The capital city of Kazakhstan has been ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world since early May. According to IQAir from Switzerland, Astana is currently ranked as the 13th most polluted city in the world. The concentration of fine silt in the air changes daily and Kazgidromet, the national meteorological agency in Kazakhstan, also confirms that the air in Astana is highly polluted. One of the most likely reasons for the situation might be wildfires in neighboring Russia as people in the Northern and Central parts of Kazakhstan report smoke.
The number of polluted cities has grown
Last year, 30 towns out of 69 reported high and very high levels of air pollution. In addition to big industrial cities like Temirtau, Karaganda, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Pavlodar and Almaty this list now includes Astana as well. In fact, the capital city has been on this list for the last two years.
This year, the country’s Ministry of Ecology named Astana, Almaty, Karaganda, Temirtau, Atyrau, Aktobe, Balkhash and Ust-Kamenogorsk as the most polluted cities.
According to the agency, each city has its own reason for their problems with air pollution.
Thermal power plants, boiler houses and cars are prime sources of air pollution in Almaty and Astana. For instance, the amount of emissions in Astana reached 54,000 tons in 2022. TPP and boiler houses account for 89% of these emissions, while industrial facilities account for 11% of emissions.
Azamatkhan Amirtayev, leader of the Green Party, believes that the growth in population is the key reason for air pollution. The more people you have in a city, the more cars they use and the more coal is needed to heat their homes.
«The main problem comes from TTPs with no filtration system. During the cold season coal accounts for the vast majority of emissions. Of course, we also have transportation issues, with the number of vehicles growing constantly,» he said.
The cold season is over, so why is the air still polluted?
As the Ministry of Ecology and Kazgidromet reported, there were 127 cases of extremely high levels of air pollution in Astana in early May. The key reason is forest fires in the North Kazakhstan region and neighboring areas in Russia. As a result, smoke particles reach Astana, which city residents can see and smell.
«Weather forecast says that a vast part of Kazakhstan will be hit by a cyclone with strong wind and rains in three days. This is going to disperse the pollution and will improve the quality of the air,» Kazgidromet said.
The Ministry of Ecology in conjunction with regional authorities has developed a road map for improving the quality of air in the country’s cities. The agency is going to help to lower air pollution in the most polluted cities back to average levels by 2025. In order to reach this goal, the government is planning to build seven new sewage treatment works and remodel 12 facilities that are already in operation. The ministry also wants to build 24 new landfills and close five disposal sites that are full of waste.
Experts highlight that the capital city desperately needs TTP No.3, which should use natural gas for operation instead of coal.
Another move that can significantly improve the air in Astana is green space expansion. According to specialists, the capital city needs more parks and public gardens.
In November 2022, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said that he would keep his eyes on environmental issues in the country. He has ordered emissions to be cut by 20%.