Life vs. GDP

11:57 15.07.11

Ukraine has once again survived in the whirlpool of the presidential election, without having heard the most important of the usual promises to improve the economy – the guarantees of health and long life of the Ukrainians. Representing the interests of movers and shakers of the country, all candidates had scruples about raising the environmental issue on which it directly depends.

“Sacked Cow” of Ukrainian Economy

GDP growth is a hot-button subject when it comes to the situation in the Ukrainian economy. Much less is said about the structure of GDP and, more importantly, about persons receiving dividends from the increase in output and doubtful benefits of so-called small Ukrainian, receiving faith of all our politicians and the “flagmen” of industries.

The truth is that the foundation of the Ukrainian economy has always been our famous mining and metals production sector, which is the main beneficiary of income and dividends, the main pollutant of the environment to this day. Nonetheless, it has meager income when it comes to raising money for the state budget, which funds have to be subsequently directed to the rehabilitation of damaged environments and human health caused by industrial giants.

All the mining and metals production, chemical, much of the fuel and energy, transport (except the railroad) sectors and communication facilities are tightly held by limited number of people. They dispose of more than 80% of the Ukrainian economy (this is exact share of these sectors in GDP) - which, in fact, provides a real power over the country and getting super-profits. The share of resources allocated by them in the national budget does not exceed 10%. We should also consider dispel the myth of a vast social significance of these pillars of the Ukrainian economy, “feeding” the bulk of the population: less than 12% of the total working population of Ukraine is employed in the enterprises of these sectors.

However, there is another important aspect - the most profitable sectors of the national economy are also the most dangerous ones from an environmental point of view: providing huge profits for a select few, they cause irreparable damage to the environment and millions of our fellow citizens.

Environmental heritage of Ukraine

Every year 50 million tons of toxic substances are released into the atmosphere, 12 million tons of harmful substances are discharged into surface water and 50 million tons reach the ground and groundwater.

Today storages contain about 37 billion tons of waste, of which about 5 billion tons are toxic and the amount of those substances grows annually in proportion to the dynamics of the economic growth. In addition, each year 450-500 million tones of new waste strip us of fertile soil.

Waste radioactivity is a single question. Only in Dneprodzerzhinsk 42 million tons of radioactive waste are concentrated with total activity of 86 thousand curies, in Zheltiye Vody - 80 million tons, “releasing” 140 thousand curies.

The issue of cold war heritage is not directly connected with the work of Ukrainian enterprises, but is no less relevant. Tens of thousands of tons of toxic substances, liquid and solid rocket propellants, ammunition warehouses, which are no longer usable by the armed forces, but are financial, technological and environmental problem as for their recovery, are still powerful and destructive force to strike not “potential enemy”, but all of us.

War makes some people rich

Much more offensive is the fact that for someone this situation is the threat of well-being and sometimes life, and for others it is a way to multiply their own profits from the exploitation of natural resources of Ukraine. And again, talking about native the mining and metals production sector, in particular, mining industry, which is a recognized leader by the amount of waste. There are 5 tons of wastes in one ton of marketable output. Tens of thousands of hectares of land became zones for waste storage.

And then there is a high voidage land as a result of soil development. A part of them is directly lying under residential constructions and, in addition to the threat of collapse, it creates a danger of destruction of ground-water conditions, induces landslides and underflooding. Today, this phenomenon is becoming a national disaster, although the actual reasons of technotronic catastrophe are not always made public, because it is easier to write it off to the global warming and rising ocean level.

The gravity of the issue is nailed down with the numbers – just in Krivbass there are more than 12 million cubic meters of voids. There is also a threat created by sludge dumps and tailing pounds that threaten with sludge avalanches and pollution of adjacent areas by highly mineralized water. Cascades of man-made reservoirs, especially one of Dnieper River Basin, hang like a sword of Damocles over the inhabitants of vast areas.

