Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry is distinctly pessimistic as it looks at the year to come. It predicts an increase in natural and man-made disasters in the world's largest country.

Fires, gas main explosions, air and road accidents, and some strong earthquakes: these are just some of the disasters that Russia may experience in 2002.

Experts at the Emergency Situations Ministry say the number of man-made disasters is likely to increase in most regions of the country. These will include fires and explosions in apartment buildings and factories, leaks of hazardous materials, and pipeline breakdowns.

Ministry officials say the rate of air accidents will probably go up due to violations of safety rules, use of old aircraft and traffic control errors. Accidents on the sea and along Russia's many rivers should also increase the ministry says, given that almost 60 percent of ships in Russia have exceeded their recommended service life.

Decaying infrastructure and lack of proper maintenance have long been blamed for the many mishaps and disasters which occur regularly in the country. But the ministry also warns that strong earthquakes are likely in the Far Eastern Pacific region as well as the in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia.

Tremors and even volcanic eruptions take place frequently in the Far East, especially in the Kamchatka Peninsula, which is largely made up of volcanoes. Kamchatka as well as neighboring Sakhalin and the Kuril Island chain are part of the Pacific "rim of fire." But while most earthquakes in the area are minor in scope, Russian seismologists say major quakes of up to eight points on the Richter scale could occur in the next year.

The ministry offers no guidelines about how to deal with possible natural or man-made disasters; all it has done is issue a warning that an already bad situation could get worse.

The one bright spot is on the Russian railroads, where the ministry says accidents may actually decrease due to an automated system for monitoring the transport of hazardous materials.