Battle for Baikal: Raging Siberian wildfires threaten world’s biggest freshwater lake

Battle for Baikal: Raging Siberian wildfires threaten world’s biggest freshwater lake

24 August 2015

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Russia —  The world’s oldest and deepest lake could face severe damage from wildfires which are burning out of control along its shores. Lake Baikal, home to 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen fresh water, is facing a potential ecological catastrophe with 36 fires burning in the region.

It is one of the jewels of Russia, both in terms of its importance ecologically and for tourism. However, as plumes of smoke billow out in southern Siberia, thousands of hectares of forest are being destroyed around Lake Baikal.

The situation is so bad that a leading Russian politician says the forest fires are the greatest danger threatening the wellbeing of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“The forest fires pose much more of a threat to the lake than uncontained tourism or foreign plants, such as kelp, which can have a major impact on its unique ecological system,” said Mikhail Slipenchuk, the deputy head of the Russian parliament’s committee on natural resources and ecology, as cited by TASS.

According to the latest reports from the region’s forestry management, there are 36 fires burning in the region, covering an area of 77,000 hectares.

“The most famous tributary is the Selenga River, but there are more than 300 small rivers and streams, which flow into the waters of Baikal. The fires around the banks of the lake are practically killing its water arteries, which could seriously upset the balance of the lake,” Slipenchuk added.

An unusually hot summer and a lack of rainfall have made the situation even worse and the local authorities are going to implement measures to try and prevent the damage forest fires could create in the future.

However, Slipenchuk mentioned that more effort needs to be put into preventative measures to ensure that forest fires prove to be less of a threat to the local environment and its ecology and leave Lake Baikal as one of Russia’s national treasures.

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