Kyrgyzstan set to build controversial ‘eco-city’ project on iconic mountain lake

Kyrgyz officials say they have signed a contract with foreign investors to start building an “eco-city” near the scenic shores of Lake Issyk-Kul in the north of the country, despite concerns the multibillion-dollar project could damage the environment.

Asman Eco-City of the Future project manager Ruslan Akmataliev said three French companies – Finentrep Aspir, MEDEF and Mercuroo – have pledged to invest around $5 billion for the first phase of the ambitious $20 billion. He said the contract was signed by Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov and company representatives on April 12, but did not provide many details.

The project was first presented by Japarov’s government in July as a sustainable city that will become an economic and tourist center with an advanced education system, a state-of-the-art business center, banks, sports arenas and parks. high technology. It will also include modern healthcare facilities to develop medical tourism.

The city will rely primarily on alternative energy sources and use environmentally friendly transportation models to comply with the principles of a green economy, according to the president’s office.

From a bird’s eye view, the city – called Asman (Kyrgyz for “sky”) – would look like a “komuz”, an ancient musical instrument and one of Kyrgyzstan’s national symbols.

Plans for the Asman Project

Designed for around 500,000 residents, Asman will be built on 4,000 hectares of land over the next 7-10 years. Officials said construction would begin this spring, but no date was given.

Akmataliev and others behind the project hope Asman will particularly appeal to Kyrgyz IT professionals, doctors and other professionals living abroad. “If we create [work and life] opportunities here, many Kyrgyz will return to work in our country. We will take the best from all over the world – the latest technology for Asman,” Akmataliev said. Told journalists.

“We will have the newest hospitals for medical tourism and the Kyrgyz people will no longer have to travel to Turkey, India or Israel for treatment,” he said.

The project is also expected to create thousands of jobs for local residents and many other people currently working as migrant workers in Russia and elsewhere.

According to the initial plans, the city was to be located near the village of Toru-Aigyr, about fifteen kilometers from the industrial city of Balykchi. But recently, project officials were also considering an area near the village of Chyrpykty as an alternative option.

The project was first presented by the government in July as a sustainable city that will become an economic and tourist hub.

The project was first presented by the government in July as a sustainable city that will become an economic and tourist hub.

Huge environmental impact

But not everyone in Kyrgyzstan shares the government’s enthusiasm for the project. Experts and environmental activists fear that building a new city in the area will harm the environment and disrupt the ecosystem.

In January, environmental activists launched a protest movement, No to building Asman, urging the government to abandon the project.

The Issyk-Kul region is home to some 335 species of animals, 39 of which are listed in Kyrgyzstan’s red book of endangered species, according to UNESCO. It also has a very diverse flora. In 2001, Issyk-Kul was recognized as part of the UN agency’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves due to its environmental significance.

Even before the “eco-city” project was considered, experts were sounding the alarm about the deterioration of the ecological situation in Issyk-Kul, due to climate change, unregulated construction and other activities .

Rysbek Satylkanov, director of the Center for Water and Hydropower Studies in Bishkek, says the lake’s water level has dropped over the past decade. Climate change and human actions – such as the diversion of incoming rivers to irrigate farmland – have played major roles. “The lake’s water level has dropped by 90 centimeters since 2011,” he said, calling it a “dangerous sign”.

Building a city of 500,000 could create additional problems, such as soil pollution from the large population and air pollution from excessive car exhaust. There would also be problems with sewage and waste management, experts warn. “There is simply no basis for building a big city here, it will cause irreparable damage to the region,” said Aigul Nasriddinova, senior lecturer at the Kyrgyz University of Construction, Transport and Engineering. architecture.

With a length of 182 kilometers and a width of about 60 kilometers, Issyk-Kul is the second largest mountain lake in the world.

Some have argued that the eco-city will force local residents – most of whom would not be able to afford apartments in the new city – out of the housing market and turn the area into a playground for the wealthy.

Authorities have sought to assuage such criticism, saying they will provide alternative land in nearby villages to anyone who loses land to the project.

Villagers whose homes will be demolished to make way for the new development will be allocated apartments in the town, government officials have promised.

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