Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lake Baikal at Risk of Dying like the Aral Sea, Environmental Activist Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 25 -- Lake Baikal is now at risk of dying as the Aral Sea did, the result of the actions of the governments and peoples living around and dependent upon it, unless they are prepared to take “the most extreme measures,” according to Gennady Klimov, an activist in the Republic of Buryatia.


            He has warned the Kremlin that three to four years from now – and “a maximum of five” – Lake Baikal is at risk of becoming a swamp in some places and a dead body of water in others because the rivers that fed it will no longer provide the water needed to maintain its current level -- exactly the same thing that led to the death of the Aral Sea (


            And the death of Baikal, he says, will have disastrous consequences for the peoples living around it, leading to more peat fires and also more local flooding because of the excessive harvesting of timber in the region and the resulting destruction of the network of streams and rivers that in the past carried the water to the great lake.


            The level of Lake Baikal continues to fall and is now 13 centimeters what experts say is the “lowest permissible norm.” More of its shoreline is turning into a swamp, and beyond that has emerged “a lunar landscape” in place of the forests that had existed earlier. Much of the animal life in the lake itself has been compromised and is dying out.


            According to Klimov, the death of the sea is most obvious away from its shores, in the disappearance or desiccation of rivers and streams whose waters will now never reach Baikal. Where once there were dozens of streams, now there is only one; and the situation is getting worse with each passing year.


            Four years ago, he warned the government that the uncontrolled harvesting of timber for sale abroad was wrecking the eco-system of the lake, but no one paid any attention. Now things are truly desperate: the waters of Lake Baikal are falling at “terrifying speed – one centimeter a week” in some months, the result of a dramatic decline in water flowing in.


            The roots of the problem resemble those which killed the Aral Sea: the inability or unwillingness of the authorities to restrain economic activity and population growth, divisions among governments and the failure of them to reach an agreement, and the constant invocation of the false argument that the problems are only temporary.


Klimov says that because the governments are divided and unwilling to do anything and because they continue to do the things that harm the lake, he has decided to mount a media campaign.  But it is clear that he is not optimistic given the forces arrayed against a sensible environmental policy.


And he has an additional reason for worrying: in recent years, Moscow has responded to environmental activism by charging and imprisoning people whose only “crime” if one can call it that is to urge that everyone try to save the world around them before it is too late. The Aral Sea is already dead; Lake Baikal could very well be the next major body of water to die.


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