Thursday, October 28, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Plans to Profit from Exporting Water, Officials Say

Paul Goble

Staunton, October 28 – Moscow is making plans to exploit its position as a “fresh water superpower” and sell some of its holdings of this increasingly precious commodity to water-short neighbors and other countries further afield, according to senior officials in the government of the Russian Federation.
In the wake of a UN report that only fifteen years from now, two out of three residents of the planet will not have access to sufficient supplies of potable water, some Russian officials are thinking about exporting their country’s supplies for profit but others are worried that the Russian Federation may eventually face a shortage (
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says that “the place of Russia in the world water market is being formulated. [Russia has] a quarter of the world’s supplies of fresh water, and we intend to use this advantage to the full extent,” an indication that Moscow will use water in much the same way it has used gas and oil.
But before Moscow can do so, many experts and officials believe that Russia must improve its own water supplies. Two-thirds of its reserves have been contaminated in the course of industrial development, and in addition, “two-thirds of the water pipes [in the Russian Federation] need immediate repairs.”
That is something not lost of many Russians, experts say. “The majority of Russians [currently] drink bottled water, and those who cannot [afford to do so], filter or even boil the water coming out of the tap.” Despite those precautions, illnesses from contaminated water are widespread.
Gennady Onishchenko, the chief public health official in the country, notes that “in Moscow we are buying technology with the goal of improving the quality of water” for Russians. But, he notes, there are still places around the country where water is not yet piped into the houses of residents.
Meanwhile, however, Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev is focusing far more on the export possibilities. “We must not buy Perrier,” he says; “we must sell our water abroad. We are increasing the extent of exports by improving conditions for businesses [to take that step] because the export of water is not a government function.”
But there is a possibility that it could become one -- and perhaps more quickly than anyone is now planning for. Today, Novosti reported that Romin Madinov, a deputy n the lower house of the Kazakhstan parliament, is suggesting that his country send grain to Russia in exchange for water from Siberian rivers (
Today, Madinov said, Kazakhstan is very much interested in the much-discussed Siberian river diversion project because that country needs water, and now Kazakhstan has something which the Russian Federation needs and wants in exchange – grain this year when the Russian harvest was smaller and grain and meat in the future when water could allow for larger crops.
Madinov made these remarks at a government conference in Astana, and he added in conclusion that “having received water for our territory … Kazakhstan could actively develop a livestock industry, and for Russia, which already is buying more than a million tons of meat a year abroad, purchasing it from Kazakhstan would be much more economical.”
Whether this argument will win favor with President Nursultan Nazarbayev or become the basis for Kazakhstan-Russian conversations, one thing is very clear, water has already joined oil and gas as a strategic resource for Moscow and almost certainly will be used as petroleum is for both profit and political goals.

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