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Kyrgyzstan: Canada An Example For Ecological Movement

Prague, 3 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Recent days have seen Kyrgyzstan becoming much "greener." At least three new ecological groups were formed, among them an umbrella association bringing together a dozen of parties and movements.

The strengthening of environmental consciousness in Kyrgyzstan was galvanized mostly after last month's man-made disaster, a cyanide spill in Yssyk-Kol region.

Martin Horak of Toronto University told RFE/RL, the improvements in environmental policies is normally a process driven from below to top, rather than the other way around.

"Certainly in North America, the way the environmental movement has developed, has been very much from below. And by and large, the government intervention and new government policy in all kind of areas (be it, forestry, mining, transport, energy and so on), has come as a result of sustained pressure over several years from one or usually more environmental groups either in specific case or more generally. So I think, an environmental movement that is basically the involvement of average citizens in local and national environmental groups has really been the main force behind pushing for environmental policy change there. It hasn't come from the top down."

According to Mr. Horak, strengthening of environmental policies in Canada is forcing the companies to look into the markets of foreign countries where such policies are loose.

"I do know that there have been tighter regulations in terms of various aspects of mining. For example, in many provinces now mining companies are required to rehabilitate all the land that they use, especially in open pit mining, re landscaping, replanting natural forest cover, which of course is expensive. At the same time, as far as I know, at least in some areas in Canada, the use of sodium cyanide is now banned in mining. And various regulations such as these, I think, form or create quite a bit of pressure to Canadian companies to seek markets where mining is cheaper, because it has become more expensive."

Les Perreaux, a journalist from "Star Phoenix" of Saskatchewan province of Canada, also highlighted the importance of "greens" and media. He told RFE/RL that Cameco corporation, which is now being held responsible for cyanide spill in Kyrgyzstan, has a very good safety records in Canada. Its main operations are in uranium mining and it started gold operations only in 1996.

"I think, probably one of the reasons why Cameco has an excellent safety records here in Saskatchewan, because we have very active environmental groups, they are very concerned e.g. about uranium mining. The are very well informed and very active. They attend all of the review hearing that happen every time when CAMECO wants to open a new mine, or change the way they produce uranium in certain mine. So that is very important, that is what keeps people on their toes, I think. And it is very important that the media reflect what is going in the communities. If the community is very concerned about the environment, I think media should reflect that."

He also says:

"I agree that governments don't seem to listen to these people and they certainly don't necessarily listen to journalists. But, I think, the companies, to some extent, do listen when there is very active concern. You have seen the reaction of Cameco since the people in Barskoon area really mobilized and demanded some action. They are going to spend at least one million dollars, from what I can understand, paying compensation, paying to build a water supply, pave the road and all of these things. And I think, that shows you, that the governments may not necessarily react to people mobilizing in such a case, certainly the companies has to. Because it is important for the company that they be allowed to stay there.