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Published on Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kazak locals hope for green tourism salvation

Petition initiated for protection of Kok- Zhaylyao in Ile-Alatau National Park world heritage treasure may be despoiled.

The Ecological Society "Green Salvation" has started a petition for protection of Kok-Zhaylyao in Ile-Alatau National Park where the city council of Almaty city plans to build a massive new ski resort.

Said a local spokesperson "We are overwhelmed about the reaction."

"We started the petition just 5 days ago. During this time more than 1000 people signed the open letter or joined one of the 4 groups on Facebook, and two other social media. This is a sensation for Kazakhstan! People from abroad signed it, too. From Germany, GB, Austria, USA, Switzerland. Among them are a lot of people who work in ecological and ecotourism organisations, mountaineers, climbers, trekkers, artists, nature photographers ..."

The idea of building ski resort at Kok-Zhaylyao was raised in 2007 by the city council of Almaty. The mayor of Almaty, A. S. Yessimov, has now returned to the issue.

There is a plan to create an international resort with total ski runs length of 100 km, construction of passenger cableways, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and golf courses; establishment of infrastructure - roads, parking, electricity, gas and water supply.

This all is supposed to be built upon public financing. The further expectation is for private investors to fill the resort with commercial and residential real estate.

Almaty citizens may now lose their much-loved beauty spot and get the noise of construction equipment and then a ski resort and fences all around private lands instead of silence and wild nature.

"Green Salvation" says: "We call for everyone, who is not indifferent to the destiny of National Park to support the Open letter on protection of Kok-Zhaylyao addressed to the President, Members of the Parliament, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment Protection, Almaty City council, Political Parties."

"You are welcome to send you signatures on our e-mail: [email protected] (surname, name, city, country, if you sign the petition on behalf of an organization, then provide the full name of the organization).

We plan to send the letter on January 24, 2012, however the petition will continue. You may send the letter to the abovementioned bodies as well.

To the President, Members of the Parliament, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment Protection, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Almaty City council and Political Parties of Kazakhstan

Kok-Zhaylyao tract, which is located to the south of Almaty city, is one of the most affordable and favorite places of Almaty native citizens and guests who are fond of hiking, trekking, biking, skiing and equestrian tourism. The tract can be reached via several trails from the Big and Small Almaty Gorges. Hundreds of people come here with their families to stay for few hours or even for several days.

Thanks to the efforts of workers of Ile-Alatau National Park and active volunteers there is practically no garbage in the tract, which is common to other destinations. The atmosphere of this place is very special, warm - people who never met each other before, greet and talk… that"s the tradition of the place. Many of them regularly come here for decades and consider Kok-Zhaylyao as native land.

But very soon Almaty citizens and guests might lose their favorite place of leisure and get first roar of construction equipment and then - a ski resort and solid fences around the private land holdings instead of calm and beautiful wild nature.

Initially the issue of building ski resort at Kok-Zhaylyao was raised in 2007 by the city council of Almaty.

The mayor of Almaty, A. S. Yessimov, turned to the issue again in 2011. There is a plan for creation of international resort with total ski runs length of 100 km, construction of passenger cableways, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and golf courses; establishment of infrastructure - roads, parking, electricity, gas and water supply! This all is supposed to be built upon public financing. The further expectation is for private investors to fill the resort with commercial and residential real estate!

Ministry of Tourism and Sports has already sent a request for allocation of funds from the national budget. Some of the deputies of the parliament supported the idea of construction. It should be mentioned, that the amount requested only for development of technical and economical justification of the project equals to 370 million tenge! The project is called "strategic" and claimed to "pull on tourism in the country"

Legal aspects
The main reason why we are opposing this construction is based on the fact that the Kok-Zhaylyao tract is located on the territory of Ile-Alatau State National Natural Park. Establishment of such a large object contradicts with the requirements of the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan and is not applicable with the purpose of specially protected natural area. According to the International Classification of Protected Areas adopted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, national parks are created for preservation of natural systems, and recreation.

Their main objectives are protection of species and biological diversity and ecological services. Tourism always has had a negative impact on the environment, and therefore, according to the IUCN, the most appropriate form of tourism in national parks is ecotourism.

Construction of a new resort in the national park contradicts not only with the national legislation on protected areas, environmental protection, water, forest and land resources, but with international law as well - in particular with the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Ecological aspects

The Ile-Alatau National park was founded in 1996 with main target of preserving unique ecosystems and landscapes of Trans-Ili Alatau ( ). For Almaty citizens the park is valuable for its fresh air, clean water, and is a wonderful recreation place. As the territory is not damaged by any human activity, it is vitally important for the city. Any ski resort has significant negative impact on ecosystems - soil and vegetation, relief, water sources and atmosphere. A new ski resort will not become an exception.

The flora of Small Almaty Gorge is represented by 811 plant species, including 17 species listed in the Red List of Kazakhstan, 11 endemic species. Kok-Zhaylyao tract is one of very few places, where still can be found famous apples Malus sieversii, the wild apples that are sole ancestor of most cultivars of the domesticated apple. The species is now considered vulnerable to extinction. Construction and operation of ski resort will damage the land cover, as well as there will be a need in demolishing hundreds of Tien-Shan fur-trees.

