Kazakhstan: Bloggers Keep an Eye on Floods as Official Media Keep Quiet

Two large cities in Kazakhstan are suffering from major floods, situated in the centers of two provinces – Uralsk in the western part of the country and Ust-Kamenogorsk in the east.

Thousands of people have been affected by the disaster in the suburbs of the cities after rivers overflowed following intensive melting and heavy rains. The risk of flood threatened the downtown areas in both cities, but currently the situation seems to be stabilizing, with the water levels dropping and people returning to their homes.

Media blank filled by bloggers

The government has pledged to allocate nearly US $6 million from its emergency reserves, although the region needs a lot more to recover, with more than 10,000 houses flooded and over 8,000 people evacuated. The rescue operations are still on the go.

Official media and many private publications have not provided a full picture of the disaster, and the real scope of damage is not being told. Bloggers have led the coverage of the situation, taking field trips with photo and video cameras, providing assistance to the people and publishing all information via blogs. The first pictures documenting the true scope of tragedy, arrived from bloggers.

Freetonik, a Kazakh blogger currently living in Canada, has undertaken a commitment to update information on Uralsk flooding in a single blog post live, as it appears in the media, blogs and forum comments, also collecting updates via telephone. In addition information on what the flood victims need and which bank accounts are collecting funds for them is being published. The entry [ru] has been visited by more than 30,000 readers.

Freetonik's initiative was backed by other bloggers. Veterius published [ru] his panoramic photos of the river Chagan, showing how significant the flooding actually is, with houses and garages in Uralsk suburbia fully covered with water. The blogger also says [ru] he faced a ban on photographing in the city's central park.

Image by Veterius

Image by Veterius

Samson recorded a video [ru], urging fellow citizens to help the victims of the natural disaster, providing facts about the tragedy, comparing it to the last year's Kyzylagash flooding and rebuking the authorities for being not ready for emergencies. The video has been viewed by more than 2,000 people.

Alderamina has shot a video [ru] from one of the Uralsk secondary schools, where a evacuation point had been set up. There are a lot of little children among the flood victims. She also publishes firsthand update about the situation. As she reports, the flood was caused by overflowing of Chagan and Derkul rivers. The city dwellers actively help each other, collecting clothes and money for the evacuated people. Regretfully, fraud – whereby money was collected under the guise of charity – have been occurring too. Alderamina says [ru] there is a lot of garbage in the city, brought in by the big water:

The saddest news is that the burial ground for animals, including those that had died because of diseases, was washed away, potentially causing the risk of epidemic. The authorities are taking measures by heavily chlorinating the water, so the residents try to stock up with the bottled water. Now the situation is stabilizing, but people are afraid of Ural River (much bigger than Chagan and Derkul)… They say there is a risk that it might burst the banks too. Well, we just wait, ready for the worst.

Attention due

Meanwhile, other bloggers urge everybody – and especially the media – to pay due attention to the tragedy. Nomad2010 says [ru]:

Why everybody on TV and Internet, in newspapers and kitchens is speaking only about Japan? There should be hundreds of video-reports and interviews from Uralsk and Ust-Kamenogorsk. We must speak and write about the situation.

Ojetov is also exasperated [ru] by the reaction of fellow citizens:

Recent events in Japan provoked big flashmob actions in support of the Japanese people, but when the tragedy hit Kazakhstan, nobody is doing anything to support – at least to morally – our own compatriots. I understand that Japan is a kind of image of model world for the Kazakhs, but what every
citizen must do is to take part in building an ideal world in the place one lives in.

VoxPopuli, a citizen media website, provided [ru] a quality photo report on Uralsk and Ust-Kamenogorsk.

Flood, Eastern Kazakhstan. Photo by Nicholas Zarnitsyna, Andrew Vologda, voxpopuli.kz.

Flood, Eastern Kazakhstan. Photo by Nicholas Zarnitsyna, Andrew Vologda, voxpopuli.kz.

Blogger Sabine took a trip to the suburban village near Ust-Kamenogorsk to make a photo report [ru]:

Sogra village, near Ust-Kamenogorsk. Photo by Sabine.

Sogra village, near Ust-Kamenogorsk. Photo by Sabine.

The blogger concludes:

This village is being flooded almost every spring. Residents have to build dams using pretty much anything available. The regional authorities are shutting their eyes to the disaster, saying that the situation is “stable”. I wonder when the authorities will realize that the problems are better be prevented than resolved.

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