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Human - and political - toll is rising, just like the floodwater from the Amur River

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01 September 2013


Stadium in the name of Vladimir Lenin in Khabarovsk turned into a swimming pool in the name of Vladimir Lenin, as locals say. Picture: Alexander Golovko

Almost 40,000 people have needed medical treatment due to the worst-ever flooding in Eastern Russia, and 3,025 have been hospitalised, including 631 children - many suffering from stress after seeing their homes engulfed by flooding. 

The figures from Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova show doctors have examined 37,145 people including 1,065 children. Of those needing hospital treatment 'most of them suffer from stress, aggravations of chronic diseases and light injuries,' she said. 

The health toll statistics came as the Amur River waters continued their inexorable rise to an all-time high of 7.73 metres, amid forecasts that Khabarovsk city will face large scale evacuations in the coming days. The level of 7.8 metres has been designated as the danger point triggering mass evacuations amid fears that dikes will not hold back the water.

The lives of more than 100,000 have been disrupted by the flooding and 8,400 have required rescue by the Russian Army.

These figures are destined to rise significantly over the coming month.

flooding 2013 the Far East of Russia

flooding 2013 the Far East of Russia

flooding 2013 the Far East of Russia

Amur river embankment in Khabarovsk. Pictures: Alexander Golovko

President Vladimir Putin, on an extended stay in Siberia and the Russian Far East, took personal control of the responses to the flooding despite also dealing with the rising Middle East crisis over Western threats to launch missile strikes on Syria. He blasted the food handed out to children made homeless by the flood who are living in refugee centres after being inundated with complaints. 

The flood victims 'are writing that they are fed some sort of gruel that children can't eat. What's this?', he erupted, asking: 'Do I need to put someone (officials) on a diet of gruel so that there would be no gruel [served up in the refugee camps]?'

The president also warned officials not to nab new housing for their friends and relatives, a feature of previous crises. It must go to real victims, he declared. 

'I would not like to speak about it but I should do as the aid, including new housing, should be given only to those people who are really affected and need it, not relatives and good friends of chiefs at different levels,' he made clear.

'Unfortunately, we have witnessed such cases in similar situations before. I hope that the prosecutor's office will also play a positive role in this issue because it is their business to control the settlement of such matters.'

New homes should be erected in areas safe from flooding, he said. 

It was vital that there was transparency in the allocation of aid, Putin said, demanding 'public committees which will be able to see for themselves what is being done, how this aid is being distributed, to whom it is allocated and what quality this aid has'.

flooding 2013 the Far East of Russia

Amur River waters continued their inexorable rise to an all-time high of 7.73 metres, amid forecasts that Khabarovsk city will face large scale evacuations in the coming days. Picture: Alexander Golovko

He expressed dissatisfaction with the way officials had handled the emergency, which especially hit the regions of Amur and Khabarovsk but also Primorsky and the Sakha Republic. The Jewish Autonomous Region has suffered acute damage from the bursting banks of the the Amur River. 

But his major personal role in the response has led to criticism that the governmental system only functions when the boss in present to direct it. 

Putin fired his presidential envoy in the region Viktor Ishayev, replacing him with Yuri Trutnev, seen as a skilled troubleshooter, formerly mayor and governor in Perm, and lately Minister of Natural Resources. A karate specialist, he was promoted to the vice-premier level, and he takes charge of a special government commission to ensure that the response to flooding - forecast to get worse before it improves - is 'organised properly'.

The president also ordered the Russian Investigative Committee to verify how officials acted in the Far East during the floods.

'An opinion of some independent experts exists and citizens say that there are doubts that all officials, including those responsible for hydro power energy, acted in strict compliance with the instructions given to them and existing laws,' he warned. 

'It is necessary to comprehensively verify the behaviour of all officials and I am asking that I be informed of these issues separately.'

In another move he refused to cancel elections in the waterlogged regions, saying they would give voters the chance to give their verdict on the performance of the authorities. 'The election results will be the best assessment of your work', he told officials. 

Putin also called for a slashing of freight costs on Russian Railways for transportation of goods to stricken areas where crops have been ravaged.

Extra money was also announced for the clean-up - a figure of some $360 million - from a state emergency fund. 

