More Than Just Beer

by Nathan Hamm on 1/4/2005

Almalyk is not only home to what is one of Uzbekistan’s best beers (not much of a prize really, and Samarkand-Praga is probably better anyway), it is also one of the most polluted places in the country.

The BBC reports that the Uzbeks are taking steps to cut pollution by cleaning up a particularly bad copper smelter.

Mr [Sergei] Dobija [vice-director of the plant] told journalists visiting the plant, about an hour’s drive from here: “If we can do all we need to do, this area will be comparable to Switzerland.

“Air pollution is the main problem, but there’s half a million tonnes of accumulated metallurgical waste, too.

“We’ve developed the technology to reprocess it, but the job will cost a total of $160m. The entire clean-up is being paid for out of our own funds.”

The air, which is pretty bad everywhere near Tashkent (Peace Corps describes pollution in Uzbekistan as comparable to Pittsburgh in the 1950s), is particularly nasty in Almalyk, where many residents will avoid leaving their homes when the air is particularly bad. If only it was like in the good old days…

One Almalyk resident said things used to be better in Soviet days: “They discharged the sulphur fumes only at night 15 years ago, but now they do it whenever they like.”

I remember waking up to the sound of a fume discharge, probably from this charming facility, when I stayed the night in Karmana once. But, Navoi’s still a lot like the Soviet Union, so environmental destruction still comes under cover of dark.

But, hey, fumes aren’t all that bad.

But Alexander Filimonov, an executive at the smelter, says: “We all get used to the smell after a while.

“I don’t notice any pollution – in fact, when I go away and breathe fresh air, I feel ill.

“The fumes actually do some good: they kill off the insects in the cotton fields round Almalyk.”

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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