The territory of Ile-Alatau National part is the habitat of more than 1700 animal species, of which 13 species of birds and 8 species of mammals are listed in the Red List . Currently there exists a problem in preserving the number of animals in the park. A ski resort will not only bring harm to fauna, but will become an obstacle for its recovery.

The water supply for ski resort and irrigation of golf fields demand for thousands of cubic meters of water per year. Currently there are several springs and small rivers in the park and they are not capable of providing the resort with the demanded volume of water. Meanwhile this water is needed by the park itself. Along with that, it has been long time since Almaty city experiences water shortages and there are several water intakes located in this part of the park.

One more important aspect. In 2000 the Ile-Alatau National park was included in the provisional list of sites of the Republic of Kazakhstan to be nominated for the World Heritage list . Construction of a ski resort on the territory of a National park contradicts with the criteria of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This reduces chances of Ile-Alatau National park for being enlisted in the prestigious list. At the same time, the status of world heritage would be a better attraction for foreign tourists, than a ski resort.

Finally, there is a negative experience in realization of such kind of projects in our country. Everyone is aware of a very ambitious reconstruction plan for Medeu and Shimbulak resorts started in 2007. The purpose was to create the first year-round mountain sports resort of international level in Kazakhstan.

The expectation was for "positive long-term impact on the economy of Kazakhstan" ( ). However, the plan was only partly realized, while the main part of the project stayed on paper. Yet the implementation of such ideas brings to significant degradation of National park territory, the major part of land happens to be in the possession of small group of people, and the result is the whole ecosystem suffering. There are many attractive plots of land with great recreational value for Almaty citizens within and around the Ile-Alatau National park. However they are already privatized and it means decreasing access of general public to national resources!

Economic aspects and the overall failure of the project
Representatives of city council admit that it is impossible to find private investments as the project is very risky. So they request for money from the public budget. The slopes of peak Kumbel above the Kok-Zhaylyao are extremely avalanche. The development of the valley of the Kok-Zhaylyao involves large investments for constructions of road and avalanche protection. At the same time road construction in the mountain region is several times more expensive than on the plain area (e.g., in the Alps the difference is indicated as 8 times more). The complexity of the relief, the specific geological conditions and human activities contribute to the intensive development of geological processes in the highlands of Trans-Ili Alatau, such as mudflows, landslides, debris, weathering, erosion, to prevent which also requires serious investment.

The arguments for the resort being attractive for foreign tourists are not convincing. In European countries there are hundreds of ski resorts with advanced high quality service . Rapid progress of ski tourism with high quality service and reasonable prices is represented in China, Turkey, and even in neighbor Kyrgyzstan . Tourism development in Almaty and in the whole country first of all demands for solution of such problems as complicated visa process, lack of a developed tourist infrastructure, insufficient number of hotels with different price levels, poor development of air service, the low level of service at high prices, the arbitrariness of officials. In addition, foreigners are frightened by our prices.

Because of these and other issues in 2011 Kazakhstan was on 93 place out of 139 in the World Tourism Ranking.

In the context of social and state interests, the conditions for sustainable development of the region, cities and towns of Almaty region, as well as the functioning of life support systems, which entirely depend on the conditions of natural systems of Trans-Ili Alatau, the conservation of the Ile-Alatau National Park appears to be more beneficial and economically viable!

Offered alternatives
It is more logical to develop already existing resorts, which currently are not working at full capacity. In the neighborhood of Almaty in the radius of 50 km there are existing ten ski resorts: "Shimbulak", "Ak-bulak", "Tabagan", "Almatau", "Yelik-Say", "Shybynsay", "Enbek", "Tau-Turan", "Forest tail", "Dinamo", a resort in Kaskelen gorge and other less known resorts .

The main attraction of Kazakhstan for European tourists - pieces of virgin nature, just as Ile-Alatau National park. The tourism trend of latest years is popularization of ecotourism - tourism with the minimal impact on the environment. And ecotourism could become a hallmark of Almaty district.

Development of ecological tourism (scientific ecotourism, exploring ecotourism, bird watching, botanical tours, video and photo tours, ethnic tourism, etc.) is the prior task of National park, which is stated in the General plan for development.

We claim for abandonment of ski resort construction on Kok-Zhaylyao on the territory of the Ile-Alatau National park. Along with that we are not against tourism development in the region. We are for development of ecotourism (that will not damage unique ecosystems of Trans-Ili Alatau), for development of already existing ski resorts and against development of elite tourism sector for public financing (i.e. our taxes) and leave thousands of Kazakhstani citizens with no favorite place for leisure and recreation!

The letter was supported by more than 500 people in 3 days only, a nearly actual list you can find here:

Valere Tjolle
Valere is editor of the Sustainable Tourism Report Suite Get your copy at a special offer price: HERE


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