Those who have lost their moveable property will qualify for $3,000 handouts.

flooding 2013 the Far East of Russia

flooding 2013 the Far East of Russia

Stadium in the name of Vladimir Lenin, Khabarovsk, the Far East of Russia. Pictures: Alexander Golovko

The flooding has hit an area as big as Germany, France and the UK combined, say reports, amid claims that global warning is behind the natural disaster. 

Last year many of these areas were facing emergencies from raging wildfires, with smoke reaching North America. This year cyclonic weather in the Pacific has caused the summer devastation. Yet despite the health toll, Russia has avoided the fatalities that have hit China. 

In Khabarovsk region, governor Vyacheslav Shport appealed for private drivers to avoid the submerged highway between Khabarovsk, and the industrial city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur.

'We're compelled to suspend the bus services between Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk, as the depth of water on both sides of the inundated section is five four to five meters,' said  the chief of the Khabarovsk region traffic police chief, Igor Petryashin.  

Increased train and flight services have been put in place. The army installed bridges at flooded places for transport links across the Kamenushka and Tynda rivers in the Amur Region, the Dobraya in the Jewish Autonomous Region, and for the Khabarovsk-Komsomolsk-on-Amur road in the Khabarovsk Territory.

Along with the evacuation of people, the military transport personnel to ensure the work of the social infrastructure in residential areas. For the purpose, the troops have installed three heavy mechanised bridges in the Amur Region and the Khabarovsk Territory, reported Itar-Tass.

Six crews with PTS-2 amphibious transport vehicles work in the Amur Region, and there are ten such crews in the Jewish Region and seven in the Khabarovsk Territory. More than 5,200 servicemen operate in the flooded zone in the Far Eastern Federal District. They use more than 900 vehicles, about 50 planes and helicopters and about 40 boats of the Defence Ministry.

What the papers say:

Nezavisimaya Gazeta: 

'The floods in the Far East are another evidence of the fact that a lot in the Russian state system is made to operate under manual control. Regional authorities and government officials are trying to solve problems and withstand the onslaught of the elements in the automatic mode, but it turns out that, for all participants in the process, not just the federal Center, but the President himself should interfere. Yesterday - after a month of floods - Vladimir Putin arrived in the Far East. The flood disaster is passing from the economic sphere to the social, humanitarian and political spheres.

'The automatic mode of solving problems did not work in the Far East. The regions affected by the floods appealed to the help of the federal Center. In response to this call, earlier President Vladimir Putin sent some ministers of the Cabinet to the flooded regions, so that they could take control of the liquidation of the consequences of the floods. However, their involvement did not help. The estimation of the damage is growing, the problems are piling up, and the time to solve them is getting less, because soon cold weather will come to the affected area. The economic problems of the Far East are quickly turning into social, humanitarian and political ones.'

The Moscow Times:

'When President Vladimir Putin flew to the Khabarovsk region on Thursday to survey the damage from the record flooding in the area, ecologists said he came face-to-face not only with the stubbornly rising waters, but with his own doubts about global warming.

'Some ecologists say that global warming is the cause of the record flooding in the Far East and cautioned that more areas in Russia are at risk of severe weather changes in the future as the problem escalates.

'High-level officials, including those from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, met late Thursday in the Khabarovsk Region to discuss the impact of the flood, but given the scope of solutions that were presented earlier this week, ecologists are not expecting any changes to the government's policies, which they said favour business over environment....

'Some experts are linking the record-setting crisis to global warming. Increased carbon dioxide emissions have altered heat exchange processes between the atmosphere and space, leading to a change in the frequency and intensity of precipitation, said Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy program at Greenpeace Russia.

'Meteorologists from the state-run weather centre do not rule out that global warming could be at the root of the problem.

'It is quite possible that such showers are indeed consequences of global warming. How else to explain this constant change in the climate?'

Svetlana Ageyeva, head of the meteorological centre in the Khabarovsk region, told RIA Novosti. 'I would not laugh at those who say such things'. 

The Siberian Times thanks photographer Alexander Golovko for pictures from Khabarovsk.

See more of them on Alexander's blog 

Comments (1)

Is there any debate about Methane release in East Siberian Arctic shelf published by two worldwide known scientists: Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov? Many thanks.
SCP Danilo Bertocchi , Switzerland
02/09/2013 16:39

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