Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Trash Heaps Increasingly Undermine Health of North Caucasians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 13 – Mounting piles of trash improperly disposed of and the poisoning of runoff water from them have already been identified as major problems at Olympic construction sites in and around Sochi, but the threat trash poses to the population is much broader and now affects the population of the entire North Caucasus.

                In an article in “Novyye izvestiya” today, Veronika Vorontsova says that “many reions of the North Caucasus Federal District now rank at the bottom as far as ecological well-being is concerned, with Ingushetia at 75th out of 83 regions and Daghestan at 65th overall (

              Given all the other problems of the North Caucasus, the state of the environment might seem a secondary matter, but environmental contamination often caused by industrial plants which simply dump their wastes into rivers or construction efforts which put highly toxic waste in poorly constructed trash heaps are causing cancer rates to jump among people there.

              Like officials involved in Olympic construction efforts in Sochi over the last several years, plant managers say they have been taking steps to reduce emissions and to dispose of waste properly, but Vorontsova says, “local experts and residents do not believe” what the official and businessmen are saying. 

              And both point out that these two categories of people provide the clearest indication possible that they are not telling the truth. Unlike other residents who often have no choice but to live near the plants or waste sites, the families of the officials and businessmen never live close to where the pollution is coming from.

              If the environmental situation is especially bad in Daghestan and Ingushetia, it is also threatening in other North Caucasian republics as well. A plant built in Karachayevo-Cherkessia to support Sochi construction, to give but one example, is regularly putting poisons into the atmosphere and water supply, activists say, and people are getting sick.

              Residents have staged protests and written petitions to local, regional and federal officials, but to date, they have seldom received the kind of action they want.  Officials talk about taking care of the “unique nature” of the region, but they allow almost anything in the name of economic development.

              And what they allow in one area may make it far more difficult to correct problems in others: Widespread deforestation is not only contaminating the rivers on which the population relies, but it is reducing the capacity of the natural environment to clean itself either now or in the future. As a result, polluted rivers are staying polluted far longer than in the past.

             Gayirbeg Abdurakhmanov, the deputy chairman of the Green Party in Daghestan, blames this pollution for the rapid growth of the number of cancer victims “in all regions of the North Caucasus Federal District.”  In Daghestan alone, 6500 organizations and firms are putting waste directly into the water supply without any effort to filter it out.

           Elena Ilina, a member of the Ecological Water on the North Caucasus, says she is especially concerned about “the absence of organized trash pickup from small cities and settlements.”  That means that poisons leach into the water supply.

             Unfortunately, she says, the authorities “are not devoting sufficient attention to this problem.”  What they are focusing on instead is harassing environmental groups like Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus to prevent them from calling attention to this problem in advance of the Sochi Olympics.

              Unlike doing anything to protect the environment and the health of the people of the North Caucasus, arresting activists is something the Russian authorities always seem to manage to do quickly and efficiently.

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