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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon.
The subject on our agenda today is very important and has not just regional but interregional significance: the prospects for developing the Volga’s water resources.
I proposed meeting to discuss this issue because I watched a TV programme recently about the situation in the Volga River basin and saw the alarming footage that showed how the river channels have silted up and the impact that human activity has had on the environment. As I recall it, I called the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment [Yury Trutnev] and said that we would hold a meeting to address these problems, and this is why we are here today.
We have a vast country, but 40 percent of our people live in the 39 regions located within the Volga basin. Of the country’s 100 most polluted cities, 65 are located on the Volga. The economy suffers as a result of course, but worst of all, people suffer from a lack of high quality fresh water.
There are a few figures that I do not think everyone in our country knows. For example, more than 40 percent of our population – almost half the country – lives in the Volga basin. We have a vast country, but 40 percent of our people live in the 39 regions located within the Volga basin.
The Volga basin is home to some of our biggest water reservoirs, national parks and wildlife reserves, as well as almost half of the country’s agricultural and industrial capability. As was said earlier, thousands of tons of fish are caught here, around 40,000 tons a year, sometimes more, and the river produces around a quarter of our hydroelectricity. Finally, around 50 million tons of freight and up to 800,000 passengers are transported along the Volga every year.
We are meeting in Astrakhan Region, where the Volga flows into the Caspian, and where all of this great river’s problems, including its environmental problems, converge both figuratively and literally.
The Volga’s capacity for self-purification has declined sharply over the last decade. In the 1950s, this water was still considered suitable for drinking. True, standards were not as high back then, but nonetheless, the water was seen as safe to drink.
Of the country’s 100 most polluted cities, 65 are located on the Volga. The economy suffers as a result of course, but worst of all, people suffer from a lack of high quality fresh water.
I instructed the Government and the Natural Resources Ministry last October to draft a series of proposals for restoring the Volga delta’s water systems. This followed on from a number of measures. A list of priority measures in fisheries, waterways development and water resources protection was drafted and around 300 million rubles were allocated for their implementation. This is not a large sum, frankly, but we have to start somewhere, and this programme is already underway.
We have also drafted a series of measures for the coming decade. They will be carried out as part of the new federal targeted programme for developing Russia’s water resources over 2012–2020. This is a big programme, bigger in scale, and it will see money spent on cleaning out the channels and drainage systems, renovating infrastructure, and repairing and rebuilding hydro-technical facilities and the special installations for their protection.
I propose that we hold a comprehensive discussion on all of these matters, and I stress once more that we must do this because the Volga River area is home to almost half of our population. For all the problems they face, these are very beautiful places. I had the chance to see this for myself once more yesterday. We have the most magnificent nature of course, but we must make every possible effort to keep it that way. This is the job of the Government and the regions represented here today.