FR EN ES Search
  1. Home
  2. Past Events
  3. Lake Balkash threatened


All the news

Lake Balkash threatened

Overexploited downstream on the Chinese side, the discharge of the river Ili is no longer sufficient to ensure the level of Lake Balkash.

Overexploitation of the water of the river Ili accused


@Google Maps

Lake Balkash, located in southeast Kazakhstan, stretches for more than 600 kilometres from east to west. It is the world’s 15th largest lake in terms of surface area. Fed by seven rivers, three quarters of the lake’s water is nonetheless supplied by the river Ili, a river that crosses the border between Kazakhstan and China. According to local populations, over the last few years the water has decreased by nearly 200 metres. The livelihoods of the 3 million people who live in the Balkash basin are considerably threatened by its disappearance.

Lac Balkash

The fault lies with agriculture and irrigation on the Chinese side, mainly dedicated to growing rice, a crop that requires large quantities of water and whose consumption has increased  by 30% according to the Caspian Policy Center. This has led to a decrease in the flow of the river into Lake Balkash, since the Ili is reduced in certain places to the size of a stream rather than a river.

The development of the mining industry must be added to the challenge to the lake by the irrigation of rice. The 600,000 tons of industrial waste discharged by the Balkhash Mining and Metallurgic Combine contaminate the river Ili and further imperil the lake’s ecosystem.

The stakes in play threatened by the disappearance of Lake Balkash


The first stake is that of biodiversity, with the disappearance of Lake Balkash: 60 species of plant, 12 birds in danger of extinction and 6 endemic species of fish will die out with the lake’s disappearance.

© Wikimedia Commons

The other stake is historic: who doesn’t remember the disappearance of the Aral Sea, that began gradually in the 1960s, then dramatically in the 2010s? This environmental disaster continues to leave its mark on minds in the region, and the fear of history repeating itself with Lake Balkash is clearly present. The causes are indeed similar: the disappearance of the Aral Sea was caused by excessive withdrawals to irrigate cotton fields.

In a study published this year, scientists from Oxford University carried out more than 700 simulations of the evolution of water consumption coupled with 80 climatic scenarios. Their conclusion: China must considerably reduce the quantity of water it extracts from the Ili in order to save Lake Balkash. Although Kazakhstan is not exempt of criticism regarding its own use of the Ili and Balkash, change is nonetheless needed on the scale of the region to preserve the integrity of the lake.



Mettez à jour votre navigateur pour consulter ce site