Kazakhstan Country Overview

According to Countryaah, Kazakhstan is a Central Asian state bordering NW and N with Russia (for 6846 km), E and SE with China, S with Kyrgyzstan, SW with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

  1. Physical characters

With its 2.7 million km 2, Kazakhstan is the ninth country in the world for territorial size. The territory is mainly flat, although it presents, in its various sections, a varied morphology. Proceeding from the W, the Turanian Lowland stretches first, bounded on one side by the Caspian Sea and, on the other, towards the NE, by modest reliefs, including the Mugodžary chain (657 m). Through the depression known as the Turaj Gate, the Turanian Lowland communicates with the arid and steppe-covered West Siberian Lowland. Towards the E, after a vast plateau (Alture del Kazakhstan) that culminates in Mount Aksoran (1565 m), the relief becomes more and more bumpy until it reaches the impervious Altai and del Tian Shan, respectively on the eastern and southern borders. Mount Khan Tengri (7010 m), one of the highest peaks of the Tian Shan, precisely marks the border between Kazakhstan, China and Kyrgyzstan. The rivers are concentrated in the northern and south-eastern sectors. The main ones are the Irtyš and the Ishim, tributaries, through the Ob´, of the Kara Sea; the Ural and the Emba that flow into the Caspian Sea; the Syrdar´ja and the Ili which flow into the Aral Sea and Balhaš Lake respectively. Other rivers (Turgaj, Sarysu) are lost in the steppe lowlands. The Kazakhstan overlooks some important inland basins of Central Asia: the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea (whose surface has significantly decreased due to withdrawals from the tributaries), the Balhaš, the Alakol´, the Zajsan, the Tengiz.

  1. Population

According to the official estimates of 2009, the current population is not much higher than 15 million, a figure almost corresponding to that of the 1999 census (14,953,000). In the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the birth of the independent state there was instead a sharp decrease in the resident population (-9% compared to 1989), determined by the massive emigration of non-Kazakh ethnic components. On the one hand, over a million Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians) had abandoned the newborn Asian republic due both to the loss of the economic and social privileges reserved for them by the previous regime, and to the nationalist and increasingly less pro-Russian policy inaugurated by the Kazakh leadership.. On the other hand, some 650,000 Germans had emigrated to the much richer, now reunited motherland. Against, Mongolia. These massive population movements have ended up distorting the ethnic composition of the country. In 1989 the Kazakh component (37.4%) and the Russian one (37.4%) had the same consistency and, the two dominant groups were joined by Germans (6%), Ukrainians (6%), Tatars (2%), Uzbeks (2%), Belarusians (1%), Uighurs (1%). Fifteen years later, about 60% of the population was Kazakh, while the Slavic component considered as a whole (Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians) did not reach 29%. The birth rate is confirmed to be quite high (18.2 ‰), but the simultaneous presence of a mortality rate above 10 ‰ means that the natural balance is not able to significantly affect population growth, especially in phases, such as those recorded at the end of the 20th century, of strong emigration.

Despite the presence of urban centers of a certain importance (in particular those that arose along the ancient Silk Road), the definitive passage of the Kazakh people from nomadic lifestyles to more stable, even if not necessarily urban, forms of settlement, came with the annexation to the Russian Empire (1865). However, it was with the Soviet regime and in particular starting from the 1930s, coinciding with the implementation of the forced industrialization programs, that massive urban development took place. Over 200 cities sprang up scattered across the country at the different kombinats productive and millions of people (it is estimated about 2.5 million in the two decades 1950-70 alone) were induced to move there, abandoning their rural areas of origin. Nonetheless, still today, Kazakhstan presents itself as a country with a strong rural component (43%). The most populous city is Alma-Ata with 1.2 million residents (unofficial sources estimate a population of almost 2 million). Born as a Cossack military settlement at the time of Russian penetration, Alma-Ata only developed as an urban center from the end of the 19th century. It was the capital from 1929 to 1998 and although it has lost this function, it remains the most important city in the country and the main commercial and economic center. The new capital, Astana, had around 600,000 residents in 2006, double that of ten years earlier. It was renamed the ” Brasilia delle steppe “both because, like the South American city, it is rather isolated from the urban and infrastructural network of the country, and because no expense was spared for its construction and well-known architects were hired to design urban plans and buildings (e.g., Kisho Kurokawa and Norman Forster). Other important cities are Čimkent (540,000 residents), Located along the Turksib railway (Turkestan- Siberia), and Karaganda (450,000 residents), A large mining and industrial center, once with a German majority.

