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Analysis & Opinion
04.08.10 Heady Summer
By Svetlana Kononova

Summer 2010 has become the hottest on record in modern Russian history. The heat wave gripping western and central Russia since mid-June has changed lives dramatically. Temperatures have regularly topped between 35 and 37 degrees Celsius, highs not recorded for such a protracted period in 130 years. The longest past three-week stint of similar heat was registered in 1936.

Experts believe that the heat wave is the result of climate change caused by human activity. “The heat wave has come to Russia from Azores. The Azores’ anticyclone has transferred hot air from North Africa and opened up a path of hot air movement from Kazakhstan. But even if there is no evidence of a direct link to global warming, scientists suggest that manmade factors are responsible for abnormal weather phenomenon,” explained Alexei Kokorin, the head of WWF Russia’s climate program.

Research conducted by Russia’s Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring Agency (Rosgidromet) found that the frequency of heat waves and cold spells in Russia has doubled in the last 15 years. That could mean it will rise significantly in the next decades. While the average global temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius, in Russia the average temperature has jumped by 1.5 degrees.

Now scientists cannot accurately forecast how the climate is going to change. One survey conducted in France after the freakishly hot summer of 2003 predicted that temperatures of between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius could become the norm by 2070 if we do not cut greenhouse gas emissions now.

“This forecast plots the most pessimistic course of events, with average summer temperatures rising to between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius. But temperatures of 35 degrees could become the norm much earlier,” Kokorin said. “Now scientists have proven that human activity causes the greenhouse effect. That’s why all countries including Russia should make efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions.”

“Countries which import energy such as EU countries, the United States and China consider energy saving one of their main strategic goals. They may switch from traditional energy sources to alternative sources such as solar and wind energy by 2050. But Russia, which sells oil and gas, does not show much interest in developing alternative energy technologies,” Kokorin pointed out.

“The forest and peat fires which have created smog in Moscow were also caused by a combination of global and local factors. The global factors are climate change. Local factors include, for example, the thoughtless marshland reclamation carried out to build dozens of thousands of country houses near Moscow. It created a ‘time bomb’ because the dried peat still in the bogs is easily ignited and burns for a long time,” he added.

About 21,700 forest fires including 736 peat fires have been registered in Russia since the beginning of 2010’s “fire hazardous” period, the Emergencies Ministry reported. As a result, 1257 houses have been burned down in 14 Russian towns leaving 2885 people homeless. Last weekend, 779 new fires including 42 peat fires appeared leading to the death of 25 people.

The forests fires have dramatically affected air pollution in some regions of the country. Recent data from the Mosekomonitoring government agency which monitors air pollution shows that the amount of harmful impurities in Moscow air has exceeded the norm by five to eight times. Medics are advising people to stay at home if possible and wear respirator masks outside.

The heat wave and air pollution due to forest and peat fires have hit Russia’s economy, had an impact on people’s health and are making working conditions unbearable in many offices. A recent poll conducted by a research center at the recruiting portal found that 65 percent of Muscovites said their ability and capacity to work has decreased because of the heat. Numerous respondents said: “I feel tired and cannot work efficiently,” or “it’s very hard to work now, I always want to sleep,” and “it’s very difficult to concentrate.”

A quarter of respondents confessed they use tricks to get out of work during the heat. Some of them are having sick-leave certificates made and taking days off. Others simply leave the office early without asking for permission. “I make some excuse to leave the office and hope nobody will check,” one respondent said.

“In companies where comfortable working conditions have been established, work efficiency has dipped only slightly despite the abnormal hot summer. But in offices without air conditioners it has fallen significantly,” said Alexei Zakharov, the chief executive of the

Some employers have not only fitted offices with air conditioners but are adding other measures to ensure better working conditions. Ten percent of companies in Moscow now allow employees to work fewer hours than usual, and 23 percent have slackened the dress code. In some banks and companies men are now allowed to work without a jacket and tie, and women can wear blouses with short sleeves.

Nonetheless, the heat is taking its toll on people’s health. The emergency services say they have received thousands of calls from people suffering from heat stroke and sun burn. Even morgues reported an influx of bodies during the hottest weeks. The departed were mostly old people.

But the elderly are not the only ones at risk. Many young and middle-aged people drowned June and July. The Emergencies Ministry reported 2,414 deaths by drowning since the beginning of June. Most incidents involved drunk men who drowned in dangerous sections of rivers and lakes.
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