Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Massive Flooding Highlights Moscow’s Failure to Invest in Infrastructure

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 21 – The Russian government’s failure to maintain the infrastructure that existed at the end of Soviet times is one of the primary reasons why this year’s flooding in the Russian Far East has inflicted so much damage and suffering on the population there, according to Moscow experts.

            Many Moscow commentators have talked about the Russian government’s failure to invest in infrastructure despite its super-high profits from the sale of gas and oil abroad, but despite their comments, this shortcoming and the way it reflects corruption at the top often remains somewhat abstract.

            But flooding is something that Russian mass media cover every year, and linking its impact to the failure of the current regime to maintain let alone develop needed infrastructure is certain to have a greater impact on the Russian population as a whole. That makes reports like the one on today especially important (

            Boris Porfiryev, the deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Economic Forecasting, told the news organization that the government’s failure over the last 20 years to put money into this sector means that the infrastructure in the Far East is in terrible shape and that two percent of Russia’s GDP would be needed just to maintain what still exists.

            The situation has been made worse, Porfiryev continues, by the failure of Russian officials to limit construction in flood zones. In Soviet times and earlier, people were kept out of these areas, but even those limitations have not been maintained by officials in recent years.  As a result, there is enormous avoidable property damage.

            Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Sergey Nazarov agrees that many of the problems could have been avoided if people had not built on flood plains, but he stressed the need to have better evacuation procedures and to restore funding to the weather service in order to avoid problems in the future. He acknowledged that more money also had to be spent on infrastructure.

            A third specialist, Aleksey Kokorin, who heads the Climate and Energy program of the Russian section of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), argues that infrastructure maintenance and development is the chief issue and dismisses suggestions that decisions by the population on building are to blame.

                In reporting these comments, the news portal provides a summary of just how serious the flooding now is.  In the Amur Oblast, 80 settlements with a total of 5050 houses are now under water. Many bridges and more than 450 kilometers of road are blocked. Almost 15,000 people have been evacuated.

            In the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, 25 settlements with 699 houses are flooded as are 30 segments of roads.  There, just over 7,100 people have been evacuated.  In the six federal subjects of the Far Eastern Federal District as a whole, more than 34,000 people are involved in flood rescue operations.

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