MOSCOW (Reuters) - With the Olympics under way in Vancouver, an activist group says environmental concerns are going unheeded in the push to prepare Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi to host the next Winter Games in 2014.
The World Wildlife Fund’s Russian branch said borders of nature reserves had been altered to suit the Olympic site construction, access for non-governmental organisations had been restricted, and its calls for closer monitoring of the environmental impact had gone unheeded.
“The losses to the environment are already significant,” Igor Chestin, the director of WWF-Russia, told Reuters on Tuesday. “Whatever is done, these will not be ‘green games’, but we can at least minimise further damage.”
Among the damage done, Chestin said, was the destruction of winter feeding grounds for wild animals such as deer, boars and bears and of stands of rare box trees.
WWF-Russia helped create a coordinating council linking activists with Olympstroi, the state company responsible for Olympic construction, but it has suspended its participation because the council’s decisions had not been implemented, Chestin said.
In particular, Chestin said, the council’s call for more environmental impact research — and changing Olympic projects if deemed necessary — has not resulted in new studies.
Olympstroi spokeswoman Alexandra Kosterina disputed the WWF’s complaints, saying many of the proposals from environmentalists had been or would be implemented.
She said Olympstroi hoped WWF-Russia would return to the council, which she said had held no regular monthly meeting since late last year.
Chestin said fixing the problems was largely up to the government of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the parliament because it would require legislative changes.
Kosterina said that enforceable environmental standards were in place, but suggested government oversight agencies could do a better job ensuring the rules were followed.
“Control must be implemented constantly,” she said.
Editing by Kevin Liffey/Alison Williams