An art installation, called "Four tons of sand", has been launched in the square at the intersection of Kurmangazy and Bayseitova Streets in Almaty. It calls for careful attitude towards endangered plants such as saxaul.

Only 4.74% of land in Kazakhstan is covered with forest, of which almost half accounts for saxaul. Unfortunately, despite the existing legal moratorium for logging, saxaul, the symbol of the Kazakh steppe, is still being cut down as woods for heating and cooking foods (barbeque).

The United Nations Development Programme in Kazakhstan together with state partners are carrying out a number of projects aimed at solving critically important environmental tasks. Those tasks contribute to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, SDG #15 "Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss".

For example, as part of the joint project of UNDP and the Kazakh Government "The preservation and sustainable management of key globally important ecosystems for multiple benefits", financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), massive work is being carried out to preserve the country's biodiversity. Saxaul, which grows in Kazakhstan's desert areas, is among the priority species.

The aim of the art exhibit "Four tons of sand" is to enhance the level of environmental knowledge, encourage people to care about the unique species and help the public realise the importance of preserving saxaul through giving up its consumption as fuel.

The installation contains a dwelling house sank in four tons of sand (the sand was brought from a desert area in Balkhash, near the village of Bakbakty). The installation shows that people are defeating nature. This volume of sand (four tons) is also symbolic – saxaul is capable to hold four tons of sand with its powerful roots. Logging of saxaul results in increasing the areas of deserts. Sands which are not braced with roots start moving and turn into dunes. The major goals of the art installation is to attract public attention to the problem as well as remind people that time has come to halt and revise the consumer attitude towards nature.

"I am glad to launch a joint campaign on saving saxaul by opening the art installation "Four tons of sand", which clearly demonstrates that the advancing sands are not a problem of the far future, but our today's reality. According to experts' assessment, 82% of lands in Kazakhstan are subject to desertification and degradation. Social and economic consequences of those processes are huge. The purpose of this art installation is to draw public attention to the destructive problem, as well as the significant role of saxaul forests in preventing the further land erosion in Kazakhstan," said at the opening ceremony UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Vitalie Vremis.

"The house in sand is a vivid symbol of land degradation and onslaught of sands on our villages. It takes place not far away, 200 km away from Almaty, where because of the logging of saxaul, sands are covering the village of Bakbakty. Through this installation, we want to demonstrate what consequence desertification has as a result of cutting saxaul trees," said Deputy Minister of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources Yerlan Nysanbayev.

Factors affecting saxaul reduction, in addition to illegal logging, are overgrazing, diseases and pests caused by climate change. As a solution to this environmental problem, it is necessary to strengthen measures to protect saxaul, extend the moratorium on cutting of saxaul, develop forest nurseries, use new biological products to protect saxaul from pests, etc.

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