Premier PromisesGovernment Action to Protect Lake Baikal
ITAR-TASS NewsAgency, 25 July 2003
By SergeiYakovlev and Vladimir Khodiy
Russian PrimeMinister Mikhail Kasyanov promised on Friday that the Government of the RussianFederation will consider proposals for handling the lowering of the water levelin Lake Baikal, “the unique natural object” that contains 90 percentof Russia’s fresh water resources or 20 percent of the fresh water resources ofthe whole world.
The primeminister said so at a press conference that was held after the meeting he hadchaired in Irkutsk on the conservation of Lake Baikal on Friday. He recalledthat this year’s inflow to the water bodies in East Siberia had decreased2.5-3.5 times from last year. As a result, the transfer of coal, buildingmaterials, fuel and lubricants to remote residential locations was now underthreat of disruption. Unless the situation changed, the river passengertransport from Irkustk to Bratsk will have to be suspended in August and thewater supply situation can become aggravated in Angarsk, Usolye-Sibirskoye andCheremkhovo.
Specialists saythe way out of the critical situation lies through the lowering the water levelin Lake Baikal by 40-45 centimeters. Scientists of the Siberian branch of theRussian Academy of Sciences do not object: they believe that the draining wouldnot damage the ecosystem of Lake Baikal substantially.
Earlier in theday, the prime minister said one of the threats to Lake Baikal was posed by theoperation of the Baikal pulp-and-paper works. He said the program ofreconstruction of the works designed to make it safer for the environment wasnow being implemented “with certain errors” and he proposedconsidering measures that would help complete the implementation of the programin line with the most exacting environmental requirements.
In his words, itis important to consider all aspects of the economic activity of the enterpriseslocated close to Lake Baikal.
The conference inthe Irkutsk region’s Baikalsk had been called by the Federal Security Councilconcerned over the situation in the region. The taiga forests around Lake Baikaloccupy an area of 71 million hectares and its softwood resources add up to 4.7billion cubic meters. However, insufficient utilization of the availableresources and scant demand for low quality products are counter-productive.Local businessmen find it more profitable to export round timber as there ispractically no official export control and the customs duties on round timberare quite low.
The conferencewas attended by regional officials, experts from the Ministries of NaturalResources and Economic Development, as well as from other federal agencies.
One other threatto Lake Baikal was that flames around the lake engulfed about 3,000 hectares oftaiga. The biggest seats of fire were registered in the Irkutsk region wherethey measure between 250 and 800 hectares each.
For all that,efforts continue to make the region as attractive as possible to investors,tourists and other interests.
One hundred andtwenty volunteers are currently engaged in a project that would produce parkinglots, campfire sites and signposts for tourists on a 1,800 km long track aroundLake Baikal. The itinerary is comprised of 15 stretches, one of which leadsalong an old Trans-Siberian branch railway line built 100 years ago on the lakeshore. Tourists are invited to traverse a path through nearly 40 tunnels on thisstretch and the other stretches, including the adjoining stretch that extendsfrom the Angara riverhead to Peschanaya Bay with no man-made structures on it.Other stretches can be well described by their names, such as “The shore ofbrown bears”, “The old Evenki pathfinder’s tract”, “Thesable glade”. Many people tried to circle the lake in the past but theirachievements have not been registered anywhere.
On Friday, PrimeMinister Mikhail Kasyanov held a press conference on the results of theconference at which he also responded to questions from journalists.
He declared inparticular that the tension that arose between the business community and theauthorities over the recent scandal around UKOS Oil-Producing Company”wound be eliminated in the immediate future.” He stressed, “Theinvestment climate is Russia has been improving over the past few years” asevidenced by the inflow of foreign capital to Russia, the higher rating ofRussia in the eyes of international rating agencies, as well as the intention ofmajor international corporations to invest money in the reconstruction of oldand the building of new facilities.
“Sometimestheir imagination is troubled, but I hope that no global shocks will occur thistime,” the prime minister said. He does not think that “the situationfor the business community and the investment climate will changenegatively.”
Kasyanov notedthat one of the key tasks of the government was not to subsidize but ensureorders to the domestic defense enterprises. He recalled his visit to the Irkutresearch-and-production association in Irkutsk. According to the prime minister,the output has shown an upward trend at that enterprise which has a portfolio oforders sufficient to keep it going until 2007 and the number of orders couldgrow in the years to come.
He said he wassatisfied with his visit to the enterprise. “I was satisfied with the mindset of the management and workers. People get good wages and are ready to workmore intensively, provided there are orders to fulfill.”
The IrkutCorporation is now fulfilling an order to manufacture seven Be-200 amphibianplanes for the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations. The amphibian planescan perform ground and water landing, extinguish forest and industrial fires andhelp sea-going ships in distress. They can lift heavy cargo, drop 320 metrictons of water on a seat of fire, carry rescue boats and rescue rafts andfour-seat speedboats.
Irkut presidentAlexei Feodorov said the new Russian multifunctional airplanes could do well onthe international market – France, Germany, China, South Korea and othercountries have already shown an interest in them.