told IWPR there was no contradiction between frugal policies and the Astana celebrations, which were in any case on a limited scale. Life doesnt stop because of the crisis, he said. Everything thats being done is for the residents of Astana. A company manager in Astana who gave his first name as Andrei was among those who found it hard to accept such arguments. I dont honestly understand who this celebration is intended for. Ive heard the authorities have spent enormous amounts of money on it; yet ordinary people still cant go to the [Domingo] concert, he said. It is extremely unwise to be celebrating Astana Day in this manner when the country is enduring hard times. Another Astana resident who requested anonymity expressed irritation at an event that, for most people, was most apparent as disruptions to daily life. There are more policemen than there are people who want to celebrate. Ordinary people are constantly being told theres no access to somewhere. It seems that the authorities arrange such festivals for themselves, and to show reverence to the president, she said. The minister of economics and budgetary planning, Bakhyt Sultanov, argues that the expenditure is justified as a way of showing that Kazakstan is surviving the crisis. The crisis should not affect the celebration of [Astana] day, adds Sultanov. We need to see that our capital is developing, come what may. Political analyst Oleg Sidorov agrees that it is unfair to talk about wasting money, since it most of the funding consists of private donations. These are fairly big sums of money, he said. But we have a very interesting situation here as the money did not come out of the government budget . Its a kind of social responsibility on the part of businessmen. We cannot forbid them to donate money for the celebrations, just as we cannot forbid them to take a holiday abroad during the crisis. Poletayev predicts that Astana Day will be marked on an even bigger scale in 2010. These celebrations are just a dress rehearsal, he said. Next year will be even more massive, given that Kazakstan will hold the OSCE chairmanship and that it will be Nazarbaevs 70th birthday, he said. Irina Sevastyanova and Marik Koshabaev are IWPR-trained journalists. **** www.iwpr.net ******************************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better local and international understanding of the region. IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. 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