16 March 2010

Russian Olympic planning criticised for strain on environment

In the afterglow of Vancouver's environmentally conscious winter Olympics, Russia has won the bid to carry the Olympic torch to a Sochi, a south Russian Black Sea resort town. However, Russia has thus far failed to carry the Olympic torch of environmental awareness that had shone so brightly in Canada. Already, environmental NGO's such as the WWF and Greenpeace Russia have withdrawn support from Olympic planning and construction.

Because Sochi lacks platforms for international sporting, the Russian government chose to build most its Olympic projects from scratch. NGO's believed the environmentally vulnerable area has been adversely effected by construction practices. A UNEP report at the end of January confirmed suspicions. Officials believe that construction may have already inflicted irreversible harm on the area's fragile ecosystem. Indigenous bird and bear populations have lost habitats. The primary concern is that the Mzymta River has become polluted from heavy metal deposits resulting from construction. The recently released report states:

"[Olympic construction] did not take into account the cumulative... effects of the various projects on the ecosystems of the Sochi region and its population".

The Sochi region is home to a national park and world heritage site. Beech trees have been cleared to make way for transportation to the Olympic sites.

Planners designed construction plans to follow a "cluster" model in which skating rinks will be built on a cluster of coastal grounds, while skiing and snowboarding will be built around a mountain cluster. The UNEP has urged the NGO's that have withdrawn support and the Russian government to begin to work together and address the environmental concerns that the Sochi environment necessitates. The report adds:

"There has been a reluctance to engage with or even listen to each other's calls for actions from both sides." - the report adds emphasis "both sides" - the Russian government maintians that the NGO's have been deliberately uncooperative.

In its investigation, the report alsos confirm the Russian government's and contruction agencies' willingness to reassess building methods and better ascertain the environmental impact of planned tourism and construction. 2014 will mark the first time that Russia has hosted the Winter Olympic games. The Sochi Public Council is supposed to discuss how to mitigate the environmental impact of Olympic construction and bring NGO's back into cooperation today. No doubt, the UNEP report will ramp up business and international pressure to address the environmental concerns, and motivate Sochi construction to meet environmental challenges the Olypmics pose.

Author: Michael Good | Climate Action

Image Provided by: Alexsander Zaitsev | Flickr

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