Posts by Ryskeldi Satke

Uranium Tailings Pose Environmental Risk In Kyrgyzstan

Posted by on Jan 10, 2017 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Uranium Tailings Pose Environmental Risk In Kyrgyzstan

Spread the News:ShareA version of this article was published in The Diplomat on December 13, 2016. The remote town of Mailuu Suu in South Kyrgyzstan is known for a Soviet legacy that still haunts the local population of more than 22,000. Residents of Mailuu Suu commonly say that the very first Soviet atomic bomb was made out of locally extracted uranium in the late 1940s. The township is surrounded by uranium tailings and radioactive dumps that have been of greatest concern to the country’s neighbor, Uzbekistan, for decades. The gravest dilemma for the Kyrgyz government is related to the frequent landslides in the areas along the river of Mailuu Suu where the Soviet government kept radioactive waste from the uranium mining. The glaciers of the southern Tian Shan feed this river, which flows directly to the neighboring republic of Uzbekistan in the Ferghana Valley. Previously, an accident in April 1958 at the uranium tailing 7 led to the discharge of  “600,000 cubic meters [of radioactive material] into the river [of Mailuu Suu],” according to an OSCE report in 2005. The demise of the Soviet Union and poor maintenance of the uranium tailings since the 1990s has raised concerns in the region and abroad, ultimately bringing the World Bank’s attention to the challenging task of remediation in Mailuu Suu. The World Bank has invested $11.76 million into the “Disaster Hazard Mitigation” project in Mailuu Suu, which was launched in 2004 and completed in 2012. The World Bank’s objective has been focused on minimizing “the exposure of humans, livestock, and fluvial flora and fauna to radionuclide’s associated with abandoned uranium mine tailings and waste rock dumps in the Mailuu-Suu area; and improvement of the effectiveness of emergency management and response by national and sub-national authorities and local communities to disaster situations.” However, locals who are weary of impact from the uranium legacy believe health issues and birth anomalies persist in the area. “[There are] big problems in this town,” said Minabar Umarova, chair of the Women’s Committee of Mailuu Suu. “Our analysis in 2014 of health among local women and children in Mailuu Suu revealed that our town of 24,000 had 180 children [younger than 18] with disabilities. At the same time, the neighboring district of Suzak with more than 240,000 residents had only 165 disabled children. So, Suzak district, with the population ten times larger than Mailuu Suu, has less children with disabilities.” Indeed, an “effect of radiation and radionuclides on public health in Mailuu Suu has reflected on higher rates of birth anomalies — 5.12 percent; miscarriages — 12.1 percent; stillbirth rate — 1.25 percent” than anywhere else in the country, according to research by the Institute of Medical Problems of the National Academy of Sciences, Kyrgyz Republic. The Institute’s previous field monitoring and observation in 2007 found the presence of radioactive uranium and thorium in women’s placentas in Mailuu Suu and surrounding villages. Respectively, in the village of Sary Bae, background gamma radiation was recorded within 40  – 640 mR/h [milliroentgens per hour] whereas in the neighboring city of Jalal Abad background radiation is 21 mR/h, according to official data. Sampling of the 15 local women’s placentas has shown the presence of uranium in the amount of 0.33 mg/kg ± 0.2 (p <0.05); and thorium in the amount of 0.25 mg/kg ± 0.1 (p <0.05). Uranium and thorium in women’s placenta was a cause for complications during pregnancy in 80 percent of the cases among observed women of Mailuu Suu. The Institute for Medical Studies’ research has concluded that snow melt and flash floods trigger frequent mudslides during the spring season in Mailuu Suu that in effect carry radionuclides...

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Mining Company Shirks Blame for Glacier Damage in Kyrgyzstan

Posted by on Apr 20, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 1 comment

