Anyone who travels widely in Kazakhstan quickly realises that our country is not only large but also incredibly diverse. The steppe may seem endless around our capital but there are many other types of landscapes within our borders, each with their own beauty and appeal.
But it won’t be long, too, before travellers notice that this diversity goes beyond geology, climate and, of course, the people who have made Kazakhstan their home. There can be differences as well in development between regions as well as urban and rural areas. Not all parts of our nation have as yet shared equally in the country’s new prosperity.
This is a challenge, of course, not just for Kazakhstan. It is an almost universal problem. All but the smallest countries – no matter how mature or successful their economies – are struggling with the impact of imbalances in growth and opportunity on their societies. And the bigger a country and the more rapid its economic progress, the greater the possibility for those imbalances to become entrenched if not mitigated by determined action.
Such imbalances and the inequality that follows can be acutely damaging at an individual, community and national level. It can lead to individual frustration and force people to leave their homes to seek a better life for their families. In the worst cases, the communities they leave behind can be trapped in a spiral of decline.
There is a serious negative impact, too, on national prospects. Just as successful countries maximise the potential of all their citizens, so too do nations need to maximise the potential of all of their regions to become successful. It is in everyone’s interests, no matter where they live or work, to see increased effort and investment to tackle regional disparities.
This effort is exactly what is happening in Kazakhstan. The remarkable economic progress over the last two decades has, of course, transformed living standards and public services right across the country. But there has been a recognition, too, that not every region or community has automatically shared equally in rising prosperity and opportunity.
We have seen, in recent years, a major commitment to addressing these challenges with a focus on the problems holding regions and communities back. There have been concerted efforts, for example, to improve transport connections and energy and water supplies so all parts of the country link into Kazakhstan’s modern, growing economy. These have also been coupled with major regional investment in housing, in schools and other public services to bring their provision up to the highest national standards.
There has been major investment, too, in agriculture, which is seen as one of the major drivers of economic growth in the future. The aim is to harness science and technology to increase production in a way which is environmentally sustainable. Continued success in this important sphere will help meet future food needs, boost exports, provide the platform for new industries while creating well-paid and secure jobs in more rural areas.
These programmes and investment are delivering concrete improvements in the country’s urban and rural areas. New industrial zones, for example, are being established in Shymkent, the nation’s third city, which will be serviced by a modern airport terminal and railway station. At the same time, the roll-out of broadband is being accelerated to rural areas. Over 200 additional villages in the Kyzylorda, Pavlodar, Turkestan and Zhambyl regions as well as many more schools, hospitals and town halls will be connected over the summer.
What is already clear is that there will no let-up in this drive under the new administration. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in his inaugural address, stressed his determination to ensure sustained, dynamic economic growth throughout the entire country. This will be helped by continued devolving of responsibility to the regional and local level. It is a recognition that strong communities and regions are the essential foundation for a strong Kazakhstan in the coming decades.