Despite Russia’s rich freshwater resources, it faces significant water problems, which arise from the country’s adaptation policy with low priority to climate action and less advanced risk management. Safonov from NRU HSE, Moscow outlines the key characteristic of water-related problems in the world’s biggest country.
Firstly, Russia is one of the world’s leaders in its freshwater resources (20% of global reserves are located there). These, are unevenly distributed across the country. The European part of Russia, where 80% of population and industry is situated, has only 10% of total resources (FAO, 2016). Water problems are very diverse due to the huge Russia’s territory and different climate conditions. Water pollution is one of the key environmental problems in Russia, along with a huge inefficiency in water use, especially in the European part of the country. Although it has been declining in contaminated water discharge in the last two decades, pollution levels are still very high and include sulphates and chlorides (about 20% of total discharge), and very hazardous substances like mercury. Water losses are estimated to be as much as 9%–10%, while in industry it is over 25%. Municipal water systems lose 20%–40% of their water due to leakage in buildings and corrosion of water supply networks, while agriculture loses up to 30% due to excessive water use.
Secondly, global warming represents a major challenge for Russia and for the world community. The annual mean temperature in Russia is rising much faster than the global average, affecting the water resources and all connected economic, eco- and social sectors. These trends will continue in the same direction, according to the projections of the IPCC.
Thirdly, climate change is expected to affect numerous water-related economic sectors in a detrimental way: from marine activities and fisheries to human health, which may be impaired by the increase in bacterial flora in food and water, and, consequently, provoke massive migrations.
Finally, although climatic risk reduction measures are essential to prevent harmful effects of climate/water issues, so far Russia places a low priority on climate action, and reactive instead of proactive decision-making.
The government is addressing climate change within the framework of the Climate Doctrine and the government’s plan for its implementation. At the same time, there is a need to improve the national climatic risk-management system. Safonov offers the following basic strategies for effective climate risk control:
• Hard strategy. The development of infrastructure more adapted to and resilient against climate change impacts
• Soft strategy. The improvement of institutions and management systems, capacity building, scientific support, technical solutions, and the availability of financing and insurance.
Importantly, both strategies require close cooperation between the science community and decision makers.
Original source: Safonov, G. (2020). Water-related problems with special reference to global climate change in Russia. In Water Conservation and Wastewater Treatment in BRICS Nations (pp. 23-35). Elsevier.