New Map Shows Ecological Blackspots
Published: November 21, 2012 (Issue # 1736)
A new online environmental monitoring project aims to fight corruption and challenge the regional authorities. Conceived by the Russian Geographic Society together with RIA-Novosti news agency, the nationwide multimedia project is titled “The Ecological Map of Russia.”
The detailed map was launched in October and can be viewed at http://ria.ru/ecorating. Updated round the clock seven days a week, it allows environmentalists in each region to draw attention to ecological blackspots as well as unfolding disasters. Internet users can post information about accidents, pollution, illegal garbage sites and violations of environmental laws on the website, and also upload photos and videos as proof of their allegations.
“It is not uncommon for regional authorities to ignore people’s complaints for ages and stick their letters in a pile in their offices,” said Lina Zernova, editor-in-chief of the Ecology and Law environmental magazine, speaking at the project’s presentation on Monday.
Reports from green-minded members of the public complement the basic data that is collected by the project’s organizers, whose aim is to create a rating of the Russian regions. To award a position in the rating, experts assess a range of factors affecting the state of the environment, including air and water pollution, changing ecosystems, the production and treatment of industrial waste, environmental protection efforts, accountability by local business communities and the endangered status and extinction of animal species.
Pressure groups across Russia have welcomed the initiative as encouraging transparency and igniting public debate on environmental issues.
“The map makes it possible to make a region’s problems very visual: Locations of major accidents or very polluted areas will turn red at high speed if activists submit their reports,” Zernova said. “The officials in these regions will have a hard time explaining why they have been lax in dealing with these issues. I am convinced this project has huge potential, and could really improve the situation.”
Dozens of reports have already been submitted to the website. Most of the complaints regard illegal garbage sites and water pollution.
Environmental non-governmental organizations say that the map, if regularly and thoroughly updated, could create a substantial and sweeping impression of the ecological situation in Russia.
“Many ordinary Russians are not even aware of the existence of certain towns where people suffer from devastating environmental disasters,” said Yevgeny Schwartz, director of environmental protection policies at the Russian branch of the World Wildlife Foundation. “Having reviewed the first wave of complaints, we can easily see some of the ailing issues that exist across the country, such as, the rampant destruction of forest and other green areas in order to vacate space for expensive construction projects,” he said.
Sergei Vinogradov, chairman of the Green Front ecological non-governmental organization, said the map would enable regional environmental activists to join forces, helping ordinary people to find solutions and win victories.