Smog over Kyrgyzstan capital city: causes, effects, and solutions
- Written by Maria Levina
BISHKEK (TCA) — Air pollution has become one of the most discussed topics in Bishkek. A shroud of smog over Kyrgyzstan’s capital has become stronger in recent years, and it is clearly visible when looking at the city from above, even from villages located to the south Bishkek, at the foot of the mountains.
This year, smog has become particularly dense with increased coldness.
The public outrage intensified after the photos of Bishkek covered with a huge clot of smog were posted on social networks in early January. Many users were extremely surprised because outside the city there was a clear and sunny weather that day. Bishkek residents said it is becoming increasingly difficult to breathe in the city.
According to the Kyrgyz Meteorological Service, atmospheric air pollution threefold exceeds the maximum permissible concentration of harmful substances in Bishkek.
Human activities are the main causes of air pollution including motor vehicles’ exhaust gases, emissions from heating homes and facilities with coal, and the emissions from the coal-fired Bishkek Thermal Power Plant.
About 60 percent of motor vehicles in Bishkek emit harmful substances into the atmosphere above the norm, experts say.
According to the State Agency for Environmental Protection and Forestry, the annual total pollutant emissions into the atmosphere in Bishkek amount to 240,000 tons, of which 180,000 tons are from motor vehicles.
The Bishkek roads were designed for about 45 thousand cars, but currently around 500 thousand cars drive on them every day.
Recently, the State Inspectorate for Environmental and Technical Safety jointly with the road police and journalists checked vehicles on Bishkek streets. The Inspectorate has only one device for measuring carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, therefore only seven cars were measured for harmful emissions during the inspection.
Passenger minibuses (mainly old Mercedes minivans) cause most harmful emissions, threefold higher than the permissible standards, mainly due to engine malfunction. Inspectors verbally warned of violations adding that new rules that provide fines for exceeding harmful emissions will come into force this spring. However, an insignificant fine of one thousand soms (around $14) is unlikely to help change the situation.
To improve the situation, it is necessary to develop public transport and increase the responsibility of vehicles’ owners.
Municipal transport will replace minibuses in the city center until the fall, First Deputy Prime Minister Askarbek Shadiev told parliament deputies this week. The Bishkek municipality is planning to buy 350 large buses, he added.
However, Bishkek residents are not yet ready to use public transport instead of private cars and taxis even in the center of the city, because there are few buses and trolley buses, and their schedule is not observed.
The introduction of an effective technical inspection for cars will also reduce harmful substances in the atmosphere.
Bishkek Thermal Power Plant
Some local media accused the Bishkek Thermal Power Plant of increased harmful emissions due to the construction of a new chimney. To dispel the rumors, the TPP management arranged an excursion for journalists. The TPP staff did not deny that the plant pollutes the air in Bishkek but its emissions are only 14% of the total, they said. The studies showed that due to the TPP modernization and installation of modern smoke cleaning filters, emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere are minimal.
The National Energy Holding is selecting an independent environmental company to assess the environmental pollution from the Bishkek TPP.
Heating with coal
Air pollution is also caused by private bathhouses, industrial enterprises, and private homes that use coal in the winter.
Power outages in the previous years and natural-gas price increases have forced the majority of the population living in private houses to switch to coal.
Private heating devices in residential buildings are much more harmful than the Bishkek TPP because they burn coal at low temperatures and a significant part of the fuel does not turn into heat and non-hazardous gases, but into harmful toxic gases, mainly carbon monoxide, one of the components of smog, ecologists explain.
Moreover, local residents often use car tires and other waste as fuel to heat their homes, which, when burned, form dark fetid smoke.
According to the Environmental Agency, in addition to fines, enterprises will soon be closed for air pollution. The checks will be conducted until emissions meet environmental standards.
The Move Green public association with the support of Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan has conducted air quality research in Bishkek. Activists installed devices that display the concentration of solids in the air at the two busiest intersections in the city center.
Solid particles cause pulmonary, cardiovascular and oncological diseases. According to the WHO, several million people in the world die prematurely because of air pollution every year.
Bishkek is located in a hollow between mountains and is poorly blown by winds. In addition, there is little rain to wash out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, environmentalists say.
The air in the city is lower than in the surrounding atmosphere, which creates the effect of a thermal air cap. This hinders the penetration of weak winds from the outside.
Chaotic construction is another cause of excessive air pollution.
In the last century, the city was built so that the streets ran parallel to each other, and the air from the mountains could air the city. The foothills where a breeze (wind rose) is formed have been built up with new residential buildings, and there is no airing effect in Bishkek now, experts say.
The ecological situation is also deteriorating due to the massive felling of trees in Bishkek.
Trees are cut down not only in squares and parks but also along roads to expand them, thus reducing the "lungs" of Bishkek. The capital of Kyrgyzstan is no longer the green city it was ten years ago.
Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Sapar Isakov recently discussed the environmental situation in Bishkek with all relevant state bodies in order to develop a comprehensive action plan to resolve the air pollution problem in Bishkek.
Isakov ordered to develop a detailed plan of measures to minimize emissions of harmful substances from the boiler houses in Bishkek and to gradually switch them from solid fuels to alternative energy sources. There are 60 boiler houses in Bishkek, and only two of them use renewable energy sources, receiving heat from solar energy.
The Prime Minister also ordered the Bishkek Municipality to develop a project to green the capital and submit it for the Government’s approval.