|June 28, 2002||atimes.com|
Floods ravage Chechnya's illicit oil industry
By Sergei Blagov
MOSCOW - Massive flooding has brought new trouble to strife-torn Chechnya, damaging structures and an illegal oil-extraction industry.
Residents are returning to their damaged homes to confront new environmental and economic concerns. The flooding claimed at least 59 lives and forced thousands to flee their homes. Several people were missing after days of flooding that followed heavy rain.
The flooding affected 236 towns and villages with a population of about 200,000, the Emergency Situations Ministry reported on Wednesday. About 86,000 people were evacuated. The flood damaged 233 bridges, 945 kilometers of roads and 519km of power cables, the ministry said. In all, 110 townships lost their water supply.
But the flooding caused damage beyond what would be considered "normal" for a flood on this scale. It damaged an illegal lifeline for Chechens.
After years of war, many Chechens have come to depend largely on illegal oil extraction. People risk their lives to extract oil that they refine into low-quality gasoline. By-products are dumped into rivers. As a result Russian officials consider more than 30 percent of Chechen territory a zone of environmental disaster. Another 40 percent is classified a zone with an extremely unfavorable environmental situation.
Oil and gas have traditionally dominated Chechnya's economy. But official oil production fell from 21.5 million tonnes in 1971 to less than 2 million tonnes in 1993 - less than 1 percent of Russia's total oil production. Much of the oil infrastructure that remained was damaged in the recent war between Chechen rebels and Russian forces.
Many oilfields are poorly guarded. These have become sites for illegal extraction and pose a constant environmental threat. There are an estimated 150 free-flowing wells in Chechnya with an output of about 30,000 tonnes a month.
Russian troops have been carrying out operations to locate and destroy facilities for illegal oil extraction. As a result, dumping of oil by-products into the Terek, Sunzha and Argun rivers has come down. But pollution levels from these by-products are still five to 12 times above acceptable limits in many of these rivers, according to official estimates.
Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin's envoy in southern Russia, says several fuel and petrochemical facilities have been affected by the flooding. "Now the issue is to protect these facilities, including storage of toxic and radioactive substances," he says.
The floods are having an impact on neighboring Daghestan. Peter Postavak, director of the Daghestani Meteo Center, says oil and fuel leaks originating from the Sunzha River in Chechnya have been carried to Daghestan.
Putin has ordered a commission to be set up to help the region recover from damage estimated at US$100 million. He asked Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to divert military resources for relief operations. Cargo planes and Mi-8 helicopters in use against Chechen separatists are now distributing food, medicine and supplies to people still cut off by flooding. Military authorities say about 13,000 soldiers have been pressed into relief operations. About 900 vehicles and 24 helicopters are being used to deliver supplies.
The floods have damaged a large number of other industrial facilities. In Ingushetia an entire cement factory was washed away. Russian authorities are also struggling to contain threat of disease in flood-hit areas.
(Inter Press Service)
Front |China | Southeast Asia | Japan | Koreas | India/Pakistan | Central Asia/Russia | Oceania
Business Briefs | Global Economy | Asian Crisis | Media/IT |Editorials | Letters | Search/Archive
back to the top
©2001 Asia Times Online Co., Ltd.
Room 6301, The Center, 99 Queen's Road, Central, Hong Kong