In the Kyrgyz Republic: Cleaning Up Before Disaster Strikes

January 22, 2015



With help from the World Bank, the Kyrgyz government is working to contain the abandoned uranium mine tailings in the Mailuu-Suu area. The Disaster Hazard Mitigation Project has also built a disaster management and response system to monitor natural hazards, detect them, and raise warnings early, and thus safeguard the exposed sites and reduce the loss of life and property from landslides.

The rounded green hills and jagged rock mountains around the small city of Mailuu-Suu once held dangerous secrets. From 1947 to 1968, the Soviet Union mined uranium in the hills just outside Mailuu-Suu, and the city was a closed area. But after independence, when the mining stopped, the people who live here were left with the remains. Twenty-three tailings and thirteen radioactive rock dumps were simply abandoned, in a region threatened by earthquakes, floods, and landslides. 

“The tailings are radioactive,” explains Altibai Abdraev, who works for the Ministry of Emergency Situations. “And they break down and leech out, and, in the case of a natural disaster, they could pose a threat to everything down river, into Uzbekistan and the whole Ferghana Valley.”

In a worst-case scenario, the fertile land of the Ferghana Valley and the 6 million people who live in and around it could face severe pollution with radioactive elements and heavy metals, lasting hundreds of years. Many of the tailing sites sit close to Mailuu Suu River, as water was used in the mining process, and the river flows into the Ferghana Valley. The groundwater and agricultural land there are of crucial importance to the Kyrgyz Republic and its neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.


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For over 20 years, the Soviet Union mined uranium in this area outside the small Kyrgyz city of Mailuu-Suu. Now the leftovers, tailings and rock dumps, post a threat to the region.

World Bank

Danger in an Unstable Landscape

With help from the World Bank, the Kyrgyz government is working to contain the riskiest of the sites. It took almost three years, but now a local Kyrgyz contractor has relocated the tailings from the unstable site number three to a secure site, much better protected against natural disasters.  Works are continuing to secure other sites, though the task is complex and sometimes daunting.

The cleanup project has also built a disaster management and response system to monitor natural hazards, detect them, and raise warnings early, and thus safeguard the exposed sites and reduce the loss of life and property from landslides.


" We’ve been worried about the water for years. Our concerns about cancer have been ongoing for fifty years. "
Zirekhan Batyrbekova

Zirekhan Batyrbekova

Mailuu-Suu resident

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Project interventions were foreseen to improve the quality of water flows to downstream riparian states.

World Bank

Worries about Water

For the 28,000 people of Mailuu-Suu, the project’s water monitoring system, which continuously checks for rising pollution levels in the river, is the most important part of the work.

“We’ve been worried about the water for years.  Our concerns about cancer have been ongoing for fifty years,” says Zirekhan Batyrbekova, a resident. 

“My concern is that the water gets stirred up after rainfall, and I really hope then there is nothing bad in the water,” worries Mamutova Sevilya, who lives just outside of town.

What residents really want is a restoration of the water intake far upstream of the mining area, the installation of a state-of-the-art water filtration system, and a repair of leaking water mains to keep mining-related contaminants, such as radioactive substances and heavy metals, out of the water supply entirely.


" Now we have two automatic water monitoring stations, a station to check water flow, and a laboratory to analyze water samples from the river so scientists know what’s in the river. But even so, many people drink from the river. "
Tajikan Kochkonbaeva

Tajikan Kochkonbaeva

Project Management Unit

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A road and two bridges, one of them over the Mailuu-Suu river, were built, which proved to facilitate access to settlements located upstream of the Mailuu-Suu city.

World Bank

“Given the tailings and the rock dumps, people are concerned about cancer,” says Mailuu-Suu’s vice mayor, Zamirbek Rasulov. The project does monitor river water, but residents are still concerned. “Now we have two automatic water monitoring stations, a station to check water flow, and a laboratory to analyze water samples from the river so scientists know what’s in the river.  But even so, many people drink from the river,” says Tajikan Kochkonbaeva, who has helped manage the project.

While the project has taken important steps towards the regeneration of this historic mining area, and the scale and complexity of remediation works has been a unique pioneering feat in Central Asia, much remains to be done for the community and its people.

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28,000
people living in a risky area are benefiting from the new water monitoring system thanks to the Disaster Hazard Mitigation Project.