Monday, March 31, 2008

Window on Eurasia: ‘A Death Sentence Hangs Over the Rivers of Russia’

Paul Goble

Baku, March 28 – Moscow’s policies are killing the great rivers of Russia – the Volga, the Yenisei, the Amur, the Ob, and the Angara -- according to a new study, and the death of these rivers thus threatens the lives of those who live along their banks and the country these rivers have long sustained and linked together.
Consequently, according to scholars at Moscow’s Institute of Global Climate and Ecology, Rostov-na-Donu’s Hydrochemical Institute, Moscow’s State Oceanographic Institute, and Obninsk’s Typhoon Research Center, the “death sentence that hangs over the rivers of Russia” could soon hang over the country as well.
Moscow’s push for the construction of dams that disrupt natural ecosystems and the life they support, its backing of industrial development that pollutes the water and air, and its use of technologies that kill far more animals than necessary are to blame, the study says (
Specifically, the scholars at these institutions examined conditions in more than 200 rivers and reservoirs across the Russian Federation. What they found, the report said, is that just under three quarters of all these rivers are ecologically threatened or becoming “harmed beyond hope for recovery” as a result of these policies.
Few people are trying to do anything about this, the scholars said, because addressing these problems would be extremely expensive and thus threaten the short-term profits of corporations and government agencies that currently benefit from this thoughtless destruction of the environment.
The program of developing hydro-electric power through the construction of dams and reservoirs has done “the greatest ecological harm to the Volga, the Dnepr, the Yenisei and the Angara” where officials have constructed cascade dams that destroy the fish in these streams.
“Everything living, beginning with water plants and ending with fish … dies in the turbines of the hydro-electric stations,” according to a summary of the report. And these dams “sharply reduce” the capacity of the rivers to clean themselves of the contaminants put in them.
The investigation showed that “in summertime, in the turbines of the Volga Hydro-Electric Station alone (the last in the series of dams) died more than 500,000 tons of plankton and tends of billions of fish,” a harvest of destruction from which this water system almost certainly will not be able to come back.
In the words of Anatoly Yurkov, the observer of Rossiiskaya gazeta, who is cited in the article on the report, “a total process” of destroying the world around us is taking place in Russia, and this “process has become so threatening that it cannot fail to be considered in the development of an [effective] demographic policy.”
Thus, according to Yurkov, this study of “the death” of Russia’s great rivers is a warning sign of “an attack on the health and [even] life of people”-- even if few people and even fewer officials are aware of or, if in some rare cases aware, willing to pay the enormous price to reverse course.
Russian corporations and Russian officials at the natural resources ministry remain in denial, the Rossiiskaya gazeta journalist said, routinely saying that they can’t confirm the reports the scholars have made, an attitude he says that means the situation will apparently have to get even worse before the government does anything about it.
But this report will energize the environmental movement in Siberia and the Far East, providing activists there both with both countrywide data and a sharp political focus. And that could lead to a more powerful environmentally-based regionalism Moscow may find even more troubling than the death of the country’s regions.

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