Campaigners call on Russia to reduce Olympic impact

Environment campaign group WWF has called on Russia to ensure its Winter Olympic Games will not lead to the damage of the natural environment, which it claims could be at risk.

Following on the announcement that Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, the WWF wants assurances that mountain wilderness areas are protected when developing new facilities.

In particular, WWF is concerned about the future of one of the most valuable natural areas within Sochi National Park, the Grushevaya polyana ("pear meadow" in Russian), the projected site of the bobsleigh and luge tracks and other sports facilities.

"Construction of many of these facilities will inevitably lead to forest logging and destruction of habitats of endangered species and unique flora and fauna of the national park," said the WWF's CEO in Russia, Igor Chestin.

"We're proud that Russia is the Olympic candidate winner but at the same time we will do our best to ensure that construction work does not destroy the environment."

Earlier this year, a Russian environmental expert review expressed similar concerns, saying construction plans at the Grushevaya polyana were "undesirable". The experts also recommended excluding from the Sochi development programme plans to build a hydropower plant on the Mzymta River.

The WWF wants Olympic facilities to be built only at sites approved by members of the review panel and believes an independent monitoring review should be in place in the lead up to the Olympic Games. It fears developments unconnected to the Games will be built in protected areas if strict controls are not in place.

It also wants to see new protected areas created to compensate for the increasing pressure on the unique region's nature landscapes and the establishment of the Utrishsky Nature Reserve, which the Russian government approved as early as 1994.

Paul Humphries



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