Ecology Ministry Faces Tall Task of Russian Cleanup

Article excerpt

MORE than seven decades of neglect have turned Russia into an ecological disaster zone, and environmental officials admit the problems are so numerous they cannot cope with them all.

The government currently is working out an ecological security program to neutralize the affects of environmental contamination, Ecology Minister Viktor Danilov-Danilyan said at a news conference last week. Although 4 billion rubles (about $7 million) are planned to go toward cleanup efforts, little can be achieved given Russia's economic woes, he said.

"It's hard to change our methods of operation when the overall system is in such a state of collapse," Mr. Danilov-Danilyan said. "We can observe many more problems than we can solve."

The problems are mainly the result of inefficient management of industry and agriculture under the centralized planning system, according to an Ecology Ministry press release. The domination of military considerations in the former Soviet Union's economy also contributed to environmental problems.

The biggest environmental dangers are currently posed by oil refineries, chemical weapons production, and unsafe nuclear plant operations, the press release continued. But officials stress problems can be found in virtually every corner of the country.

For example, the water in one-third of all old underground reservoirs is unfit for drinking, Alexei Yablokov, presidential adviser for environmental and heath affairs, was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency.

The nation's arable lands are in "critical" condition, the ministry press release said. About 100 million acres out of a total 450 million acres have been rendered unusable because of industrialization or over-irrigation. About 90 million acres have dangerously high saline levels, and about 110 acres are affected by erosion.

MEANWHILE, the danger posed by toxic and radioactive waste is "enormous," the press release added. …