Floods in Karaganda Draw Unprecedented Outpouring of Popular Support, Civil Activism

ASTANA – Man is often powerless in combating natural disasters. Theseevents oftenoccur without warning, which sometimes means big losses, endangered lives and property destruction.

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Social network activists supporting victims of the flooding in Karaganda gather in Astana. Photo: Syrym Abdrakhmanov’s facebook page

Last week’s floods in the Karaganda and Akmola regions were triggered by abundant rainfall and melting snow. They affected highways of national significance and wide areas of Central and Northern Kazakhstan. The weather has destroyed bridges and left a number of villages without electricity. In addition to the government response, civil society’s sympathetic reaction to the disaster has been unprecedented and provided encouragement to many who saw the emergence of a more active civil society.

On April 14, the Committee for Emergency Situations of the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that nearly 10,000 residents were evacuated, more than 1,700 houses in 35 villages were flooded and more than 300 heads of cattle had died.

A state of emergency was declared in nine districts and two cities of the Karaganda region.”The stream was so strong that it [easily] knocked people down,” witnesses commented with horror.

Unfortunately, an elderly couple, Yuri (78) and Vasilina (76) Vakulko, were found dead on April 13 in their home in the Karaganda oblast’s Gabiden Mustafin village after having twice refused evacuation services in writing.

Affected areas can also be found in the Akmola, North Kazakhstan and Pavlodar Oblasts.

Commenting on relief efforts, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he had instructed all government agencies and local executive authorities to take all steps necessary to help the affected population and minimise the damage done to public and private property.

“The Karaganda region has been allocated 1 billion tenge (US$5.38 million) [in relief money]. The water is subsiding. I think we will solve this problem, everything is under control, do not worry; help is on the scene and all possible efforts are being made,” he said on April 16.

Deputy Prime Minister Bakhytzhan Sagintayev, who has been assigned the task of tackling the effects of the floods, travelled to the Karaganda region to coordinate relief efforts on the ground.

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“We will support everybody. The main thing is assuring that there are no further victims. All [property-related] issues will be resolved soon. Temporary dams are being created in the area. Roads and electricity in some flooded villages are being restored,” Akim (Governor) of the Karaganda oblast Nurmukhambet Abdibekov said as he promised those left homeless that they would have the option to allow authorities to help them build new homes.

Rebuilding housing and acquiring things such as clothing, food products and toiletries, cannot be done quickly.

However, as the traditional and social media noted, the major effect of this month’s floods was that they generated an authentic urge across Kazakh society to help affected compatriots through numerous grassroots initiatives.

One may say that this event certainly left nobody indifferent. Hundreds and thousands across the country are actively involved in the process of supporting the people of Karaganda. Numerous volunteers from different regions of the country rallied and are providing incredible support.

Ordinary citizens and NGOs alike swiftly reacted in helping flood victims. People sent food, warm clothes, blankets, mattresses toiletries and toys to Karaganda.

In Astana, activists urged people via WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and other social media outlets to collect clothes, blankets, food and toys for children. The main gathering point was behind the Saryarka Shopping Mall. The campaign was popularised by popular public figures, including political analyst Yerlan Karin, former parliament member Bakhyt Syzdykova, musical producer Bayan Yessentayeva and television anchor Dinara Satzhan, among others.

“I learned about [the floods] from Instagram. I brought items for men, women and children. I brought clothes and toys. I mainly brought warmer things, as the weather is still cold. We are worried and feel sympathetic [towards our compatriots]. I don’t want this to happen again. Myself, I am a southerner, from Almaty,” the Tengrinews agency quoted Indira, an action participant, saying.

“It can happen anywhere. We live in one country; we need to help each other. Many citizens brought baby clothes and food. We did not expect such a reaction from people. One apa (elderly woman) sent two vehicles  full of supplies. Mangystau residents are not indifferent when people are suffering and they are willing to help,” the media quoted volunteers from the western city of Aktau as saying.

In Almaty, volunteers gathered at Arman Cinema, which was full of emergency relief supplies. More than 50 volunteers helped warehouse the freshly arrived aid into boxes and bags.

Volunteers started a social media campaign, which consequently led to an increase of people willing to help. “We have a lot of friends living in Karaganda. As soon as we heard about what happened there, we decided to help. We purchased goods, such as cereals and oil to assure that people had something to eat. As far as we know, there is no food, even in shops, everything has been flooded,” Ainur Sergaziyeva commented.

Many commentators in the media and online social media networks commended the public’s reaction and how they support each other in difficult times.

“This week, to me at least, my country proved itself an incredible place. In each photo out of Almaty, Astana, Aktau, Aktobe and Karaganda, I saw my friends. They brought food and various supplies and assisted in preparing them for shipment. I saw a lot more strangers, but felt that I knew them, not because they brought supplies, but because they brought a good and kind attitude,” well-known Almaty-based journalist and editor in chief of Vlast.kz Vyachelav Abdramov commented on his Facebook page.

“I did not expect that within one hour of posting on Facebook, so many people would gather just to help pack aid. Some even came with their children, saying that they must learn in their earliest years that humans must be compassionate and ready to help those around them. The first lorry has been loaded and has already left. Karaganda, we are with you!” another popular blogger Syrym Abdrakhmanov wrote on his Facebook on April 18.

From all of the above, people can conclude from this story that Kazakhstan’s citizens are people with huge hearts and good intentions.

As the threat of flooding in other areas is still present, the authorities are making every effort to prevent potential losses, as well as actively working to start rebuilding roads, dams, bridges and houses.

“[A total of] 6,308 people, 112 specially equipped cars and 107 swimming facilities are involved [in tackling the floods],” Chairman of the Committee for Emergency Situations of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan Ruslan Imankulov said.

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