06/26/2021, 15.39
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Drought strikes in Russia and Central Asia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Some Russian regions are in danger of losing up to half their harvest. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are holding back water from their rivers to the detriment of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The Turkmen government ignores climate woes and carries out the “White House” ceremony.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Some regions of Russia are at risk of losing up to half their harvest due to a prolonged spring drought. The situation is equally critical in Central Asia where some countries (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) that control the upper course of rivers have tried to conserve water for their own needs, leaving those with the lower course (Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) dry.

Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture, headed by Dmitry Patrushev, is putting on a brave face, refusing for now to revise its grain harvest projections, despite preliminary data showing a clear decline.

Without substantial rain, grain prices will see a major increase, badly affecting Russia’s already shaky economy.

If the uncharacteristic heat does not drop substantially, farms in Tatarstan, a republic that borders Russia’s Ural mountain range, will be placed under an emergency regime.

This might happen, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov suggested, if things don’t improve by 30 June. Tatar farmers lost most of their harvest already in 2010.

For Vladimir Petrichenko, general director of ProZerno, a company that specialises in grain crops analysis, the situation is no better in the Volga region or the Urals.

“Oddly enough, it’s only good in Saratov,” he said. “In all other regions it’s very alarming, especially in the Ulyanovsk region, Tatarstan, Bashkiria. In the Kurgan, Orenburg and Chelyabinsk regions, it is close to a catastrophe.”

In all these areas there is not enough moisture, and the drought will affect the quality of the little grain that will be harvested since it is failing to ripen properly and is drying up quickly.

No rain has fallen for more than a month (and there was little before), putting all winter wheat at risk.

These regions are part of Russia’s Black Earth region, so called because of its high soil moisture, which now is a bleak greyish colour.

Despite recent forest fires, the picture in eastern Siberia is more reassuring. The Omsk region has just recovered after a long period of drought and devastation.

Before any drastic measures are taken for the various territories, the authorities are waiting for the first harvest in eastern Russia.

Seasonal changes could however reflect much more worrisome climate changes in Siberia and the Urals.

Meanwhile, the heat is on in Uzbekistan, where June temperatures have fluctuated o far between 38 and 42 Celsius, breaking all records since 1811, when they began to be kept in Central Asia.

In Tashkent, the record is expected to be broken soon, with temperatures expected to reach 44 degrees.

Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have already recorded a high of 45 Celsius; in southern Kyrgyzstan, in Osh, residents have sought relief in the city’s canals.

In Kyrgyzstan, its main water reservoir fell to 8.7 billion cubic metres, down from the usual level of 19.5 billion cubic metres.

Its main reservoir, the Toktogul Dam, gets most of its water from the Naryn, a river that flows into the Syr Darya, the longest river in all of Central Asia, which runs from Tajikistan into Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Kyrgyz authorities plan to close the Toktogul Hydroelectric Power Plant, which provides 40 per cent of the country's electricity, but also supplies part of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which intend to prevent its closure.

Negotiations are underway between these countries to trade electricity for water supplies in order to avoid a general disaster.

Only Turkmenistan seems to be ignoring climate problems. On Wednesday, its president, urbanguly Berdimuhamedow inaugurated the “Turkmen white house” (Türkmeniň ak öý) ceremony in Lebap region (welaýat).

On this occasion, the Turkmen leader forced large crowds to gather under the scorching sun for traditional songs and dances, with performances dedicated to his cult of personality.

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