Among Russia's most important environmental problems:
* Water pollution is the most serious concern. Less than half of Russia's population has access to safe drinking water. While water pollution from industrial sources has diminished because of the decline in manufacturing, municipal wastes increasingly threaten key water supply sources, and nuclear contamination could leach into key water sources as well. The head of Russia's environmental protection committee estimates that the cost of raising the quality of Russia's entire drinking water supply to official standards could be as high as $200 billion. * Air quality is almost as poor as water quality, with over 200 cities often exceeding Russian pollution limits, and is likely to worsen. The number of vehicles on the road has increased rapidly, and their emissions will offset reductions in industrial air pollution owing to reduced economic activity and greater reliance on natural gas. * Solid waste generation has increased substantially due to adoption of Western-style consumption patterns. Russian municipalities, however, lack management expertise and landfill capacity to cope with disposal problems. * Hazardous waste disposal problems are extensive and growing. Russian officials estimate that about 200 metric tons of the most highly toxic and hazardous wastes are dumped illegally each year in locations that lack effective environmental or public health protections or oversight. * Nuclear waste and chemical munitions contamination is so extensive and costly to reverse that remediation efforts are likely to continue to be limited largely to merely fencing off affected areas. Environmental problems are harming both the health of Russia's citizens and the economy: * US, Russian, and World Bank studies link an increase in respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses and developmental problems among children in several Russian cities in part to environmental factors. A 1996 joint US-Russian government study found that one-quarter of kindergarten pupils in one city had lead concentrations above the threshold at which intelligence is impaired, while a US government study noted a rise in the incidence of waterborne diseases and environmentally related birth defects. A Russian government report cited air pollution as a contributing factor to 17 percent of childhood and 10 percent of adult illnesses. * Pollution is adding to budgetary strains, reducing labor productivity through illness and absenteeism, and damaging natural resources. It also is deterring some domestic and foreign investors concerned about cleanup and liability issues. A team of Russian experts has pegged overall economic losses from environmental degradation at 10 to 12 percent of GDP--roughly similar to estimated losses in East European countries and substantially higher than estimates of 1 to 2 percent in developed countries. Russia's environmental problems also pose substantial threats to other regions and are likely to continue to do so during the next decade: * Russia is a polluter of adjacent seas, dumping industrial and municipal wastes, chemical munitions, and, until the mid-1990s, solid and liquid radioactive wastes. * It is likely to continue to be a major producer and exporter of illicit ozone-depleting substances because of widespread black-market activity and also will remain a major emitter of carbon dioxide. Although Russian Government officials decry the economic and social costs of environmental degradation, they lack the commitment, resources, and organizational capacity to address environmental problems: * Policymakers are focusing on stopping Russia's economic deterioration and stabilizing the country's financial markets, not on the environmental impact of their actions. Spending on the environment was less than 0.5 percent of total federal budget spending, or about $480 million in 1997--a significant drop from the modest levels of the...
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