Kazakhstan: Government grappling with discontent over disaster relief compensation

Kazakhstan: Government grappling with discontent over disaster relief compensation
Flooding in Kulsary. / gov.kz
By Almaz Kumenov for Eurasianet May 23, 2024

Residents in at least one area of western Kazakhstan hit by flooding are mounting public protests against what they say is an inadequate government response.

Several hundred residents of Kulsary, a town of about 50,000 in Atyrau Region, have been gathering outside the local administration building every day since May 15, airing complaints about what they believe is the low level of reconstruction assistance being offered by the government. 

Floods this spring have inundated large swathes of northern and western regions of the country, forcing tens of thousands from their homes and causing millions in property damage. Some rivers remain at or near flood level, with government clean-up efforts continuing. About 5,000 displaced residents currently remain in government-provided shelters.

The Kulsary protest centres on the issue of reconstruction compensation. The government is offering up to 240,000 tenge (about $540) per square metre of lost living space. But residents say that figure is too low to rebuild and are seeking roughly double the government offer. They also want to receive direct cash payments so that they can rebuild as they see fit.

“We have all already seen that the walls of the houses that the state is building are covered with cracks, and there were even destructions in some buildings,” local resident Zhaylash Mukanova said in an interview with Radio Azattyk, the Kazakh service of RFE/RL. “We’d rather build our own houses.”

Local officials contend the state’s compensation assessment is based on market values, adding that the transfer of funds personally to flood victims does not conform with established disaster relief procedures. 

The discontent has not escaped the attention of central government leaders. So far, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has not responded to an appeal by Kulsary residents to personally visit the flood zone around the town. But the president did say local officials needed to do a better job of articulating and publicising reconstruction assistance.

“The heads of local executive bodies are obliged to actively and effectively work with citizens, clearly explain state policy and measures taken to resolve emerging issues, and [respond to] reasonable demands,” the presidential website quoted Tokayev as saying on May 18 during a government meeting.

According to official figures, the government has already paid out more than 11bn tenge ($25mn) in compensation to affected residents in damages, providing funding for home repairs and to replace dead livestock. Assistance provided to this year’s flooding victims marks a considerably improved response compared to flooding in 1993, when few among those affected received any government compensation.

Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.

This report first appeared on Eurasianet here.