Mining Company Shirks Blame for Glacier Damage in Kyrgyzstan

Spread the News:ShareThe most controversial gold mining project in Central Asia is back in the spotlight again this month. Canadian mining company Centerra Gold has re-launched its public relations campaign in Kyrgyzstan to improve the company’s image over the status of glaciers at the Kumtor gold mine, one of the world’s biggest open-pit gold mines and a flagship project that accounts for 90 percent of company’s profits. Central Asia’s Tien Shan mountain range is the site of a heated battle over gold, water, and ice, as GlacierHub has previously reported. Stretching 1,500 miles along the borders between China, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, the mountain’s steep peaks are home to some of Central Asia’s most important glaciers, which are critical sources of water for the region. In an April 12 statement, Centerra’s subsidiary, the Kumtor Gold Company, proclaimed: “Conditions of glaciers in Kyrgyzstan, that influence of operations to glaciers in the Kumtor area is minimal and cannot be compared to the climate change processes.” Kyrgyz environmentalists responded to Centerra by highlighting the negative impact of mine blasts and excavation of glacier masses at Kumtor that have exacerbated ice melt at the site. Isakbek Torgoyev, director of the Geomechanics and Subsoil Resources Use Institute under the National Academy of Sciences of Kyrgyzstan, said: The Kyrgyz Republic’s whole water fund is also made of the Petrov and Davidov Glaciers that have been formed over the centuries, and in the past these glaciers have had 700 million cubic meters of ice mass, but now, only 200 million cubic meters are left. The destruction of glaciers has created massive waste mixed with ice, acids and heavy metals which estimated at 2 billion tons. After Canadians depart, melting masses will inevitably end up in Lake Issyk-Kul and the Naryn River. Therefore, this is scary. And William Colgan, an assistant professor in the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University, Toronto and a geologist with a specialty in climatology, has been studying glaciers and their response to global warming, told The Diplomat magazine in November in 2014: [While] climate change is undoubtedly the main factor driving glacier retreat across the Tien Shan range, the Lysyi and Davydov glaciers are special cases because they are impacted by the Kumtor mine. These glaciers are not retreating due to accelerated surface melt alone, but also by increased ice removal at their termini. In the case of the land-terminating Lysyi and Davydov Glaciers, this ice removal is a consequence of mining activities, as the ice overburden must be removed to access ore located beneath the glaciers. The perimeter of the Kumtor mine open ice pit appears to have been excavated up glacier at greater than 30 meters per year between 1998 and 2013. Over the same period, nearby land-terminating glaciers appear to have retreated at closer to 10 meters per year. Local mining activities are clearly a larger factor in the recent wastage of the Lysyi and Davydov Glaciers than regional climate change. Moreover, in his 2015 interview with Radio Canada International, Colgan added that, “Kumtor is not known for sharing information with the public, especially geotechnical information.” European environmental non-profit organization CEE Bankwatch, which has extensively monitored Kumtor’s gold mine, has highlighted Centerra’s misconduct. CEE Bankwatch’s latest assessment on the Kumtor mine, after visiting Kyrgyzstan in October 2015, indicated that: [T]he mine is a prime example of mining’s negative impact on glaciers. First and foremost, twenty years of extraction and fifteen years of dumping waste rock on top of the glaciers have caused an accelerated glacier terminus surge. In other words the glaciers are now advancing into the open pit, which is creating great challenges...

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At COP21, Afghanistan’s Adaptive Capacity Remains a Concern

Posted by on Dec 8, 2015 in Adaptation, All Posts, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

At COP21, Afghanistan’s Adaptive Capacity Remains a Concern

Spread the News:Share Ahead of the Paris conference on climate change in December 2015, conflict-ridden Afghanistan submitted its climate action plan in October to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The plan’s assessment of the country’s capacity to adapt to climate change and the associated challenges of doing so clearly outline genuine concerns that potentially may impact the livelihoods of millions of Afghans in the upcoming years and decades. War-torn Afghanistan is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters throughout the impoverished country’s 34 provinces. Previously, the Stockholm Environmental Institute projected in a report on climate modeling that Afghanistan will be confronted by a range of new and increased climatic hazards. The most likely adverse impacts of climate change in Afghanistan are drought related, including associated dynamics of desertification and land degradation. Drought is likely to be regarded as the norm by 2030, rather than as a temporary or cyclical event. (See here) Meanwhile, prolonged political instability in Afghanistan took its toll on scientific research of the impact of climate change on the country’s glaciers and mountains. As a result, scientists mainly used available tools to substitute ground based research in the country, such as high-resolution imagery collected from satellites, periodic water level measurements from glacier-fed Amu Darya and the exchange of information between the neighboring states. Nonetheless, the complexity of the studies related to climate change’s effect in South Asia and surrounding regions dictate the necessity of continuing research, focusing on weather patterns in the target areas, and evaluating weather anomalies in the greater Eurasian region. Ben Orlove, a member of the University of Central Asia’s Mountain Societies Research Institute’s Working Group, believes that this year’s mid-summer heatwave in southern Pakistan, which claimed close to 2000 lives, is a sign of the changing climate in the region. According to news reports, summer temperatures reached 49 degrees C (120F) in the Pakistani city of Larkana. In the neighboring India, a heatwave which occurred in May this year killed over 2500. And the question arises as to the degree of the observable impact in Afghanistan. A highly visible impact of global climate change in Afghanistan was recorded in the tributaries of the Amu Darya river in the Wakhan corridor. A recent study on retreating glaciers in Afghanistan and Pakistan entitled “Space-based observations of Eastern Hindu Kush glaciers between 1976 and 2007, Afghanistan and Pakistan” states, “In the Hindu Kush, retreat and relative stagnation dominates. Similar results have been obtained in other regions, where 93% of the sampled glaciers in the Wakhan region of Afghanistan and 74% of the sampled glaciers in the Hindu Raj of Pakistan retreated.” Rapid glacial melt in Afghanistan, combined with heavy rains during the spring-summer seasons, translates to flooding in the conflict affected areas. However, scientists warn that flooding hazards are only a small part of the larger impact of climate change processes in Afghanistan. In the last two decades, the country has had severe droughts that have revealed high vulnerability of millions of Afghans. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) indicated in a memo in 2007 that effects of desertification and droughts were observable in the country’s “arid north, west and south”. They pointed out the necessity of research and increased data collection to analyze weather patterns in the country. The memo also highlighted existing challenges associated with a “near total lack of data,” which remains a barrier for researchers and scientists to investigate impact of the desertification in the country. The Afghan government’s National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment summary stated that a “high proportion of Afghanistan’s 27 million people face chronic and transitory food insecurity. Food insecurity based on calorie consumption is estimated at 30.1 percent. Of the...

