Paris (AFP) June 2, 2009
The countries of the former Soviet bloc face huge challenges in the next decade to avoid the worst ravages of climate change, the World Bank warned on Tuesday.
From Poland to Kazakhstan, from the Arctic circle to the Caucasus, nations face the likelihood of more frequent floods, droughts, heatwaves, storms and forest fires, it said.
But decrepit infrastructure and the legacies of Soviet mismanagement have left them fearfully under-equipped for coping with the threat, the bank said.
Contrary to popular belief, the region -- a term that covers all of the former Eastern Bloc, excluding East Germany, plus Turkey -- faces "significant threats" from climate change, according to the bank's report.
Average temperatures have already increased by 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) in the south and by 1.6 C (2.9 F) in the north, in Siberia.
The warming has led to more frequent summer droughts and rapid melting of winter snows and glaciers, which in turn have badly affected water supplies.
By the middle of this century, there is likely to be further warming of 1.1 C (2.0 F) in the south and 1.0 C (1.8 F C) in the north, amplifying the water crisis and exacerbating environmental problems, such as the shrinking Aral Sea.
The Baltic Sea, the East Adriatic, the Black Sea and Arctic coasts will be affected by sea-level rise. In the Caspian Sea, though, water levels could drop by roughly six metres (20 feet) by the end of the 21st century because of increased evaporation.
With few exceptions, the region is badly equipped to meet the threat, said the report.
Responding to climate change means being able to draw on a panoply of resources -- economic, human and environmental.
But the former Eastern Bloc countries are poor, have low awareness of climate change and suffer from shoddy housing and other infrastructure that will be badly exposed to weather extremes.
"Chronic environmental management" adds to the problems, said the report.
Wasteful irrigation systems, the plundering of groundwater and river diversion are among the causes for the region's vulnerability to water stress.
Albania, for instance, currently derives 97 percent of its electricity from hydro-electric plants, but cannot rely on it as a future source.
Then there are innumerable toxic dumps and dangerous Soviet-era plants that are located in exposed areas, the World Bank said.
It gave the example of a flood in Baia Mare, Romania, in 2000 that spewed cyanide-laced waste from a gold mine into the Tiza and Danube rivers, poisoning the water of two million people.
To those who contend that warming will open up farmland in the frozen Russian north, the report was skeptical. Inefficient agricultural systems meant that this potential could well remain unrealised.
The report said the impacts of climate change "will likely remain manageable over the next decade."
This would give the region a slender opportunity to beef up its defences, the document said, recommending it focus especially on changing water use, upgrading neglected infrastructure and improving disaster preparedness.
The report, "Adapting to Climate Change in Europe and Central Asia," was issued on the sidelines of talks in Bonn under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
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