Thursday, December 6, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Regions Woefully Unprepared to Respond to Disasters

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 6 – Despite a December 1994 law requiring Russia’s federal subjects to stockpile supplies and maintain cash reserves in order to be able to respond quickly to disasters, more than 50 of the country’s 85 regions now have put aside so little to those ends that the Emergency Affairs Ministry has put them on “a black list.”
In a statement released this week, ministry officials said that these 50 plus regions currently have set aside fewer than 10 rubles (about 40 U.S cents) for each resident, and that in two cases, Tyva and Moscow oblast, the authorities have not put aside anything for these purposes (
The ministry pointed out that with regard to equipment and supplies, the regions have spent an average total of 37.95 rubles (1.50 U.S. dollars) for every man, woman and child in the country, an amount that would be wiped out by almost any natural or man-made disasters the Russian Federation is likely to face.
As far as the stockpiling of equipment, food and medicine is concerned, 26 of Russia’s federal subjects are devoting less than 26 rubles per capita, 28 regions from 10 to 30 rubles, 22 from 30 to 70, and only nine more than 130 rubles. In the last group, the Chukchi Autonomous District leads with 11,772 rubles (490 U.S. dollars).
With regard to cash accounts that could be used to purchase additional supplies or provide one-time payments to victims, 27 regions currently have accounts totaling less than 27 rubles – a little over one U.S. dollars – per capita. 30 have accounts totally 10 to 30 rubles per capita, 19 from 30 to 100 rubles, and nine with more than 100 rubles.
These figures are disturbing in a double sense. On the one hand, they leave the regions little choice but to rely on the central government in a crisis, a dependency that Moscow may encourage but that means that any government assistance is likely to be slower in coming and less well-tailored to local conditions.
And on the other, this “black list” highlights the more general problem of unfunded liabilities in the Russian political system. The central authorities often pass laws or give orders that the governments in the federal subjects must do certain things, but Moscow does not give these subordinate units the power to raise funds to do so.
As a result, officials in the regions and republics have every reason to address their immediate concerns, thus cutting back on any accounts, like these, that may be needed to deal with problems that they hope will never occur, confident that Moscow will somehow step in if things get bad enough.
That lack of genuine fiscal federalism in turn carries with it another problem for the future of the Russian political system: an increasing tendency in Moscow to create more unfunded liabilities and in the regions to pass the buck back to the center, with their own people on the ground thereby becoming the victims.
The Russian Federation, of course, is not the only country with these problems. But the figures the Emergency Affairs Ministry released this month suggest that it may now be the leader in this regard, an achievement that neither Russians nor those who wish that country and its people well should be happy about.

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