Kazakhstan’s government has pledged to hook all villages across the country to the water distribution grid by 2026 as part of a broader agenda to galvanize the economy.
Deputy Industry and Infrastructure Development Minister Azamat Beispekov said in a government meeting on April 24 that while 4,900 villages currently have access to tap water, residents in another 1,395 locations are forced to find other solutions.
The lack of availability of water in homes in the country’s farthest-flung regions is caused in large measure by aging infrastructure, Beispekov said. Fully 51 percent of the water grid is deemed to be substandard, and the goal is to bring that number down to 40 percent by 2029, he said.
Local media frequently report on the difficulties endured by residents of remote locations in accessing water for bathing and drinking. One 2019 account of life in the village of Sarytobe, in the central Karaganda region, carried by RFE/RL’s Kazakh service, Radio Azattyk, neatly conveyed the predicament.
One resident, a retiree called Zeinil Moldabayeva, spoke to the broadcaster about how, because she could barely walk, she relied on neighbors to carry water to her home by car. At one stage, the villagers all chipped in and dug a well, but the water turned out to be salty and hard. Water high in mineral content causes washing machines and boilers to break down more quickly, incurring further costs that hard-up villagers can ill-afford.
Promises to address this problem have been made before, though.
In September 2021, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev complained during an address to the nation that earlier efforts had been undertaken in vain.
“The problem of access to drinking water has not been solved, despite the fact that huge funds have been allocated for this purpose over decades,” he said.
He then described the job of providing all cities and villages with clean drinking water within five years as a top priority.
Tokayev was certainly right about the size of historic expenditures. Under the terms of government-devised development strategy for 2021-24, at least 181 billion tenge (around $400 million at the current rate) were earmarked to fix the water accessibility problem. That concrete results have been so few is, economists say, down to weak oversight and corruption.
If there are still villages in Kazakhstan without running water in 2026, it will reveal more about the state of Tokayev’s reform agenda than he will be comfortable admitting.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.