Kyrgyzstan is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Central Asia because of its mountainous terrain and cool climate. But experts are increasingly worried about environmental problems and pollution in the country.
“I remember the times when you could find at least 250 kinds of herbs in Arslanbab. Now you see herds of cattle everywhere, and they are obviously grazing and consuming all of them. Rare trees are being chopped down by locals for construction,” said Gafurjon Rahmonaliyev, a renowned doctor in southern Kyrgyzstan who was the administrator of Arslanbab, a mountainous area famous for its thick forests, waterfalls and nut trees.
There are some internationally funded projects designed to combat environmental problems, but it's hard to characterize the results so far as progress, he added. “The gradual shrinking of the woods is a real problem, and there are no organizations or entities that specifically focus on this confronting this issue,” Rahmonaliyev said.
The lack of regulation and oversight is harming the environment from every angle, he said.
“The population in these areas gets almost nothing from the capital," Rahmonaliyev said. "Public services are very poor. Until we fix our energy supply and offer other sources to people, we will continue to see this butchering of our environment. We have to start developing alternative energy sources. We have to regulate pasturing and farming.”
Environmentalist Biymirza Toktoraliyev, vice president of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, agreed. “Serious reforms are needed to improve oversight on mining, natural preservation and energy sector," Toktoraliyev said. “It is critical that the government, NGOs and academics all work together.
“It’s all about funding and the proper use of resources.”
Norway, France and Kazakhstan have sponsored several medium-scale environmental protection projects in Kyrgyzstan so far.
“The lack of national attention and engagement as well as a regional approach is visible everywhere," Toktoraliyev said. "Unless we own the issue and start working together, sharing experience and knowledge, the environment will continue to suffer.”
The Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences has been asking the government to involve the institution in environmental regulation and preservation.
Toktaraliyev said he thought authorities had been reluctant to make the system transparent because doing so would reveal how deeply corrupt the current process is. “Where is the money allocated by the foreign donors?" he asked. "Why not look closely at the activities of the agencies currently tasked with protecting the environment?”
Rahmonaliyev, who continues his own quest to save Arslanbab, hopes that at some point experts from all over Central Asia will start cooperating. “It’s a call to action.”
“I know we can greatly benefit from the support of foreign countries," he said. "But the work should ultimately be done by us. We are slow and ignorant. Every individual and our society as a whole must get serious about saving the environment. We take it for granted, but with every passing day, but we’re losing the battle.”