  1. Economic conditions

The enormous availability of raw materials and energy resources, the results of the reforms launched in the aftermath of independence and the high degree of economic openness are allowing Kazakhstan to emerge from the long phase of transition and suggest, for the medium and long term, rather bright growth prospects and economic performance. Like other ex-Soviet Asian republics, Kazakhstan was also affected, starting from the 1930s, by massive infrastructure and industrialization programs that determined the rapid and radical transformation of the economy, which had hitherto been almost exclusively agricultural. The production system was diversified and based on large industry, while the abundance of natural resources gave impetus to the extractive industry. After the dissolution of the USSR, all the weaknesses and defects of a rigid, inefficient economic system, oriented almost exclusively towards the production of raw materials and dependent, from a technological and commercial point of view, on Russia, made a series of radical economic reforms (from the liberalization of prices of consumer goods to the progressive privatization of all economic sectors, to the creation of a national currency, the tenge). Between 1992 and 1994, Kazakhstan’s GDP shrank by 35%, inflation exceeded 2000% and unemployment reached levels unimaginable until a few years earlier. Then, the adoption, between 1994 and 1996, of macroeconomic and anti-inflation measures under the supervision of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the huge foreign investments made it possible to reverse the trend and embark on the path of growth. The economy showed a particularly positive cyclical trend until 2007, when GDP growth was 8%; then there was a decrease of up to 3% as a consequence of the drop in the price of oil and the global financial crisis. The unemployment rate fell from 8.4% in 2004 to 6.6% in 2008, while the percentage of people living below the poverty line ($ 35 per month) went from 34% in 1998 to 13, 8% in 2007.

  • The industrial sector (40% of GDP and 18% of employees) stimulates growth, which, while continuing to have the leading sector in the oil industry, has gradually diversified. The production of the manufacturing industry is constantly increasing, thanks to the growth of some sectors (textiles, machinery production and food). Growth in the construction sector was also strong, accounting for 5% of GDP, thanks to the impetus received from the improvement works of oil infrastructures and the boom in residential construction.
  • The main wealth of the country remains the mineral resources. Kazakhstan is the second largest oil producer within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Assured resources would amount to about 16 billion barrels, but those estimated would exceed 80 billion. The main deposits are those of Tengiz, Uzen´ and Karachaganak in Western Kazakhstan. Important international joint ventures have been signed for their exploitation. Among others, the Tengizchevroil (for Tengiz oil), headed by Chevron and with Kazakoil (the national company), Mobil and Lukoil, and the North Caspian sea production sharing agreement (for the Kashagan fields), led by ENI. Kazakhstan is also rich in natural gas and is among the first producers in the world of bauxite, manganese, coal, tungsten, titanium, cadmium, silver. The production of uranium is also huge.
  • The degree of economic openness is very high. Direct investments abroad, a key element in the current phase of economic development of the Kazakhstan, in 2004 were close to 8500 million dollars. The oil and gas industries absorbed 28% of it and the geological and prospecting activities linked to the mining activity another 46%. Thanks to the enormous availability of energy resources, the trade balance is always largely positive. Imports are growing, involving machinery, equipment, metallurgical and chemical products. The main commercial partners are the CIS countries, Russia in the lead, but trade with the EU and above all with China is increasing.

Kazakhstan Country Overview