Staunton, Oct. 4 – Almost all waterways in the Russian Federation are increasingly contaminated, and almost all water treatment facilities are inadequate to meet the increase in the number of contaminants and their nature, Viktor Danilov-Danilyan says. As a result, one can drink water from the tap only in a few places.
In Moscow and St. Petersburg, most people can drink tap water, the senior scholar at the Institute of Water Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences says. But even there, many who are sensitive to chlorine have to allow the water to sit for a time before they can drink it (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2021/10/04/1924399.html).
But elsewhere the situation is bad and getting worse. More chemicals and antibiotics are being put into the water. Global warming is changing the nature of the water cycle, putting too much too rapidly in some places and not enough in others. And largely unconstrained construction in wetlands is depriving Russia of natural water filtration.
The country’s water treatment plants have not kept up with the challenge. In the best of circumstances, they are 30 years behind where those in the West are; and there is inadequate funding for water treatment modernization. As a result, people are getting sick; and that trend is only going to increase, whatever the regime says about the health of the Russian people.
Indeed, Danilov-Danilyan says, Russia is in the mid-range of third world countries as far as its water supply is concerned; and unless that changes and changes very soon, Russia will soon lack any chance to keep up with the advanced countries of the West. They face similar challenges, but in contrast to Russia, they are investing in meeting them.
His warning is one of the most serious raised by someone at the Academy of Sciences, but it is far from unique. And many regional political leaders are currently taking up the cudgels to get better water treatment, arguing that unless that happens, Russia will actually face water revolts.
Among the most active of these is Emiliya Slabunova, a Yabloko deputy in the Karelian legislative assembly. She points out that unlike most countries, Russia has faced water revolts in the past; and she insists it will again if people lose access to at least minimally healthy water to drink.
In various parts of the country, she says, the situation is already critical with the classical question “is the glass half full or half empty?” being replaced by an expression of regret that it is “dirty” and a threat to health (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/10/11/87458-stakan-napolovinu-gryazen).
People are protesting over the lack of adequate water. Last year, people in the Altay Kray blocked a highway to call attention to the absence of potable water; and in July, people in Chelyabinsk threatened to boycott local elections because they lacked clean water in which to give their children baths.
When people became ill from drinking polluted water in Tambov, residents there protests. The response of the authorities? Not to address the source of the problem but simply to increase the level of chlorine in the water, a palliative rather than a real solution.
Also last year, contaminated water led villagers in Daghestan to protest, the latest in a long line of demonstrations in that North Caucasus republic over poor water quality. In many federal subjects, people get water from untested sources and often fall ill. In Sakha, the Transbaikal and Tyva, the share who do have access to tested water is especially low.
Rosstat reports, Slabunova continues, 21 million people as recently as 2019 did not have access to tested water. Many are likely getting sick but may not even know the source of their illness. The Russian government has pledged to overcome this problem, but progress over the last decade has been pitifully slow.
The situation today in many places can only be “characterized as one of crisis,” she says. Contaminated water is being taken directly from rivers or reservoirs or contaminated in aging pipelines. Correcting these infrastructure problems will take enormous investments and much time, but for the Kremlin, this isn’t a priority and Russians know it, Slabunova says.
And unlike other problems which only some regions face, the problem of clean water is one that Russians almost everywhere face. Consequently, the protests which have begun in earnest this summer are likely to spread and grow. They may even link up, creating a challenge for the Kremlin that is does not appear to take seriously.