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Rapid urbanization, changing croplands and increasing population health vulnerabilities in the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor

Posted by Kirsten de Beurs on

Grant Period: December 18, 2019 – December 17, 2020

This project is in collaboration with Dr. Katherine Hirschfeld and Dr. Daniel Hicks. Others working on this project are PhD students Anthony Mayberry, several undergraduate students, and data researcher Braden Owsley.

In this project, we investigate the growth of cities and the dryland system land use transitions in Central Asia as a result of China’s Belt and Road initiative, a large planned series of Chinese investments in the region. The New Silk road, an enhanced transportation corridor, will traverse the most populous and most fertile agricultural regions of Central Asia. Competition between urban growth and croplands, and their induced interaction, often enhances the risk of disease epidemics. This is an acute concern for Central Asia where existing health and sanitary conditions compound risks of emerging infectious diseases. Many households in the region lack safe drinking water and connected sanitary facilities, and current plans for urban development do not appear to address these infrastructure deficits.

Our research area covers and specifically focuses on the Central Asian regions subject to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also called the China – Central Asia – West Asia Economic Corridor. This region ranges from Almaty in southeast Kazakhstan, to Tashkent and Samarkand in southeast Uzbekistan, Bishkek in north central Kyrgyzstan, and Dushanbe in western Tajikistan.

Figure 1: China – Central Asia – West Asia planned (new and upgraded) and existing railroads. The nine study cities are highlighted with stars. Data from Sasha Trubetskoy (https://github.com/sashatrubetskoy).

We are also working with several international collaborators who are living in or are from the region of analysis to facilitate in situ analysis and data assimilation.

Research Questions:

  1. How have past investment and infrastructure developments (1995-2014) led to varying patterns of urbanization, resource, and population flows, and changing land use across Central Asian cities? How will the ongoing development of the BRI, and/or proximity to BRI connected cities impact the emerging urban ecosystems, microbial and human ecologies in these areas going forward (2014-2020)?
  2. What are the economic and social effects of BRI investments on urban and peri-urban areas in Central Asia? How far improved is connectivity between cities, and what impact is this likely to have on patterns of land use, zoonotic disease risks, agriculture, and economic development?
  3. What new infectious disease risks exist and how will they impact economic growth?  To what extent is BRI-connectivity creating uneven patterns of rural-urban development and how might this impact urbanization, growth, and population health in the future?
Overview map of Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and its immediate 50km surroundings based on freely available OpenStreetMap vector data. Note that the general land use of the regions is identified, as well as the building footprint (inset map). Undergraduate students from the University of Oklahoma have completed the digitization of the building footprint data for Bishkek. We estimate that approximately 80% of the buildings were digitized at the beginning of this project. 
Image Classification Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), 2019
Percentage of lights in three different classes (> 40, >20, >10) over the years for Bishkek and its immediate surroundings (50km). The percentage of the area with low and intermediate lighting is increasingly most rapidly, until the last year, when the highly lit area expands from less than 1% to just over 2% of the region. Note that the graph starts at 75%.  The total area lit (pixels in class 1, 2, or 3) 232km2 in 2020.

Published Project Papers

Sokolik, IN; Shiklomanov, AI; Xin, X; de Beurs, KM; Tatarskii, V; 2020. Quantifying the anthropogenic signature in drylands of Central Asia and its impact on water scarcity and dust emissions. Landscape Dynamics of Drylands across Greater Central Asia: People, Societies and Ecosystems

Henebry, GM; de Beurs, KM; John, R; Owsley, BC; Kariyeva, J; Chymyrov, A; Mirzoev, M; Recent Land Surface Dynamics Across Drylands in Greater Central Asia. Landscape Dynamics of Drylands across Greater Central Asia: People, Societies and Ecosystems

Other Papers about Central Asia:

KM de Beurs, GM Henebry, BC Owsley, IN Sokolik. 2018. Large scale climate oscillation impacts on temperature, precipitation and land surface phenology in Central Asia. Environmental Research Letters 13 (6)

KM de Beurs, GM Henebry, BC Owsley, I Sokolik. 2015. Using multiple remote sensing perspectives to identify and attribute land surface dynamics in Central Asia 2001–2013. Remote Sensing of Environment 170, 48-61

GM Henebry, KM de Beurs, CK Wright, R John, E. Lioubimtseva. 2013. The Drylands of East Asia in Hemispheric Context. Dryland East Asia (DEA): Land dynamics amid social and climate change, 23-44

E Lioubimtseva, KM de Beurs, GM Henebry. 2013. Grain production trends in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan in the context of the global climate variability and change. Climate change and water resources, 121-141

CK Wright, KM de Beurs, ZK Akhmadieva, PY Groisman, GM Henebry. 2009. Reanalysis data underestimate significant changes in growing season weather in Kazakhstan. Environmental Research Letters 4 (4), 045020

KM de Beurs, CK Wright, GM Henebry. 2009. Dual scale trend analysis for evaluating climatic and anthropogenic effects on the vegetated land surface in Russia and Kazakhstan. Environmental Research Letters 4 (4), 045012

KM de Beurs, GM Henebry. 2008. War, drought, and phenology: changes in the land surface phenology of Afghanistan since 1982. Journal of Land Use Science 3 (2-3), 95-111

KM de Beurs, GM Henebry. 2004. Trend analysis of the Pathfinder AVHRR Land (PAL) NDVI data for the deserts of Central Asia. IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters 1 (4), 282-286

KM de Beurs, GM Henebry. 2004. Land surface phenology, climatic variation, and institutional change: Analyzing agricultural land cover change in Kazakhstan. Remote Sensing of Environment 89 (4), 497-509