UNEP team criticise Sochi 2014 construction

By Richard High16 March 2010

A United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report has criticised the Russian government and the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee for failing to monitor the effects of several construction projects for the 2014 Winter Olympics on the region's wildlife.

The UNEP report, Sochi 2014 Report of the UNEP 2nd Expert Mission, says impact assessments "did not take into account the cumulative ... effects of the various projects on the ecosystems of the Sochi region and its population".

The report follows a three-day trip to the Black Sea resort of Sochi in January by the UNEP that involved visiting various sites considered environmentally sensitive along the construction path of a combined road/rail link connecting Adler on the coast with the Alpine facilities in Krasnaya Polyana.

Other sites visited included the Biathlon venue and Olympic Village in the mountain cluster, the Gasprom complex, and Rosa Khuta.

Construction of the 2014 Winter Olympics' venues and facilities started from scratch. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace Russia, say many of the ecosystems along the transport corridor and around the venue "clusters" have already suffered irreversible damage, with bird and bear habitats in particular having been destroyed.

The World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace Russia say the chief environmental threat is to the Mzymta River, which the road/rail corridor will follow. Thousands of beech trees have been felled to clear a path for the link.

The government says it has taken the activists' concerns on board and accuses them of trying to sabotage the games as a public relations stunt.

UNEP's report also said the Sochi 2014 organisers were procrastinating on political decisions that would mitigate and compensate for the unwanted environmental fallout of the games.

"The mission observed that decisions taken at the political level ... are taking too long," the report said. It cited such projects as the enlargement of Sochi National Park, better protection of the Mzymta valley, and the creation of new protected areas along the Black Sea coast that would host migratory birds.

The WWF and Greenpeace recently suspended their co-operation as consultants for Olympstroi, the state-run constructor, in protest that their concerns were being ignored.

The UNEP report urged activists and the government to continue co-operating, saying there was a "reluctance to engage with or even listen to each other's calls for actions from both sides."

The report recommended that a "comprehensive assessment of the overall impact of the Olympic and tourism projects on the ecosystem" should be conducted.

UNEP said the NGO and environmental activists' concerns sparked the decision to visit Sochi and produce a report.

The Sochi Games is adopting a unique "cluster" strategy. A coastal cluster of arenas will cater for ice skating sports, and a mountain cluster will accommodate ski, snowboard and other events.

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