Much Of Russia Now At Risk Of Turning Into A Dust Bowl – OpEd


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 (

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.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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