By Paul Goble
The combination of climate change and the failure of the Russian authorities to insist on environmentally safe farming is already producing dust clouds over some major Russian cities and risks turning a large portion of the country into something like the dust bowl in the United States in the 1930s, Russian and international experts say.
In fact, they point out, Russia has faced warning signs of this before, to which it has sometimes reacted but more often not. Immediately after World War II, much of the Soviet Union suffered a massive famine as a result of drought. But the dust storms that followed killed thousands (nplus1.ru/material/2021/07/09/wind-erosion).
The Stalin regime responded by setting up a monitoring system and imposing tight controls, but with time monitoring and controls were both reduced. As a result, when Khrushchev carried out his Virgin Lands campaign in the late 1950s, dust bowl conditions spread outward from Kazakhstan. More dust storms happened with the drying up of the Aral Sea.
Now with global warming and several years of drought, the dust storms have returned to a larger part of the country, the experts say, not only reducing food production now and in the future by blowing away topsoil but also spreading illness and death as rare earth chemicals are carried by the winds.
Just how serious such storms can be is shown by the situation in Karakalpakia where the winds off the former bottom of the Aral Sea have depressed life expectancies among people living there to 40 or even less. At present, Russians are frightened by the dust storms; but so far, the Putin government has largely failed to address the problem.