Kyrgyzstan, officially the Kyrgyz Republic, is a landlocked country in Central Asia. It isbordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, and its capital cityis Bishkek. The population in 2020 was estimated to be just over 6.5 millionpeople. For many years it was part of the Russian Empire and only became anindependent state in 1991 after Mikhail Gorbachev's democratic reforms in theUSSR.
At the end of 2020, the capital city of Bishkek was the dirtiest city in theentire world with a US AQI figure of 352. Kyrgyzstan as a country was placed atnumber 16 in the world table of the cities with the worst air quality.
In 2019 the US AQI figure was 95 and the PM2.5 figure was three times higher thanthe World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines.
Due to the increase in energy production, industrial growth and urban development,further efforts are needed to reduce air pollution.
Sensors have been installed by the US Embassy and any data collected is made availablefor public knowledge. As this information is available to anybody in the world,members of the tourist board were obviously concerned as they understood thatfigures as high as those would certainly deter people from coming to theircountry.
It was also pointed out that the local authorities have a duty to protect theircitizens and should therefore inform them when levels of air pollution entereda dangerous phase. Advice should be offered as to how best to protect yourselfand your family under such conditions.
The State Agency for Environment Protection and Forestry was recently contacted andasked several pertinent questions but as yet, no reply has been received.
In 2019, for the second year running, panic about the quality of the forthcoming winterair quality in the Kyrgyz capital is eclipsing dismay over corruption as aunifying theme on social media.
A common way to judge the quality of air is by measuring the quantity of PM2.5particles suspended in the air. The Swiss company IQAir.com defines a reading of 101-150 PM 2.5 as“unhealthy for sensitive groups” and more than 200 as “very unhealthy.” These figuresare measured in microns per cubic metre (µg/m³).
More and more residents are increasingly aware of the quality of air in their localenvironment and more importantly in their own apartments and homes. The salesof air purifiers are increasing as more people become very concerned about thehigh levels of pollutants there are in the air. It is common knowledge that theair quality in Bishkek is poor, even in the warmer summer months, but access toreal-time data reinforces the fact that it is not getting any better. Readingsupplied by the US Embassy, which is in a considerably “clean” part of townattest to that.
During the last three days in November 2019, readings for PM2.5 averaged 234. On dayssuch as these, it is quite commonplace for the quality to increase dramaticallyduring the early evening where it can rise to over 300. This figure places itinto the “Hazardous” category. The advice is to avoid all outdoor activity.
The reason why Bishkek’s air quality deteriorates so quickly is the onset of winterand with it the cold weather. Winter weather means it’s the heater season when stoves in private homes andindustrial furnaces work at maximum capacity to combat the icy blasts fromSiberia.
Traffic on the icy roads slow down to a crawl and add to the already pollutedatmosphere with their idling engines. They do not turn them off as they wait ina queue as that turns the heater off too.
Random construction does not help the situation as newly built high-rise apartmentsblock off the ventilation corridors where the wind used to blow and clean theair. This assists the heavy frost in trapping the fog between the lower, colderlayers. A phenomenon is known as a temperature inversion.
In 2016, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) organised around table discussion to present and then discuss the results of the analysison air quality management. Representatives of the State Agency on EnvironmentalProtection and Forestry were invited to attend as were several government ministersand representatives from local companies.
Further to the round table discussion, UNECE organised a workshop to support Kyrgyzstanin improving its air pollutant emission inventories in accordance with theConvention’s requirements. The workshop focused on the practical work with thecountry’s national data in relation to its priority activity sectors.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), returned to Bishkekin January 2019 to present a “Health and Pollution Action Plan” for approval bythe Kyrgyz government. This action plan was developed as part of an ongoingprocess and was funded in part by the European Union (EU). Their financialsupport equates to over 5 million Euros over the past three years. Their mainobjective is to help governments of low to middle-income countries to takeaction against pollution and the effects that it can have on public health.
Bishkek’s Town Hall has been blamed for making matters worse by widening roads andcreating a lot of dust in the process. Another factor connected to this is thefact that in order to widen the roads, many of the trees growing by theroadside had to be cut down to make way for the new carriageways. Due to theavailability and popularity of social media, the town hall is very much awareof the dissatisfaction the residents feel about them. They are currently out offavour by allowing the Russian energy giant, Gazprom to lay new pipelines andtake up a settlement area whilst they make progress. Thousands of transientworkers build temporary accommodation and burn whatever organic material theycan without a thought for the consequences. This can be wet wood or low-qualitycoal. Possibly two of the worst causes of pollution imaginable.
Hundreds of gas-powered buses have been promised, but as yet, they are still onlypromises. The local authorities claim to be planting a lot more trees than itspredecessor even as it continues to cut down trees in the road-widening scheme.
