Stop amendments to the Water Code of Kyrgyzstan. Save the Davidov and Lysyi glaciers!
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To the President of the Kyrgyz Republic Atambaev A. Sh.
To the newly elected President of the Kyrgyz Republic Zheenbekov S.Sh.
To the Speaker of the Parliament (Zhogorku Kenesh) Zhumabekov D.A.
To the Prime-Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic Isakov S.D.
November 16, 2017
The issue of amendments to the Water Code with regards to the Kumtor glaciers was raised by the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic back in 2015. But at that time the deputies failed to push it through, as some members of the Working Group strongly opposed the introduction of amendments. There were interviews in the media, and some deputies also voiced their opposition to this issue. Therefore, the deputies did not accept these amendments. The adoption of the current amendments to the Water Code have taken place after the signing of a new Agreement between the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic and Centerra in September 2017, where one of the paragraphs of the agreement states: "Total and final reciprocal exemption and resolution of all existing arbitration and environmental claims, disputes, trials and court decisions as well as the exemption of the Company and its Kyrgyz subsidiaries from future cases on the same grounds and the environmental claims arising from the approved activities." Thus, the issue of compensation for damages caused by the exploitation of Kumtor mine over many years to the environment, including the destruction of Davydov and Lysyi glaciers, according to the agreement, is now in fact pushed aside. Adoption of amendments to the Water Code of the Kyrgyz Republic in favor of one company is the next step to ensure that in the future Kyrgyzstan revokes on a legislative basis from any claims for environmental damage from Centerra that it had previously committed. Adoption of amendments that permits operations on glaciers because of the strategic importance of the mine is an indulgence allowing to destroy the Lysyi and Davydov glaciers and not to pay a penny for the damage caused. In 2015, members of the government in the Parliament made amendments to the Water Code allowing activities that affect the acceleration of glacier melting by using coal, ash, oils or other substances and materials as well as activities that could affect the condition of glaciers or quality of the water contained in them and also activities related to ice extraction on mineral deposits classified as strategic objects "with the confirmation of the impossibility of excluding impact on glaciers." Experts hired by the government of the Kyrgyz Republic argue that the melting of glaciers occurs on a global scale and Kumtor glaciers would still melt by themselves. At the same time, none of them mention the fact that the overburden rocks on Kumtor were stored on glaciers up to 90 and 120 m in height mixed with glaciers and thawed waters already contained sulfates, heavy metals and other toxic substances that got into the waterways. This was proved by the results of the State Commission for Kumtor (2012-2013) that revealed an increase in the concentration of toxic substances in the bottom sediments (Torgoyev I.A). This was also evidenced by the report of the company AMEC, whose recommendations were accepted and promised to scrupulously abide by the leadership of Centerra according to the New Agreement on Kumtor.
Environmental legislation, in particular, the "Water Code" and the "Common Rules of Safety" were violated from the very beginning of the Kumtor mine construction. Glacier No. 33 from the USSR glaciers catalog was completely demolished during the building of mine, and the largest part of the Davydov Glacier was devastated during mine extraction. Now the situation is under control, but such mixed dumps with ice masses will be 1.7 billion tons by the end of the mine (when the company leaves). All problems will rest on the shoulders of the Kyrgyz government and its people. Looking decades ahead, we will get a decrease in water resources due to global melting. Besides, these endangered resources will be irreversibly contaminated, and there will not be any national means to eliminate this pollution. Fourth, the government members argued that if not to amend, it would have resulted in catastrophe at Kumtor. But, in fact, the current situation at the mine is a consequence of the systematic violations of environmental legislation during the mine operation. Instead of demanding from the company to eliminate these violations, our senior government officials and representatives of key agencies propose to legitimize these violations by introducing the above amendments into national legislation. It also could become an instance to spread this negative experience in the future to other deposits in case of their recognition as strategic objects. Speaking at the Committee session in the Parliament Mr. Zilaliev (Ex-Director of the committee and current Vice Prime Minister) said that such deposits with glaciers are 17 in Kyrgyzstan. To put the water resources of Kyrgyzstan under attack for the sake of mining are rather short-sighted. Meanwhile, according to the law on “Strategic Objects of the Kyrgyz Republic” water complex sites and water management facilities, including glaciers, natural lakes, rivers, hydraulic structures, reservoir collectors, water intakes and water pumping stations are strategic objects of the country. In this context, this law is ignored by the Government and the deputies of the Kyrgyz Republic. Page 15 of the Centerra Gold’s environmental report for the year 2016 stated that "Centerra and Kumtor Gold Company do not consider that the Water Code of the Kyrgyz Republic applies to the Kumtor project”. Indeed, the Corporation dictates its rules to both the Government and the Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic. I would like to quote here the book by D. Korten "When Corporations Rule the World" which cites the Philippine Government placed an ad in the magazine "Fortune" that read: “To attract companies like yours... we have felled the mountains, razed jungles, filled swamps, moved rivers, relocated towns ... all to make it easier for you and your business to do business here.”
On the other hand, the Kyrgyz Government adopted and declared the National Strategy on Sustainable Development of the country. At the heart of sustainable development are three pillars: natural, human and physical capital. Glaciers and water resources refer to natural capital, which cannot be replaced by artificial physical capital. Without natural capital, sustainable development and the very existence of Kyrgyzstan as a country becomes impossible. (Also natural resources, according to the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, belong to the state and the people of Kyrgyzstan but not to individual members of the Government). Even the hymn of the Kyrgyz Republic refers to the glaciers in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, which were bequeathed to us by our ancestors. (Ak monguluu azka zoolor, talaalar, Elibizdin janyi menen barabar. Sansyz kylym Ala-Toosun meekendep, Saktap keldi bizdin ata-babalar).
Amendments to the Water Code of the Kyrgyz Republic were adopted in the third reading. And today, November 16, 2017 deputies of the Parliament (Zhogorku Kenesh) of the Kyrgyz Republic adopted amendments to the Water Code with regards to the Davydov and Lysyi glaciers. The potential negative effects of the adopted amendments have yet to be assessed. We call upon the President of the Kyrgyz Republic not to sign the amended Water Code and the Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic to arrange broader consultations with the public and full-fledged public hearings. We urge experts, environmentalists, miners, and geologists suggest a more acceptable and environmentally friendly solution to this issue. The problem of one mine should not be solved by changing the national legislation, but by a program of activities for that mine only. National environmental legislation should be the same for everyone!
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