Sustainable Future with Lisa Emery
When Russia made its bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, they promised green building standards and “zero waste.” As the countdown begins to the opening ceremonies on Feb. 7th, the illegal landfills and damaged ecosystems suggest that Russia may not win the gold medal in eco-friendly practices.
Not only is this shaping up to be the most expensive Olympics in the history of the games, with $51 billion of new development, it has also become one of the most environmentally destructive. Five thousand acres of forests have been felled, while wetlands that served as important stopovers for migrating birds have been filled in. Landslides from poor drainage and waste dumping threaten the watershed, which feeds into the Black Sea. Building within national parks in Russia used to be limited, but that regulation was reversed in order to make way for some games facilities, hotels, and roads.
The Sochi 2014 organizing committee says construction has minimized harmful carbon emissions, and companies carrying out construction say they are sticking to their promises to meet international standards in protecting the environment.
But some ecologists say the damage is only the beginning and that construction may have put the region in the path of potential ecological disasters, including poisoned drinking water and flooding. Environmental experts say that Olympic construction which has consisted of pouring soil into lowland swamps helped cause the flooding that created a state of emergency in the area in September and could increase the risk for more flooding.
While the construction trash may pose no direct danger, rainwater flowing into the ground and into the nearby Mzymta River, which is used by Sochi residents for drinking water, is at risk of being contaminated by the waste.
Russia doesn’t want you to be thinking about any of this, so officials have put the squeeze on potential whistleblowers. In the wake of the highly publicized release of Pussy Riot and Greenpeace activists last December, lower-profile harassments of activists and reporters still continues with games creeping ever closer.
The IOC (International Olympic Committee) should insist that Russian authorities compensate and assist Sochi residents whose homes and health have been harmed by the preparations for the Olympic Games. The IOC should also push authorities to ensure all Olympics-related construction follows the law and that all companies obtain environmental and other permits. Also, Russia should continue repairing and remediating environmental damage after the Games are over.
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