A couple of local residents have commented on social media about the airpurifiers they have bought. On man, who bought 2 units for his home complainedthat they reduced the pollution level from 500 down to 100 but they were unableto reduce it anymore. He said that he lived in a particularly bad part of the citywhere figures were often recorded as “Hazardous”.
The other comment was from a man who said that he had experienced the best nights’sleep since he could remember but when he needed to leave his apartment, thesmell of smoke was so strong that he could not face going outside into it.
One owner of a Thai restaurant in the city advertises the fact that he has an airpurifier in an attempt to attract more customers.
The World Health Organisation's guidelines (WHO), states that the air quality inKyrgyzstan is considered moderately unsafe for most of the year. The mostup-to-date figures indicate the country's annual mean concentration of PM2.5 is23 µg/m3, which exceeds the recommended maximum of 10 µg/m3.
The main contributors to the polluted air include the thermal power plants, theconstruction industry, mining, food processing factories and emissions fromroad vehicles.
Outdoor air pollution is a mixture of chemicals, PM2.5 and PM10 particulate matter, andbiological materials that react with each other in the sunlight to form tinyhazardous particles. It contributes to breathing problems, chronic diseases,increased hospitalization, and premature mortality.
The most dangerous of all pollutants are the microscopic particles that measureless than 2.5 microns in diameter. Because of their size, they easily bypassthe body’s defence mechanism and enter the lungs. Here they become trapped atthe base of the bronchial tubes, in the alveoli. There are approximately 480million of these tiny sacs in an adult human body.
There are three main functions performed by the alveoli. They move air in and out ofthe lungs in a process known as ventilation. They exchange oxygen for carbondioxide in the blood which is called diffusion. Lastly, they assist the bloodto pump through the lungs which is known as perfusion. If these tine sacsbecome contaminated with PM2.5 particles, they too will be passed into thebloodstream and travel around the body.
The general advice is to limit your exposure to poor quality air. Considerinvesting in an air purifier for your home and/or car and wear a quality maskif venturing outdoors when the air quality is poor. The IQAir website can alwayshelp you by informing you what the latest air quality is. On days when it is atunhealthy levels try to rearrange your schedule so you don’t have to spend toomuch time outdoors.
Lebedinovka is situated in the suburbs of the capital, Bishkek and is currently showing arecorded level of pollution at a staggering 530 US AQI. This certainlycategorises it as “Hazardous”. This is possibly due to the light wind speed ofonly 3.6 kms/h and the low temperature of -7C. The concentration of PM2.5 wasrecorded as being 1550.7 µg/m³ at 23.00 hours today. The World HealthOrganisation (WHO) recommended level is less than 10 µg/m³, showing just howpolluted this country is!
Other regions though are not as polluted as here Chuy Province records a level of USAQI 46, Issyk-Kul Region records a US AQI of 49 and Osh Region records a US AQIof 45.
At a hazardous level such as this, the advice is to stay indoors and close doorsand windows to prevent the entry of dirty air. If outdoor travel isunavoidable, then wear a good quality mask and limit the time spent outside.
Kyrgyzstan has many environmental problems which include ozone layer depletion, globalclimate change, biodiversity loss and desertification.
It is estimated that the energy sector in Kyrgyzstan is responsible for almost 70per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. And with the increasingdemand for energy, this figure is likely to grow, even though hydropower isproducing more and more power on an annual basis. Also related to Globalclimate change is the loss of the country’s glaciers. The total area taken upby the glaciers is 20 per cent less than it was in recent years, and the fearis that unless something is done to address the fact, it is thought they willdisappear completely by 2100.
The country first acknowledged that it had a problem with desertification in 1999and realised what a threat it was to the rural areas. In studies conductedbetween 2009 and 2011, it was found that over 88 per cent of the 10.6 millionhectares of agricultural land were found to be degraded. Soil re-salinizationhas increased in recent years and is affecting around 75 per cent of all arableland. Fifty per cent of ancient pasture land is now classified as sufferingfrom degradation of both soil and vegetation.
Air pollution has increased throughout the country due to an ever-increasing demandfor power. The energy and construction sectors were found to be mostresponsible for the poor quality air, followed by the mining and processingindustries, households that use inferior quality coal and vehicles. Many suchvehicles are old and poorly maintained.
The energy producers are encouraged to use cleaner natural gas as their energysource, but coal seems to remain their fuel of choice.
Industrial waste is becoming an increasing problem. There are currently 92 mining sites thatcontain approximately 250 million cubic metres of both toxic and radioactivewaste, and in the first 10 years of the twenty-first century, this figureincreased from 190 hectares to 381.
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