Many residents of Nur-Sultan have joined climate-change campaigners and activists to protest a development project that will reduce the size of Small Taldykol, a picturesque lake southwest of the Kazakh capital city.
Environmentalists say the lake -- along with the wetlands and a green zone surrounding it -- is home to many species of birds, fish, and other wildlife that would lose their natural habitat if the construction project continues.
City authorities, however, insist Small Taldykol is not a “real lake” but an “extremely dirty” reservoir formed by accumulated wastewater and melted snow.
Work is already under way to partially fill up the lake with soil and to remove harmful substances from the area, officials say.
The project also envisages the construction of a residential complex with modern infrastructure, including schools, a hospital, and a park.
The campaign to try to stop the project has been ongoing for more than a year. Activists have staged several protests at the site, where a police vehicle is often parked to discourage people from gathering for unsanctioned rallies.
They have also set up an Instagram page to raise awareness among Nur-Sultan residents about the negative impacts the destruction of the lake would have on the city in which they live.
Some activists raised the alarm when they said the lake is being filled not only with soil, but also with garbage, including plastic waste and old tires.
'Lungs' Of The City
Ornithologist Ruslan Orazaliev is among the Kazakh experts who warn that both ordinary people and city authorities should be environmentally conscious in their actions.
“It’s not up to us, people, to decide whether this lake should exist or disappear,” Orazaliev told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service. “This lake and the ecosystem around it existed long before the capital was built here…[and long] before we arrived here. It’s our duty to protect the ecosystem, not to destroy it.”
Orazaliev said disrupting the ecosystem can lead to serious consequences.
“We can only see the vegetation on the shores and birds on the lake. But this area is also home to so many insects and other living creatures that make up an ecological chain,” he said. “By destroying one link we end up disrupting the entire system.”
Echoing the sentiment shared by many Nur-Sultan environmental activists, Orazaliev called Small Taldykol and the green areas around it the “lungs” of the city, where locals often complain about the worsening quality of the air.
“The number of people who suffer from allergies is constantly rising in the city because the air is dry, because there are always construction works going on, polluting the air and raising dust,” Orazaliev said. “The lake humidifies the air: the water evaporates and the dust settles. It’s a natural filter that suppresses dust.”
Orazaliev said the lake “shouldn’t be taken for granted just because we got it for free.”
Small Taldykol is also an important stopover for more than 160 species of migratory birds, experts say.
“This place is on the global flyway, and it is an important stopping point where the birds eat and gain strength. Then they must fly several thousand kilometers over waterless deserts next,” said Alyona Koshkina, an expert from the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan.
Local experts say city authorities must know that the Small Taldykol area is a lot more than a place where city dwellers go for walks and admire the scenery filled with swans and ducks.
“There are so many studies about the role of green zones for cities’ survival,” Koshkina warned. “We will realize the extent of the lake’s importance only after its gone -- but it won’t be easy to restore it.”