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Chechnya may yet wind up with its own desert

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Timur Aliyev, North Caucasus - Given the current ecological situation and trends, the Naurski district in Northern Chechnya may well become a desert region within the next 20 years, predicts Timerlan Dokhtukayev, Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee of the Chechen Republic.
According to the committee, 10 percent of the land is now covered over with sand. And since this district lies within a semi-arid zone and is exposed to wind erosion, approximately another fifty percent of its territory is under threat of desertification.

Local experts from the Natural Resources Agency (UPR) cite one of the causes as being a lack of taking necessary steps to prevent topsoil erosion.

"During the Soviet era we had pre-planned operations, such as planting trees along the perimeters of pastures in order to reduce soil erosion; but after 1990 the planting stopped completely," explained Alexander Lugansky, chief UPR expert in Naurski.

According to Lugansky, the vast tracts of trees planted in the 1950s have been gradually aging which now reduces their effectiveness as a windbreak.

"For the past 5-7 years people have been mowing the grass on 'buruny', elevated pastures under which rests a blanket of sand, which has had a negative effect on the preservation of topsoil," states Fatima Kovrayeva, chairwoman of EKOFront, an environmental NGO. And excessive sheep grazing on these pastures, according to her data, increases desertification at a rate of 0.5% per year.

"At this rate, it cannot be ruled out that in 20-30 years we will have our own "Chyornye zemli" * in Northern Chechnya," warns Kovrayeva.

Leaving predictions aside, the Chief Public Health Officer of Chechnya, Taisya Mirzoyeva, reports that, as of now, about 40% of the land can be classified as an ecological disaster area.

* An area located near the Caspian Sea and representing a transitional geosystem between steppe and desert.

(D/E,T)

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