Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 151

First Deputy Prime Minister Uraz Jandosov met with other government members on July 28 to discuss the plight of Kazakhstan’s sixty “small towns.” This definition embraces towns with a population of around 100,000 inhabitants; together, they account for over twenty percent of Kazakhstan’s urban population. They also house 170,000 of the country’s pensioners, many of whom have been hard hit by market reform. (Panorama [Almaty], July 31)

Kazakhstan’s Minister of Energy, Industry and Trade, Mukhtar Ablyazov, told the meeting that the towns’ inhabitants had formerly received their income from local production or refining complexes which have been forced out of business. Private enterprise has so far failed to take off. Consequently, individual monthly incomes are often as much as 50 percent lower than the national average. Young people are abandoning the small towns in search of work in the big cities; those who remain are often unable to pay their utility bills, exacerbating the vicious circle of non-payments. Ablyazov warned that supplies of electricity and water may again have to be periodically cut off in the fall.

This year is the first since Kazakhstan became independent that the government has paid attention to the plight of the country’s poorer areas. This spring, the government distributed “micro-credits” to such regions. The authorities are undoubtedly keen to avoid a repetition of the protests and hunger strikes that struck towns such as Kentau and Janatas in 1997. Last November, the International Federation of the Red Cross revealed that 73 percent of Kazakhstanis were living below the government-defined poverty line of $50 per person per month. The study cited half of the respondents complaining of poor diet and 11 percent of children not attending school because they lacked adequate shoes and winter clothing. (Kazakhstan Vulnerability Study, Red Cross, November 1997)

The UN Human Development Index, published in March, ranked Kazakhstan ninety-third out of 175 countries. While Kazakhstan scored better in terms of “human development potential” than Ukraine (95), Uzbekistan (100) and Kyrgyzstan (107), it fell behind the other former Soviet states. Last week’s government meeting ended with the establishment of five regional working groups to examine the situation of small towns in Qaraghandy, South Kazakhstan, Aqmola, Jambyl and Eastern Kazakhstan Regions.–SC