Waste is being dumped in Russia

Galina Sdasyuk is a researcher at the Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, and is formulating a sustainable model of development for her country. She spoke to Vineet Katariya on the economic and ecological crises faced by her country

Published: Wednesday 15 April 1998

On the state of Russia today:
Russia is today facing economic degradation, environmental deterioration and human suffering. These environmental problems are due to natural resource degradation and neglect of arable land.

Capital investment at present is less than one third of what it was in 1990, production has halved, investment is down by two thirds, and the gnp is down by 50 per cent. For about 70 years, Russia has been one of the most industrially advanced countries in the world. But now, its economy is falling apart as the public sector is not in a position to maintain the industrial infrastructure. Pipelines are breaking up, bridges are falling apart, industrial units are dying.

On environmental awareness in Russia:
The main concern for the Russian people is to survive. When people are not getting food to eat nor fuel to heat their houses, how can they think of the environment? Non-governmental organisations ( ngo s) hardly exist in Russia. The Green Cross is concentrated only in Moscow. We need to start a movement to make people aware of the sorry state of the environment in Russia.

On the environmental challenges facing Russia:
The biggest environmental danger in Russia is too much of one-sided development. Agriculture is decaying because of inadequate equipment. Due to lack of capital, farmers are using old techniques which are leading to environment degradation. Marshy areas are spreading and agricultural land and pastures are getting covered with wilderness.

The other reason is too much of centralisation. The Aral catastrophe has been one of the results. The sea has decreased by one third of its original size, due to the huge irrigation construction project that is consuming water from Amu Dariya and Syr Dariya. On the eve of the 21st century we are facing problems of climate stabilisation and a wave of imperialism. Russia is becoming a victim to economic colonisation.

On the aftermath of Perestroika:
Perestroika was to decentralise, modernise and guarantee the freedom of speech. But these goals have not been achieved. We may enjoy freedom of speech but we do not have access to the media. Perestroika has led to psychological and economic stress in the country.

Unemployment is a major problem. Since 1992, with the introduction of shock therapy in Russia, there has been a total net decrease in population. Life expectancy for men in Russia has decreased by three years since 1993 as economic and psychological distress has led to a rise in suicides. If this trend continues, the population of Russia will halve in another 50 years.

On the attitude of the people towards liberalisation:
People, in general, are against this trend. They are not able to sell their products and sometimes they have to even burn their products. Russia imports half of its food supply while the people are not able to consume what is being produced in their own country.

On the economic policies:
Our economic policies at present are totally anti-national. Under the slogan of joining the global economy, the Russian economy is being totally destroyed. Everyday millions of Russians walking in the subways encounter hoarding such as "the us welcomes you to smoking". We are being besieged with American products.

The local population is not being allowed to utilise our rich resources. Russia is abundant with fuels. We have 35 per cent of the world's gas resource and 12 per cent of all the world's fuel resources. We are heating the whole of western Europe and supplying gas and oil to many countries. At the same time, students and peasants in Russia are dying of cold. Fuel in Russia is almost three times more expensive than in India.

Russia has also become a dumping ground for toxic waste. Nuclear waste is imported from outside even now. Every year, there is some special agreement with Al Gore, the vice-President of the us , to export toxic waste to Russia.

On Mikhail Gorbachev:
Gorbachev does not mean much to the average Russian, neither is he respected. He has contributed to the havoc in this country and has been responsible for disintegration of the Soviet Union. More then 70 per cent of the people in the former Soviet Union want to be united.

On who is to blame:
Anti-national policies and the bureaucracy, who has accumulated illegal capital, are responsible for this mess. Boris Yeltsin and Gorbachev have betrayed the people. They tell us that we are drawing global market. Our processing industry is dying, so our only exports are raw material and fuel.

On how change can take place in Russia:
We have come to learn from the planning processes in India. We have to adopt the Indian regional pattern of development which takes care of the economy as well as the environment. There should be cooperation between the free market and state regulations. India keeps a balance between the two. Our situation is similar to India because we both are passing through a period of transition.

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