Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Widespread fires scorch Russian landscape, threaten cities

Russia is burning amid record heat wave and severe drought

In a good portion of Russian territory, fires triggered by a record heat wave and drought are burning out of control. Entire villages have burned to the ground and also the death toll was 48 as of Aug. 6. Moscow was suffocating under a toxic blanket of smoke and 4,000 individuals have lost their houses. Some of the blazes threaten to re-release Russian nuclear contamination from the Chernobyl disaster locked up in the trees in certain areas. The Russian government has come under rare public criticism for being slow and ill-outfitted to fight the fires.

Russian fires add to summer of disaster

More than 1.6 million acres in Russia have burned since the fires started, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said. To fight the fires, the government has enlisted more than 155,000 people. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than 400 new fires emerged even as 293 were put out. As of Aug. 6, a total of 520 fires were burning across the country. Russia’s worst drought in 30 years and a record heat wave that lead to the fires won’t end anytime soon. Searing heat will persist, with some parts of the country reaching up to 107 degrees, until at least Aug. 12.

Russian government burned by criticism

Russian fires have also ignited public anger as the government struggles to get the disaster under control. The government’s inability to protect its citizens from both natural and man-made disasters has been brought out within the open, the Financial Times said. Russia still labors under corrupt governance, a sloppy safety precautions and a crumbling infrastructure, besides a trillion-plus dollar economy fueled by energy revenues. As the system is “absolutely dysfunctional,” Nikolay Petrov of the Carnegie Moscow Centre told the Times the death toll is much higher in Russia than in other nations where such fires occur. Petrov said that under the “super-centralized” political apparatus installed by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, communication was far too slow to be effective.

Europe could expect drifting nuclear contamination

Nuclear contamination is an additional threat posed by Russian fires. In certain areas of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, AFP reports, that radioactive cesium 137 from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is locked up in the trees and dead leaves in forests. Philippe Renaud, head of the environmental radiation laboratory at France’s IRSN nuclear safety institute, said If trees in those areas burn, the Russian nuclear contamination would be released to the air where it could possibly be breathed in by people as far away as France.

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