Russians reflect on forestry management

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As the thousands of wildfires raging across Russia in the past weeks showed signs of dying down, the whole nation has started to reflect on the cause and lessons of this unprecedented disaster.

While the abnormal heat wave -- unseen in 130 years of record-keeping -- should be the first to blame, the wildfires have also exposed many deficiencies in the country's forestry management and disaster-response system.

The low level of public awareness in foresty protection, the lack of firefighting personnel and equipment, and above all, the absence of a national action plan or an independent agency specializing in forestry management are hotly debated by Russians these days.

Weak reponse to worst fires in over a century

Besides killing more than 50 people and destroying over 2,000 homes,

the blazes and drought also have cost Russia one third of its wheat crop, prompting the government to ban wheat exports in a move that has sent world grain prices to new highs.

Health experts have also warned that the heat and suffocating smog from the wildfires, which has been hovering above the capital city of Moscow and surrounding areas for some time, will lead to more suicides, higher rates of alcohol abuse and other problems.

Officials of Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry have pointed to human errors as a major reason behind the spreading fires, saying that up to between 70 and 80 percent of the fires this year were caused by humans. Russians like to visit forests to go camping, hunting, or to gather mushrooms and pick berries. Many people do not exercise caution in using fire.

Russia's fire-control team is mainly recruited from the Emergency Situations Ministry, but many people lack experience or necessary skills. In many regions there is a lack of firefighting aircraft, and emergency workers could do little if the fires spread. This time, the Russian army only dispatched over 10,000 soldiers to battle the fires due to its tight budget, compared with 100,000 during the last major forest fire in 1972 at the time of Soviet Union.

In Russia's sparsely-populated rural areas, many forests are practically under no supervision. As most young people have migrated to cities, the villages are ill-prepared to fight fires.

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