Fires cost Russia 300 billion dollars: ecologists

26th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia lost forests with an economic value of at least 300 billion dollars in the wildfires during its worst ever heatwave, environmentalists said on Thursday.

The economic damage amounted to 25,000 dollars per hectare (2.4 acres), or at least 300 billion dollars, according to estimates based on the market value of timber and the cost of reforestation, said Alexei Zimenko, general director of Moscow-based Biodiversity Conservation Center.

"The figures are completely astronomical," Zimenko told a news conference, adding those did not include several factors, including the loss of wildlife like insects and rare birds and animals.

According to Russian environmentalists, citing data from the Global Fire Monitoring Centre, the fires have covered an area of 10 million to 12 million hectares in Russia since the start of the year.

The government's emergencies ministry says however that nearly 29,500 fires covering a total area of 935,286 hectares have so far been registered in the country this year.

Environmentalists say the authorities have on purpose underreported the scale of the disaster.

"Unfortunately, official data on the scale of wildfires is reduced by a factor of three to 10," several environmental groups, including Zimenko's Biodiversity Conservation Centre, WWF Russia and Greenpeace Russia, said in a statement released at the news conference.

"The colossal damage which the nature inflicts on the territories and the country's economy practically is not taken into account."

While experts say it may take months for the government to tally the damage, several economists said earlier this month the disaster might cost Russia between 0.5 percent and 1.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), or roughly 7-15 billion dollars.

Deputy Economic Development Minister Andrei Klepach told reporters this week the drought would cut at least 0.7-0.8 percentage points from 2010 growth, in the first official estimate of the cost of the disaster.

© 2010 AFP

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