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European Bank Says Mining Projects Don’t Damage Glaciers

Posted by on Jul 8, 2015 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts | 0 comments

European Bank Says Mining Projects Don’t Damage Glaciers

Spread the News:ShareFor years, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has been involved in the Kumtor mining project, which some experts say is contaminating ground and surface waters. Kyrgyz local communities have been complaining that the gold mine is causing negative environmental and social impacts on the nearby villages. Additionally, international NGOs and Kyrgyz environmentalists believe that the Canadian-operated Centerra Gold mine is triggering rapid glacier melt due to company’s mining practices. The EBRD has denied these claims. In May 2014, I was invited to the EBRD Annual Meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia where I met and interviewed  Alistair Clark (EBRD’s Managing Director Environment and Sustainability Department), Michaela Bergman (EBRD’s Chief Counselor for Social Issues Environment and Sustainability Department), and  Dariusz Prasek (Director, Project Appraisal Environment Department).   Here is an excerpt of the interview: Ryskeldi Satke: on EBRD audits of the Kumtor mine. It looks like drinking water is the main concern here and it was one of the demands in the villages and this problem was raised during protests as well. My understanding is that EBRD has done due diligence on the impact. Why then there is an issue with the drinking water, still? Alistair Clark: There shouldn’t be an issue with the drinking water. For instance, there are monitoring results for water discharge from the mining site available to the public, I believe. Ryskeldi Satke: CEE Bankwatch did an investigation into the mine in 2011 and they were trying to get hydrogeologist Robert Moran onto Kumtor premises but Centerra refused to grant access to Mr. Moran for water quality testing. Moran took samples down the local river stream from the mining project and said that “something is in this water that has been added from the mining activity”. Dariusz Prasek: We followed up on that and 50 samples of water were taken near the Kumtor mine. None of these 50 samples confirmed Mr. Moran’s findings. ERM firm was the consultant. I don’t have all the data in front of me and ERM work never confirmed Moran’s findings. These findings were ungrounded. Something that Mr. Moran took for sampling was never confirmed by the independent consultant. Alistair Clark: We are basing and we took that science in terms of results, you raised that issue. And we’ve got  information that doesn’t confirm Mr. Moran’s findings. So, we are not trying to discredit it and we have body of data that actually says that water is ok for water supply. We can’t comment on why people are protesting. Last time, there was an annual meeting few years ago and issues of Centerra Gold came up. We took claims that were made by Bankwatch and others. We took it very seriously and dispatched two-three people to the mine site to have independent audits done. These claims were not found to be there, company’s practice was in compliance with international best practice and policy. And also, according to requirements that we put onto the project as part of EBRD financing. So when we have information from colleagues like yourself, we’ll look at that data, we’ll look at that information and we would triangulate. We can’t really do much more to stage until we see body of evidence. Ryskeldi Satke: I was recently in Mongolia and we have similar reports from the local people near the Gatsuurt mining project about the drinking water again. What are the odds of having complaints from the local communities in both Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia about the drinking water? Michaela Bergman: I think people can express concerns and it can also be about perceptions. I think we have to understand what these concerns are. We have worked on projects where the data is within whatever...

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