Staunton, July 8 – Russian commentators are already linking the extent of the flooding disaster in the Transbaikal to the Putin regime’s cutbacks in monitoring and emergency services (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/07/putin-regime-cutbacks-making-natural.html). Now, they are pointing to another cause for which the Kremlin also bears full responsibility.
That is the center’s policy of allowing the Chinese to overharvest forest resources in Siberia and the Russian Far East, a policy that has profited Russian officials but that means precipitation is not held by the land but floods into the rivers leading to downstream flooding of the kind that is costing lives in the region now.
In Izvestiya today, journalist Valeriya Nodelman reports that “ecologists think that the most severe flooding in Irkutsk Oblast which has cost 22 lives assumed such a catastrophic character as a result of overcutting of forests” (iz.ru/896975/valeriia-nodelman/podlili-vody-uchenye-dokazali-chto-massovye-rubki-lesa-usilivaiut-pavodki).
She cites the work of Yury Pautov and Aleksandr Borovlyev, who studied the impact of deforestation on flooding in Komi and whose model explains what has happened in the Transbaikal: When too many trees are cut down, water runoff increases, ground water supplies decline, and the chances of flooding rise dramatically.
Aleksey Yaroshenko, another ecologist, agrees saying that “one of the factors” which has led to the current disaster is the overcutting of forests by Russian and Chinese firms, some of whom have operated illegally but to the profit of local and regional officials. Russian residents in the region are now paying a high price for that.
Unless radical changes are made in government policy and enforcement, he suggests, the risks of flooding in the future will only increase; and “this is very dangerous.”
Moscow is responding but it may be a case of shutting the door after the horse has fled. Vladimir Putin on May 16 criticized local officials for allowing overcutting, even though his regime has promoted exactly that. And two days ago, the Irkutsk Oblast forest minister was arrested in a case about illegal cutting down of forests there.
But far more than that will be needed to prevent more flooding; and the victims of the current floods are likely to take little comfort from such declarations and arrests. Indeed, they may see them as confirmation of what many likely think: Russian officials from top to bottom are to blame and will always try to shift responsibility to someone else.