On the Risks of the Urbanization

Kazakhstan may become a region where life exists only in the cities and the peri-urban areas with nothing but emptiness beyond this point. This may become quite a plausible scenario if the average population density beyond the large and mid-sized cities drops below 2-3 persons per square kilometer. However, the Kazakhstan Government does not seem to be at all concern about the issue.

In our recent publication  (Migration in Numbers), we conclude that the negative external migration balance in Kazakhstan is not too high against the total population size of the republic. Perhaps it is this circumstance that explains the fact that it is not the Government but the civil society, the press, and the experts that are raising the alarm regarding this issue. However, the mere fact that, starting from 2012, the number of emigrants is, once again, exceeds the number of immigrants testifies to the significant decrease of the Kazakhstanis’ social well-being over the past six years.

Note that we purposefully avoid the subject of the qualitative difference between the immigrants and the emigrants even though it, undoubtedly, exists.  Of course, estimating the qualitative difference between the emigrants and the immigrants based on only one indicator – education – may not be entirely correct, in our opinion. If for no other reason than the fact that, theoretically, the arrival of the energetic, motivated, and patriotically oriented people may more than outweigh the significance of the departure of those who no longer see any prospects for themselves in Kazakhstan.

Apart from that, the crucial point in this case lies not so much in the higher level of the emigrants’ education as in the influence of this difference on the economic and social development of the country. In other words, can the latter compensate for the loss of the human capital via the population growth?

In our subjective opinion, the loss of the human capital in Kazakhstan since the moment of gaining the sovereignty and independence has been so high that the current migration losses are insignificant against this background. Especially considering that, in the recent years, the natural population growth exceeds 200 thousand people a year and surpasses the migration losses by practically ten times. However, for certain regions of the country, this is becoming a crippling development.

With that, the attempts of the authorities to somehow solve this problem via the organized relocation of the people living in the South have not been terribly successful. Moreover, there is a possibility that, after having settled, the internal migrants to the Karaganda, Kostanay, Pavlodar, North-Kazakhstan, and East-Kazakhstan regions will in time move further, to the neighboring Russian regions in pursuit of a better life.

In these circumstances, it would be reasonable for Akorda to concern itself not so much with the migration losses since the number of the emigrants surpasses the number of the immigrants and, in the coming decades, the Kazakhstan authorities will not be able to reduce this gap due to a number of the objective and subjective reasons as with the desertification of the country’s territory (with the exception of may be the South) under the influence of the urbanization process. 

Indeed, the concentration of the population in the three megapolises and the surrounding areas given the high level of unemployment and the absence of the possibility to ensure the adequate standard of living in the rural areas is feasible. And the governmental attempts to speed up the agriculture’s switch to the market track and to increase the labor productivity in the sector will only facilitate the process.

As a result, the average population density beyond the large and mid-sized cities may become lower than 2-3 people per square kilometer. In other words, Kazakhstan will transform into a region where life exists only in the cities and the peri-urban areas with nothing but emptiness beyond this point.


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