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Sleeping Threat, or is the South Avalanche-Secure?

Sleeping Threat, or is the South Avalanche-Secure?

Every spring in the mountains of Kazakhstan, ranging from the Dzhambul over to the former Eastern-Kazakhstani oblast is begetting a serious threat. This year might well become the most dangerous for the past decade.

The endless rains have already caused floods of the Northern lowlands of Almaty. And the Southern areas are facing a clear and present danger of landslides and avalanches. This makes us worry about a state of avalanche protection systems of the South and Southeast of the country.

Some twenty years ago, as we all well know, a system of anti-avalanche structures was mounted around the city of Almaty. This included a couple of absolutely unique constructions, like the Medeo dam, or the Bolshaya Almatynka river dam. However, the experts are concerned that it is not only the ex-capital, which is potentially avalanche-risky, but also a number of settlements populated by some 5 million people. Besides, a well-known Kazakhstani specialist Anatoliy Degovets stresses that the avalanches vary by their origin. Te things deemed insignificant to the uninformed are in fact vital v there are rain-caused avalanches, glacier ones (which result from the icepacks melting), and seismic, caused by the earthquakes. The Southern towns of Almaty, Issyk, Tekeli and Talgar are well protected against the first two types. However, a situation is totally different when we turn to the earthquake-caused avalanches.

The latter have been especially devastating for Kazakhstan for at least 150 years of a methodical research. This also pertains to the ill-famous avalanche of 1887, its grim traces v huge stones v can still be seen in the old center of Almaty.

Ironically, according to Degovets this type of avalanches was ignored when the dams were built. The specialist, who has been trying for quite a while to draw the public attention towards the issue, brings forward his traditional argument: the existing dams encasing Almaty are capable of holding up to 8-12.5 mln cubic meters of avalanches, whereas some seismic avalanches are capable of carrying up to 10-25 mln cm of dirt and stones.

Living with an everyday danger of a possible powerful earthquake has turned the Almatynians into the determined fatalists. Possibly, from the social psychology viewpoint this is good, as the public is not permanently stressed, however this is quite bad from the security angle. Neither the public, nor the authorities care about protecting their dwellings, to say nothing of the dams. And the threat is clear, and might well result in the disastrous consequences.

So what to do? Clearly, we cannot buy the earthquake insurance police, and nowadays no local budget can afford to reinforce the wide-scale operation to reinforce the existing colossal dams. The state budget would not approve of the relating spending either. At any rate, the things are not that gloomy, the specialist believes: Mr. Degovets offers a way to reinforce the dams, which would not require significant investment, but rather generate certain revenues. The idea is to use mining equipment to extend the existing avalanche reservoirs, the pits that store dirt and stones carried by the avalanches. In simple terms, the pits near the dams should be excavated deeper, which would only require a number of heavy trucks and bulldozers. The excavated mud may be used as a construction material for the roads and railways, as well as for the industrial purposes. E.g. this mud might well be used for the flooded areas in the North of Almaty.

This cheap and efficient way could significantly reinforce the existing dams, and secure the cities of the Southern Kazakhstan from the most dangerous avalanches known.

Текст: Yevgeniy Mikhaylov