UNESCO to call on Russia to protect Lake Baikal from pollution‎

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A Russian government decision to allow a pulp and paper mill to put polluting wastes into the world's oldest and deepest lake has been placed on the agenda of the next UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting,

A coalition of concerned organizations, including WWF and Greenpeace, presented a petition signed by 125 000 people from 52 countries to UNESCO today and were assured that the issue is due to be raised with Russian delegates to the meeting in late July.

"UNESCO is worried by the situation with the World Heritage Site Lake Baikal, caused by Russian government's decision to allow lake pollution by waste from Baikal pulp and paper mill. The open cycle work of the mill contradicts requirements of the World Heritage Convention," UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Francesco Bandarin told a meeting with WWF and Greenpeace today.

"We will bring our opinion to the notice of the Russian government and hope that Russia as a bona fide member of the Convention will take all measures to avoid damaging the universal value of Lake Baikal as a result of its pollution by the mill waste," he said.

Mystery of how the seals arrived

Lake Baikal's World Heritage listing describes it as "the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world. It contains 20 per cent of the world's total unfrozen freshwater reserve. Known as the 'Galapagos of Russia', its age and isolation have produced one of the world's richest and most unusual freshwater faunas, which is of exceptional value to evolutionary science."

Residents of the 3.15 million hectare lake in south east Siberia, the world's sixth largest, include one of the world's only three species of freshwater seals, it being a complete mystery how they arrived in the lake an estimated to million years ago.

The NGOs provided UNESCO with research conducted by prominent scientists from the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences showing that the decision to reopen the paper mill is not well-founded and will both damage the lake and fail to solve the region's socio-economic problems.

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