Urban and Rural Disparities of Water Quality in Kazakhstan

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SEATTLE — Lack of access to clean drinking water is a pressing issue around the globe. Today, around one billion people are without clean drinking water. As one of the most water-scarce countries on the Eurasian continent, the problem of water quality in Kazakhstan is certainly not foreign to many citizens.

When the Kazakh government published the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy, its most recent state-mandated policy reforms, water scarcity and poor water quality in Kazakhstan was identified as one of the most pressing issues threatening the future prosperity of the country.

In a country where high demand and short supply have resulted in rising water prices, the poor are the first to feel the effects of inadequate resources. Inadequate access to sanitary water is often a contributor to numerous other factors that exacerbate poverty. For example, dehydration impairs an individual’s ability to absorb nutrients from their food, meaning that dehydration intensifies malnutrition. Additionally, half of the world’s hospitalizations are due to people drinking unsanitary water. These data highlight the dire effects of water shortages and the dangers it poses to a population, especially its most vulnerable members.

A 2013 study found that though 93 percent of Kazakhs living in urban centers have access to running water; in rural areas, that figure is just 25 percent. Many Kazakhs living in remote areas are dependent on water delivered in tanks from reservoirs, which means that they do not have access to abundant quantities and the quality of the water is generally inferior to that accessible by urban dwellers.

In addition to infrastructural disparities between urban and rural areas, natural water resources are unevenly distributed across the state. Large rivers in Almaty and the Irtysh river basin to the east of the state belie the water insecurities that face Kazakhs living in drier parts of the country, such as the Mangistau province.

One of the goals of the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy is to improve water quality in Kazakhstan and its accessibility by developing a means of distributing adequate water to all its citizens, regardless of their locality, before the target year. The policy reforms are modeled on the successes achieved by Singapore, which suffered from water shortages in the past, but has since found remarkable success in providing for its citizens’ needs through key reforms.

State-funded engineering enhancements to the water supply have driven Singapore’s percentage of non-revenue water, or the water lost due to leakage between the source and the end user, down to just 4 percent, whereas in most developing countries the average water lost is around 20 percent. Kazakhstan currently loses 22 percent of its water due to leaky pipes. Conscientious pricing of water and programs that provide water subsidies to the poor, as well as public education programs aimed at regulating the water demand by lowering consumption are two additional efforts that Kazakhstan intends into implement in coming years, following the Singaporean government’s example.

Developing effective solutions to issues concerning water quality in Kazakhstan will play a central role in the country’s future prosperity. Fortunately, the Kazakh government has acknowledged the challenges it currently faces and has created a plan that will hopefully result in the same successes enjoyed by the citizens of Singapore.

– Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

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