News / Europe

Report: Wildfires, Drought Costing Russia $15 Billion

A Russian business newspaper says early estimates show wildfires, drought and Moscow's two-month-long heat wave will cost the Russian economy at least $15 billion.

Kommersant said Tuesday this is about 1 percent of Russia's gross domestic product.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has suspended grain exports until the end of the year to keep domestic food prices from skyrocketing.

A shift in wind direction blew some of the choking, poisonous smog from peat bog fires away from Moscow Tuesday, but authorities say the situation is still dangerous.  Weather forecasters say the smog may continue to recede on Wednesday but warned that temperatures will continue to hit 34 degrees Celsius through the end of the week.

The United States has issued a travel warning for Russia because of the fires and pollution in Moscow.  It also has started evacuating non-emergency workers and their families from the U.S. embassy.

Many Russian residents whose lives have been turned upside down because of the fires are blaming what they call government mismanagement and neglect of the forests for the disaster.

Prime Minister Putin, in an effort to show Russians that he is involved in firefighting efforts, flew on a firefighting plane Tuesday and released tons of water on two of the hundreds of wildfires still burning.

Mr. Putin also said the government will spend $10 million to irrigate the drained peat bogs outside Moscow.  Many of the abandoned bogs are on fire and are the source of much of the smoke enveloping Moscow.  

The official death toll from the Russian wildfires is at 52.  But Moscow health chief Andrei Seltsovsky said Monday the city's daily mortality rate has jumped from 350 to around 700.  

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the loss of life saddens him.  He says the U.N. is committed to helping Russia in any way it can.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

More photos by VOA Russian service's Sergei Moskalev in Moscow

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