Russia has 2.5 million rivers, as well, with a summary flow making the world's second, after Brazil. Ample snow and ice also accumulate fresh water. As for subterranean currents and springs, they are gaining prominence with every passing day as essential mineral resources. Here, Russia can potentially offer an annual 229.3 cubic kilometers.
This wealth makes Russia extravagant about water. President Vladimir Putin recently acknowledged it in public as he was addressing the State Council at a session dedicated to a draft federal water resource program. "We do not cherish our water supplies. The way we are disposing of them leaves much to be desired. Meanwhile, 30 per cent of our population make do with substandard water," he warned. Pipe wear-and-tear makes a third of water supplies leak out on the way to consumers. The supply network is long in need of overhauls and major updating-an effort of tremendous cost.
Not all Russians have an equal access to water. Megalopolises alone enjoy an unlimited supply. Moscow leads the show with a daily per capita 400 liters, as against a European average 120 to 150. In a dire contrast, Kalmykia-autonomy in the arid South Russian plains-occasionally has a daily per capita five liters. Paradoxically, the Saratov Region on the mighty Volga River has long grown accustomed to intermittent public water supply. The Littoral Territory, in the Russian Far East, has no end of supply failures.
"Numerous water projects in Russia's most densely populated and industrially developed parts are in a state far from satisfactory. Their ecological monitoring clearly proves that point," says Victor Danilov-Danilyan, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Director of its Water Problem Institute. He exemplifies his point with analyses of the Volga, European Russia's biggest river. Huge hydro-technical construction efforts, launched back in Joseph Stalin's time, badly upset the Volga basin natural hydrological regimen. No one cared to ask researchers' opinion as the ambitious programs were launched. Today, with many giant dams crossing it, the vast river is flowing much slower than naturally. It cannot properly wash off industrial waste, which clams the water flow. Scientists are racking their brains how to rescue the Volga without pulling down hydropower plant cascades-that is, certainly, out of the question.
All these are not national problems alone. They concern the most essential resource in the world, with its globally interlinked ecological and economic systems. The amount of human water consumption exceeds that of other resources put together tenfold, in the least. 23 United Nations agencies and programs have together offered a World Water Development Report, or WWDR. As it forecasts, water shortages will face, by 2050, two to seven billion people in all parts of the world, depending on practical policies and demographic developments. Certain experts are even more pessimistic. They predict wars for access to water sweeping the world in this century's latter half.
If things take that turn, Russia will have to share water with the harder-put countries. We don't know yet, however, how to arrange it. True, there is an idea to lay water pipelines along petroleum-but no one has tackled it from a practical point for now. Many Soviet researchers were enthusiastic, years ago, about turning mighty Siberian rivers south to Central Asian deserts. Now, the blueprints have been proved an extravagant piece of wishful thinking. The thriftiest estimations say the cost will make something like 130 billion US dollars.
To all appearances, more practicable ideas will not appear before the world faces water shortage as fatal danger.