Water Woes In Kazakhstan

Kazakh water
China Dialogue has a fantastic slideshow and article from freelance journalist Jack Carino on the nasty effects of Chinese water consumption on Central Asia. See the full slideshow here. From the article:

On the upstream side is Beijing, an economic behemoth committed to shrinking its growing wealth gap by developing the country’s interior. The plan, sometimes known as the Go West policy, hinges in part on access to water for drinking, energy generation, agriculture and industry, especially in arid areas such as Xinjiang.

Downstream are Kazakhstan and Siberian Russia, developing in their own right but a far cry from China’s breakneck growth. Rivers that originate in China – mainly the Irtysh, which crosses the Kazakh northeast before entering Russia, and the Ili, which ends in Kazakhstan – are essential to the two states, for the same reasons that Beijing needs them.

Economic demands aside, environmentalists worry that if the Chinese continue to increase their diversions from the Ili and Irtysh, the damage to the regional environment will be irreversible. But as the rows of new apartment houses springing up in Yining and other parts of Xinjiang attest, China is unlikely to apply the brakes on western development.

Most imperilled is the fragile Lake Balkhash, an enormous body of water in Kazakhstan whose basin covers one-fifth of the country’s 15 million people, including its financial capital, Almaty. The fifteenth largest lake in the world, it has an average depth of less than 6 metres, and its combination of size and shallowness leaves it especially vulnerable to fluctuations in water supply.


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