By Paul Goble
Russia has more than ten percent of the world’s fresh water reserves and so it is hardly surprising that Moscow is thinking about selling some of them for profit giving looming worldwide water shortages. It is also not surprising that the center is focusing on Lake Baikal and the possibility of selling its waters to China, Viktor Danilov-Danilyan says.
But the senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Water Problems says Russian officials should stop thinking about Baikal which is not in a position to provide that much water and which, if Russia tried to use it as an export resource, would have the most severe environmental and economic consequences (profile.ru/economy/voda-razdora-smozhet-li-rossiya-prodavat-vodu-kak-segodnya-prodaet-neft-i-gaz-1135449/).
Indeed, in advancing this argument, the hydrologist uses many of the same arguments that led to the cancellation of Soviet plans to reverse the flow of Siberian river waters to save the Aral Sea and supply the burgeoning populations of the Central Asian republics in the 1980s, a debate that fed into the rise of glasnost under Gorbachev’s perestroika.
“When people begin to talk about the water reserves of Russia, they inevitably recall Baikal, the deepest lake on the planet and the largest reservoir of potable water,” Danilov-Danilyan says. “Its static reserve consists of 23 cubic kilometers of water. That would be enough to supply all the needs of humanity for almost five years.”
And there are already projects being developed to sell some of its water to China. But the Moscow specialist on water systems says that such plans are “absurd” because they would lead to a lowering of the water level of the lake and the destruction of the environment and the economy around it.
Moreover, Danilov-Danilyan says, Lake Baikal “is not such a large source as it may appear at first glance.” The Angara and Yenisei rivers ever year have flows that are greater than the amount of water that is in Lake Baikal. Given that, “the lake looks quite modest. Does it make sense to touch it?”
In his view, it clearly does not, the latest sign that Chinese interest in the lake is sparking a major debate in Moscow over how much water to sell to China and where the water should come from.