Sunday, August 29, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Fire-Ravaged Regions Likely to Suffer Again This Winter, Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 29 – Having focused all their attention on putting out fires across Russia – and most but far from all are now extinguished -- Yevgeny Gontmakher says, Russian officials are neglecting necessary preparations for winter, something that could lead the country “from catastrophe to catastrophe” once the weather turns cold.
Although the harvest this year will be 15 to 20 percent lower than last, the outspoken commentator who works at the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development says, Russia will not experience hunger, but residents in many of the most fire-ravaged regions will suffer in other ways (
And their suffering, he suggests, has the potential to create social and political problems unless Moscow recognizes that the impact of the fires on the lives of people was far greater than Russian officials have done up to now and takes immediate action to correct the situation in the worst-hit areas.
In fighting the fires and promising to rebuild housing, Gontmakher says, the powers that be have ignored that in addition to the homes, many Russians have lost their family agricultural plots, whose fruits, vegetables and livestock play a key role in their diets. Without help, he continues, it is not clear how they will eat or what work they will do.
But the problem is more extensive than that, he says. Because officials have focused on fighting the fires, they have not done even what they normally do to get ready for colder weather. In some places, much less than the normal 20 percent of such work accomplished by the end of August has been completed. And no one is talking about how the shortfalls will be made up.
As a result, “a whole range of regions, which are suffering now … will not be ready for the winter and can in this way turn out to be suffering from technogenic misfortunes connected with low temperatures” only a few months after they have suffered from analogous misfortunes because of the heat.
The good news at present, Gontmakher says is that Russia does not face generalized hunger “as a result of the fires and droughts.” But despite that, because of the destruction of the personal gardens and house farms, “significant social problems” are going to arise for many in the regions as a result of deterioration in diet.
“Now,” he says, “it is very important to be prepared for this in advance.” Those who have suffered need more than housing; they need a variety of “social assistance” in order that they will more or less well “survive the winter and live until the beginning of the next [growing season].”
Whether such assistance will be forthcoming, however, seems far from certain, Gontmakher says, given that officials are not now talking about this problem, one that is going to only grow in size the longer it is ignored or not fully addressed.

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