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Kazakhstan Fears Mosquitoes Will Mar EXPO-2017

Troubled waters in Mosquito-rich Astana. Taken from: Licensed to reuse.

Troubled waters in Mosquito-rich Astana. Taken from: Licensed to reuse.

The government of Kazakhstan has announced its bold intention to stop nature in mid-flight and most netizens agree there will only be one winner. (Clue: not the government of Kazakhstan).

As 74-year-old President Nursultan Nazarbayev enters the twilight years of his long, autocratic reign, the image-sensitive, oil-rich state appears to be trying to host as many  prestigious international events as it possibly can. But as it gears up for the only one it is guaranteed to stage, the government fears there is a fly — or more accurately, a swarm of blood-hungry mosquitoes — in the ointment.

With Kazakhstan still waiting on the results of its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics and considering a bid for the World Cup in 2026, the single occasion it can rely on as an opportunity to show off the national glitz is EXPO-2017, which it was selected to host by the International Exhibitions Bureau in 2012. The theme of the exposition was determined as ‘Energy of the Future’.

This is a big deal for Kazakhstan, not least because it will acquaint the world with Astana, a former steppe town the country's government transformed into a flash national capital with a population of more than 600,000 people.

As per the Lonely Planet Guide book:

Astana’s architectural style can best be described as idiosyncratic. The variety is a dizzying mix of clashing shapes and colours, yet is oddly suited to a nation made up of 100 ethnic groups following at least 30 different religions. The oriental post-modernism takes some getting used to, although the locals have domesticated all the thrusting modernity by giving many of the buildings homely nicknames according to their shape: a canary-yellow skyscraper is known as the Banana Building; seven squat cylindrical constructions are called the Seven Beer Barrels; and a pair of circular towers are the Ice Cream Cones.

EXPO-2017 will host delegations from over 100 countries and 10 international organisations, while organisers expect 2-3 million to visit the international pavilions from June to September 2017. The only hitch to the plan is that Astana was built on a swamp, and in the summer months when EXPO-2017 will be held, the mosquitoes can be really nasty.

The creatures that could spoil Astana's day in the sun.

The creatures that could spoil Astana's day in the sun. Wikipedia image.

A quick google search using the terms ‘Astana’ and ‘mosquitoes’ shows the scale of the pest problem. Fedor Peyev, a senior civil servant, invited public scorn by vowing to wipe the biters out on June 24:

…в период проведения выставки EXPO-2017 у нас в городе не должно быть ни одного комара. Поэтому мы на сегодняшний день предварительно посчитали и составили смету о дополнительном выделении средств на проведение вот этих видов работ […] Это очень-очень важный момент, потому что если делегации из зарубежных стран где-то в своих средствах массовой информации скажут, что в Астане много комаров, то это будет очень даже некрасиво с нашей стороны. Это имидж нашей столицы.

… during the exhibition EXPO-2017 there should not be a single mosquito in our city. Therefore, we are currently making a preliminary estimate for the allocation of additional funds for [mosquito-killing]. This is a very, very important point , because if the delegations from foreign countries announce via their media that there are a lot of mosquitoes in Astana, it will look very ugly on our part. This is the image of our capital.

Peyev did not say how he wished to achieve the annihilation, but on Tengri News where the article was published, commenter responses were deeply ironic:

 это бесполезно, болото даст о себе знать

Vseko: This is useless. A swamp will always make itself known.

Всех комаров депортировать в 2017 году в Турцию и в Тайланд!

Arsen: All mosquitoes will be deported to Turkey and Thailand [popular holiday destinations for wealthy Kazakhs] in 2017.

Вот так бы с коррупцией боролись бы, свою “эко систему ” не хотят нарушать, а вот комаров надо уничтожить

Dan1que: Were that they fought against corruption in the same way. Your own “eco-system” you don't want to touch, but mosquitoes should be destroyed.

Preparations for EXPO-2017 have in actual fact already been tainted by a series of corruption scandals involving the state company set up to oversee preparations that some fear will undermine Kazakhstan's Winter Olympics bid.

But the dominant theme of the comments was the arrogance of man:

А давайте еще ветер остановим и солнце пусть 24 часа светит

Ruslan: So let's also stop the wind and let the sun shine 24 hours a day.

Надеюсь комары победят этих жестоких приматов!

Mysykbai Mysykbaev: I hope the mosquitoes defeat these cruel primates!

А в 2018 они вернутся… Голодные и злые

BML: And in 2018 [the mosquitoes] will return…hungry and angry.

Finally commenters took offence at the idea the government was only stepping up its battle with the creatures of the swamp to impress international visitors, perhaps in the same way China cleared Beijing's notorious smog to create an ‘Olympic Blue’ sky in 2008.

Неистребимое желание нашего народа к показухе – самое главное, не ударить лицом в грязь перед гостями. Вот так проходит наша жизнь – не для себя живем получается….

[This shows] the overwhelming tendency of our people towards all that is ostentatious — the most important thing is not to lose face in front of guests. And such is our life — not for ourselves we live it apparently.

The winner of the right to stage the 2020 Winter Olympics will be announced in Kuala Lumpur at the end of July. Kazakhstan's biggest city Almaty is viewed as the underdog to host the games, since Beijing, its sole bidding rival, has prior Olympic experience.

The country's potential bid for the World Cup in 2026 seems a much longer shot. Preparations for the 2022 version of the tournament in Qatar — another corrupt, energy-abundant autocracy that has no footballing tradition — are soaked in controversy and international uproar, while the more general scandal surrounding football's governing body FIFA makes Kazakhstan look like a high-risk host.

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