The sparsely populated Sakhalin Island, located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Russia’s far-eastern region, is under serious threat of critical water shortages by the middle of this century.
The warning came in a new scientific study carried out by Sakhalin Environment Watch, which identifies pollution from both domestic and industrial bases damaging the island’s few natural sources of freshwater.
The island has significant reserves of oil and gas, extraction of which is the primary source of employment for people living there.
The development of this industry was handled more sensitively than in other locations in Russia, but has still resulted in damage to various aspects of the island’s ecosystems.
Sakhalin Environment Watch has appealed to the Federal Minister for Natural Resources in Moscow to ensure that mining companies take greater care of the environment. The damage done so far is not permanent, and could be reversed with minimal investment and the amendment of company policies.
Making the changes required is in the interests of the extraction companies, since if the island’s natural water sources are contaminated, they will have to bear the cost of importing drinking water for the entire population. This would represent a significant and ongoing cost increase for their operations.
The Sakhalin Environment Watch report has received quite wide media coverage in Moscow as it resonates with two current themes within government -- patriotism and environmentalism.
Sakhalin is one part of a chain of islands that were absorbed into the Soviet Union at the end of World War II and was later inherited by Russia. Although the population of the islands is now exclusively Russian, they are still claimed as part of the sovereign territory of Japan and are the source of ongoing tension between the two countries.