The Irish Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2010

700 dying each day due to Moscow heatwave - report

ROSE GRIFFIN in Moscow

MOSCOW RESIDENTS are waiting for news on the human cost of this summer’s record- breaking heatwave, as the health and social development ministry stalls on releasing information.

The director of the Moscow city health authority, Andrei Seltsovsky, on Monday said 700 people are dying in the capital each day, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. Mr Seltsovsky did not clarify whether this was primarily a result of high temperatures, smog or a combination of the two.

The ministry of health and social development remained cagey on the figures. Minister Tatyana Golikova told journalists late on Monday that the government did not yet have official figures for July’s death rate.

“The official statistics for July will only be released on 20th August,” Ms Golikova said, as reported by Interfax. She had asked the Moscow city authorities for clarification on how they arrived at the figure of 700 deaths a day, and for information on the proportion of those deaths that they believe can be directly linked to the heatwave.

Quoting figures for January to June of 2010, Ms Golikova said the death rate had decreased 9 per cent year-on-year.

Moscow city authorities have thus far declined to introduce a state of emergency in the capital, and Moscow city mayor Yury Luzhkov has faced criticism for not returning from his summer holiday to the smog-enveloped city quickly enough.

A number of emergency health centres opened throughout the city to provide care, respite and advice to citizens at the beginning of the week, while evacuation of vulnerable residents continues.

The Russian press is trying to assess the political and economic fallout of the summer’s extreme weather. Business daily Kommersant quoted analysts’ estimates for the short-term damage to the Russian economy at $15 billion (€11.4 billion), which they believe could be equivalent to one per cent of Russia’s GDP in 2010.

The popularity of Russia’s leaders has also fallen in the first half of this year. Another Russian daily, Vedomosti, quoted three opinion polls carried out this year, which estimate that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s popularity has fallen by between 1 to 10 per cent, and that prime minister Vladimir Putin’s popularity has fallen by 4 to 8 per cent. The polls were carried out by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, the Public Opinion Foundation and the Levada Center.

The most pessimistic, carried out by the latter, puts Mr Putin’s popularity at 47 per cent and Mr Medvedev’s at 39 per cent.

No rain is expected in Moscow for at least the next week, Rossiya-24 TV reported, which may lead to new fires in the region, one of the worst affected areas. Fires across central Russia have destroyed at least 2,000 homes and scorched almost 750,000 hectares (2,900 sq m), according to the government. – ( Additional reporting: Bloomberg 

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