15% of Environment in Russia Fails to Meet Admissible Norms

Russia to HaveSpecial Service to Respond to Threats to Environment

ITAR-TASS News Agency, 25 July 2003

By TimurProkopenko and Anatoly Franovsky


Russia’s growingconcern about the state of the environment was expressed on Friday in the courseof at least two high-level conferences, one in Asian and the other in EuropeanRussia.


Russian PrimeMinister Mikhail Kasyanov took part in a conference that met in Irkutsk todiscuss measures related to the conservation of the environmental (ecological)system of Lake Baikal. He said one of the threats to this, one of the largestfresh water lakes in the world came from the operation of the Baikalpulp-and-paper works. A program of reconstruction of the works intended to makeit safer for the environment is now being implemented, but, according to MikhailKasyanov, “It is being carried out with certain errors.” In thisconnection, the prime minister proposed considering measures that would help thecomplete implementation of the program in keeping with the most exactingenvironmental requirements. In his words, it is important to consider allaspects of the economic activity of the enterprises located close to LakeBaikal, a unique natural object that contains 90 percent of Russia’s fresh waterresources or 20 percent of the fresh water resources of the whole world.


Meanwhile,another conference that was held in Ivanovo northeast of Moscow was told thatmore than 15 percent of the Russian territory had an environment that failed tomeet any admissible standards. Head of the Russian Ministry of Natural ResourcesVitaly Artyukhov said in the course of a meeting of the Council of the Leadersof the Central Federal District that over sixty percent of the Russianpopulation lived in the badly polluted areas where the main part of GDP wasproduced.


The ministernoted that the fire risks of the past two years showed that the ministry ofnatural resources and the ministry for emergency situations should step upefforts to gain better control over the elements, particularly as regards fire.He recalled that the situation remained most alarming in the country’s Siberianand Far Eastern regions.


Earlier onFriday, head of the forest protection department of the Ministry of NaturalResources Alexei Yermolenko declared that since the beginning of this year, moreforests have been damaged by fire than in the entire year 2002.


“Since thebeginning of fire-prone season, 20,000 seats of fire have been registered in theRussian forests. They affected an area of 1.7 million hectares,” Yermolenkonoted. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, 37 thousand fires thatburned in the Russian forests last year ravaged 1.3 million hectares.


According to theRosgidromet hydrometeorology committee, no weather conditions of this kind havebeen registered in Siberia in the past 108 years. “Heat waves and windscoupled with absence of precipitation resulted in a 5-fold increase in thenumber of fires in Siberia over the past year,” Yermolenko said.


This year, smudgeproduced by forest fires enveloped many towns and other residential locations inthe Khabarovsk territory. In the taiga residential locations, the combustionproduct pollution of the air is such that even healthy people feel shortage ofoxygen in the air and people suffering from chronic diseases of the respiratorytract take it particularly hard.


As regards thepollution of the water bodies, the Central Federal District occupies the firstplace among all the federal districts; Minister Artyukhov said uncontrolleddischarges of all kind of waste to the water bodies were the main cause of theexisting situation.


He stressed thatover four thousand criminal cases had been opened last year as result ofinspection of the use of natural resources.


Deputy Ministerof natural resources Yuri Shuvayev told the conference that Russia would sooncreate a new service that will be in charge of prompt responses to environmentalemergencies. He said the new service would react as police responds to emergencycalls. The service will have an emergency number which people will be able todial to inform the service about impending or ongoing environmental emergencies.


The new emergencyservice will maintain a permanent office in each of Russia’s 89 federalconstituents, which can be reached by telephone free of charge, Shuvayev said.


He stressed thatRussia needed a single federal information center about the state of theenvironment and natural resources.


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