In Ukraine 70% of pipelines are worn out. Sanitary norms envisaged in their operation are outraged, nonetheless these objects contain toxic, poisonous, inflammable and explosive substances.
It is a known fact that Ukraine uses industrial technologies, which come short of efficiency and environmental cleanness of Western technologies. Their improvement could have a positive effect not only in terms of significant energy savings, but also in terms of environmental conservation.

What is the cost of national well-being?

These are the pollution and other kinds of damage to the environment, which we got used to observe. Do we adequately assess the risks to our health caused by the rapidly growing electromagnetic, ionizing and noise pollution, directly affecting changes in the nervous and cardiovascular systems, damaging basic biochemical and physiological processes in the body?
Today energy pollution that affects the human increased tenfold and thousandfold. The world has already recognized that a radiation (electromagnetic and ionizing radiation) is one of the highly active and extremely dangerous factors with disastrous consequences for mice and men.

The price we pay not for technological progress as someone stereotypically would have noticed, but for our technological and social backwardness, is absolutely unreasonable. According to the international estimates, every seventh Ukrainian is poverty stricken, and every second lives below a minimum subsistence income.

Such is social statistics, showing how little we get from the major GDP-generating industries of our business life when it comes to our prosperity. And how much we get, if we gauge the effect on our health.

During the years of the Ukrainian independence, the population decreased by nearly 6 million people, mean lifetime - by 3 years. However, working-age death rate is in 2 - 4 times higher than in Western Europe. 9 out of 10 consider themselves to be sick people, 2.5 million people are physically handicapped, 1.2 million are mentally unbalanced, 1 million are alcoholics and 2.7 million have the status of victims of the Chernobyl disaster. This sad statistics helps us understand the price we pay for all, including the fact that our country is “growing rich”. Together with us, supposedly.

Do ecologists care?

The Ministry of Environment of Ukraine as central executive body in charge of this environmental outrage keeps silent and sits on hands. By the most conservative estimate, according to he current legislation and regulatory framework, the revenue of the country’s consolidated budget for the environmental contamination should be minimum 14.5 billion hryvnia annually, in fact it scraps together about 1 billion. In turn, elimination of damage, prevention of various man-made disasters and rehabilitation of the affected population require tens of billions of hryvnia each year.

Life demands environmental organizations in Ukraine to apply a new approach to the brand new philosophy. Its main point is clearly stated in Article 50 of the Constitution: “Everyone has the right to an environment that is safe for life and health, and to compensation for damages inflicted through the violation of this right”.

So far, all the environmental activities in the country are an attempt to somehow implement the first part of the article of the Fundamental Law. They do not remember the second part, but the system must operate in an integrated manner. Compensation for damage caused by the violation of its citizens’ environmental rights is, if only partial, but still the elimination of the harmful effects of economic activity and real incentive to minimize them, and perhaps to shift the targets of business activities to the least environmentally “dirty” types of production. Without it, everything done in the field of environmental protection will be as effective as cutting paper with one half of the scissors.
It is a task of the public to require the identification of actual amounts of air emissions, discharges into water and waste storage, to demand charges for environmental contamination and the direction of the funds collected for specific environmental problems. It is a task of those who directly suffer from the consequences of unsustainable economic activities.

You should not expect that the local authorities will seize on this idea enabling them, by the way, to replenish local budgets and to solve many painful problems of the region. Mobilization of people in order to make the authorities and owners of enterprises observe the Laws and the Constitution of Ukraine is the business of the day.

Today, only through the active involvement of Ukrainian citizens we could identify all the locations and sources of environmental hazards, to conduct inventory and independent examination thereof, to call on the authorities to eliminate sources of environmental threats, to find and punish the guilty, to repair damages to the injured.

Vladimir Goncharenko
The chairman of Social movement of Ukraine “For the right of citizens to environmental safety”
Honored worker of industry, Academician of Ukrainian Academy of Engineering,
International Academy of Ecology, Man and Nature Protection Sciences.

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