Staunton, March 4 – In 1991, ships and barges could move along 146,000 kilometers of its internal rivers, Yury Korobov says. Now, because Moscow has failed to maintain dredging and other maintenance operations, that figure has fallen to only 49,870 kilometers or almost two thirds.
That is a disaster both for the Russian domestic economy and for its foreign exports, the head of the Shores of Russia council says. 80 percent of the country’s population lives along these rivers and “about 90 percent” of Russia’s domestic product is produced on their banks but river fleets now carry only 2.8 percent of its GDP (vz.ru/opinions/2021/3/3/1087648.html).
Russia has been dredging its rivers to keep them navigable since 1810, Korobov says; and the Soviet Union continued that tradition. But after the disintegration of the USSR, what had been a systematic effort broke down and what actions there were in this regard were taken by local and regional officials rather than reflecting central government policy.
Now, Moscow has come up with a Concept for the Development of Domestic Waterways of the Russian Federation for the Period up to 2024 and committed 306 billion rubles (four billion US dollars) to expand the river fleet and ensure that the rivers are navigable so that the new ships will be able to do their job.
Unfortunately, the Concept devotes more attention to ship building than to ensuring that there will be waterways adequate to handling the new vessels, Korobov says. And because of climate change and increased use of river waters by industry and the population, dredging and maintenance are becoming ever more important.
Unless that is recognized and corrected, the expert says, Russia risks entering an era when its river fleet will only be able to function fully during those parts of the year when winter melt and spring storms raise water levels to acceptable levels and not at all in the summer, fall and winter when conditions change as they do every year.
Given how important rivers are in a country which still has one of the lowest densities of highways and railways in the world, that will put a serious crimp in any prospects for economic development in the coming years, he concludes.