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4 Aug, 2008 01:27

Muscovites fight for right to breath

According to Time magazine, Russia’s cities of Dzerdzhinsk and Norilsk rank among the world’s top ten most polluted cities. However, more and more Russians are waking up to the problems affecting their environment, with Muscovites leading the way.

For years Muscovite Natalia has softened her water with magnets and ionised it with silver electrodes to neutralise any harmful bacteria. She says it’s the only way to stay healthy in Moscow.

“Otherwise we’d all be walking around with sore throats and spots. Of course, to be really healthy you need to live in the countryside, but since we have to live here, we fight for cleanliness,” says Natalia.

Moscow is a city choking on its own waste. Over three million cars cram the streets, and over 3,000 factories operate within the city’s border, spewing out toxic gases.

A green belt of forests around the city provides almost 90 percent of the oxygen Moscow needs. But these lungs of the capital are now under threat.

“The Moscow-St Petersburg motorway will run through our forest, cutting it in half and destroying a unique ecosystem,” says Evgeniya Chirikova, resident of Moscow’s suburb Khimki.

“The government plans to compensate for the damage to the environment. But trees don’t grow in just a year but over decades, so this compensation will be very slow,” echoes another Khimki citizen Aleksey Gusenkov.

But in other ways the government seems to be doing its bit. Patrol cars test air pollution all over the city, and they have their work cut out for them.

“We can’t say that air quality in Moscow is always good, especially near motorways we often see abnormally high levels of pollution,” says Elena Lizina from the environmental monitoring agency.

Besides, Moscow’s government is doing a small, but a crucial mission. It sponsors a group of butterfly catchers who check up on Moscow’s creepy-crawlies.

The insects hiding in long grasses are not just affected by pollution – they are key natural indicators of environmental change. So if they start, quite literally dropping like flies, then other, larger life forms could follow.

The insects came out in force but their hum could not drown out the noise of the nearby traffic. So even as the fight against pollution slowly picks up pace the city that never sleeps is slowly turning into one that’s having trouble breathing.