Kazakhstan: There ‘Isn’t A Single Technician’ To Battle Floods In District That Is Home To Tengiz Field And Provides 35% Of Budget – OpEd


Since the end of March, large regions of Russia and Kazakhstan have been devastated by the most severe flooding in decades. In Kazakhstan, flooding is, according to President Tokayev, at its worst in over 80 years. As of April 10, a state of emergency has been declared in ten of Kazakhstan’s seventeen provinces.

At least 3,400 residential houses have been flooded, 2680 of them in Kulsary, a small town that is the center of the Zhyloy district on the territory of which the super-giant Tengiz oil and gas field is located, alone. In the meantime, 70% of Kulsary is underwater due to flooding. According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Kazakhstan, as of April 9, a total of 96,500 people have been evacuated, 35,000, including 7,239 children, of them from Kulsary alone. 

As predicted by the experts, the worst is yet to come as flooding intensifies. Upstream on the Ural, which flows into Kazakhstan, floodwaters have already flooded over 14 thousand homes in the Orenburg province of Russia. The big water is moving west and south to where the West Kazakhstan and Atyrau provinces of Kazakhstan are. It remains to be seen how that season of high water of the Ural River will end. It is just beginning for Western Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile, the floodwaters on the Emba River, the second largest river in Western Kazakhstan, have receded in the last week. But they had already done their destructive work in Kulsary and its surroundings. It’s too easy to blame nature, saying that flooding now is at its worst in over 80 years. But this looks like nothing more than an attempt by the Kazakh power to shift public attention from its carefree attitude to the possibility of such natural disasters to the forces of nature.

There are so many videos, shot by eyewitnesses, on the net in which you can see how local people in Kulsary accuse the representatives of the local authorities of failing to provide helicopters and machine technics for rescuing people, who get caught up in the water, and blocking the path of floods to residential buildings. Here’s an excerpt from one of them, in which a group of Kulsary residents appeals to the local headquarters set up for carrying out search and rescue operations and liquidation of the consequences of an emergency: “That group’s spokesperson: We are people who have come to you. There are more people outside. There is no need to let them all in. There are nine of us who are here. Let’s begin saving time together. [Time is of the essence]. People are drowning out there. There is a flood [in Kulsary]. We have an emergency in the Zhyloy district. You don’t have a helicopter. Does that mean that there is no helicopter in Kazakhstan? Does that mean that there is no helicopter in the Atyrau province? We here are so in need of it [a helicopter]. Can you get a helicopter be sent here [to us]? People are standing on the roof of their houses flooded or surrounded by water. [He then addresses President Tokayev via the Internet]. Distinguished President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev! Here is the stuff of the local emergency headquarters you have created. I would like to inform you… I won’t say that I’m speaking on behalf of the people.  But I am one of those who constitute a people. Here, at the headquarters, we ask for a helicopter and can’t get it… We’re here trying to defend our town from the water-flood now. People, who are sitting here [at the local emergency headquarters], do not provide us any help at all. When you ask someone from them for help in doing something, he replies that he can’t do it, tells [us] to go to another person, to the [district, town] akimat [the office of the head of a local governing body in Kazakhstan]. Those in the akimat tell us to go back to the [local emergency] headquarters. This is an utterly shameful situation, isn’t this?! Our people are being left drowning out there. If they have no pity for us, and they can’t give us what we asking for, we don’t need you to be our leaders [executives]”.

That footage is far from being the sole example of this kind. There are quite a few more videos on the internet shot by not indifferent citizens of Kazakhstan where people demand explanations of why machine technics were lacking in Kulsary at the height of the flooding disaster.

The video entitled “The People Are Standing Up in Kulsary” shows how several dozen people surrounded a man in uniform [who probably is a representative of the Department of Emergencies of the Atyrau province] and one of them angrily says to the latter the following: “It’s all your fault. You have not prepared for this and have not addressed and resolved the relevant issues in advance.  And right now, there are no machine technics [loaders, dozers, excavators, scrapers, trucks, and so on]. There isn’t a single one of them available”.

In such circumstances, some Kazakhs are envious of Russian people in the areas of flooding in Russia getting more relief from their emergency services. Thus, Yerzhan Turgumbay, whom the Kazakh press describes as an opposition figure based in Italy, says: “We can criticize the Russians as much as we want, but, as you can see, the Russian Emergencies Ministry workers have boats, vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, Kamaz trucks, and excavators, while our ones have nothing [of the kind]. Our [common] people get out there and look for bags and shovels, and perform rescue work. [In the stories taken on the video] not a single tractor or vehicle is visible anywhere”.

The situation described above is pretty strange on its own. It seems to be even weirder when you take in that here, we speak of a district, on the territory of which, over one-third of the budget revenues of the Kazakh state were generated in, say, 2018. And that is no exaggeration. Over a third or more than 35% of the Kazakh republican budget revenues planned for 2018 (without transfers) for 5 trillion 528.4 billion tenge fell to share of the Tengizchevroil LLP (TCO) alone. That’s easy to verify if one wants to. The TCO operates a license that includes the unique, supergiant Tengiz field and the adjacent, smaller but still significant, Korolevskoye field. Both fields are in the Zhyloy district territory, the center of which is Kulsary, a town, which recently has been badly hit by the devastating water-floods. In 2023, the TCO produced 28.9 million metric tons of oil. That is more than the peak figures of Kazakhstan as a whole in the Soviet years and just a little less than what Azerbaijan produced in 2023, 30.2 million metric tons of crude and gas condensate.

The Zhyloi district definitely is the richest district in Kazakhstan. Being just a part of the Atyrau province, it potentially is richer than any province of Kazakhstan, except maybe the Atyrau province itself. And it potentially is richer than many individual post-Soviet States. But this all has seemingly been of little use to Kulsary during the recent flooding disaster.

At the end of March, 150 people were evacuated by a military helicopter from flooded settlements in the Kostanay province. In a similar situation in Kulsary, there seemingly was no helicopter. During floods in this town, the natural disaster claimed several lives. So the question is, what is the difference between people in the Kostanai province and those residing in the Zhyloy district of the Atyrau province?  

Unless you’re an ethnic Kazakh, you would never understand what the difference might be there.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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